Russell Athletic is the latest sport brand seeking to capitalize on the sport-driven streetwear boom. The 115-year-old brand is collaborating with Visitor on Earth, the unisex streetwear label by Tracey Mills, who got his start in fashion with Christian Audigier and has worked closely with Kanye West, codesigning his Yeezy collections, as well consulted on Fenty Puma by Rihanna. Mills launched VOE last year.
The Russell x VOE collection is a unisex capsule featuring tracksuits, oversize sweatshirts, T-shirts and socks in washes and proportions that represent the new school take on classic Nineties old school. Prices range from $70 to $600 and most of the merch features the Russell “R” logo and a Visitor on Earth Logo. Many of the Ts and sweatshirts feature graphic slogans that deliver a message of positivity and empowerment, such as “Peace in the Hood,” “The World Is Yours” and “Shut Down the System.”
The messaging is key for Mills, who grew up in the foster care system in inner city of Los Angeles. He pitched collaboration to Russell, which was incidentally looking for a project that would create a bridge into the fashion/street world, with the goal of creating a collection that would not only offer something aesthetically appealing to kids in situations similar to what he experienced but also to develop a charitable aspect. “I grew up on Russell. All the team sports uniforms had Russell on everything,” Mills said. “Growing up in the inner cities, that team gives you a sense of family. I wanted to bring back that feeling of community and family. Most importantly, Russell Athletic is big on giving back and that’s what matters most to me.” He hasn’t chosen a charity to link up with yet. “To be honest, I haven’t figured out the right charity yet,” Mills continued. “There are a lot of charities I know of, but I don’t’ know the paper trail and where the money is going. Is it actually helping kids? Instead of just cutting checks and saying ‘I’m donating to charity,’ I’m going to take my time and find the right thing.”
“We were really built as the pioneer of the sweatshirt in 1902 and Tracey does all that with cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts,” said Sylvester Peoples, a marketing manager at Russell Athletic. “He really saw old styles that we had coming back so it was a perfect marriage because we’re not veering far from what we stand for. We’ve always stood for team sports and doing uniforms, outfitting high schools and colleges. We weren’t really in that middle space. This a is a designer that really embodies what we want to stand for.”
Russell and Mills hosted a two-day pop-up in SoHo that featured the collection on Oct. 25 and 26. It will be featured Oct. 28 as part of The Drop at Barneys New York and will launch on visitoronearth.com in November.