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Fashion is as cutthroat as it is cyclical. This discourse is even more relevant when it comes to FILA. A company founded in the foothills of northern Italy, in the homely town of Biella, arguably enjoyed its heyday in the 70s and 80s.
Initially clothing the best that the sport of Tennis had to over before branching off into a multitude of other sporting disciplines, the company went through a down period through frequent acquisitions and constant turnover in the upper management. However, since handing over the reins of the brand to their Korean subsidiary, the brand has reached new heights and found new life in the contemporary fashion scene we live in today.
Giansevero Fila and his three brothers first opened their doors in 1911, starting out as a textile manufacturer for the local townspeople and in a search to produce more luxury fabrics, they started incorporating elements of art and utility, drawing inspiration from their homeland, the Italian landscape – from the simplicity and beauty of the Alps, to the fluidity of the hills along the Mediterranean coast.
Fila constantly evolves on their philosophy, allowing the brand to grow into what they are now. One of their biggest shifts occurred in 1923 when the brothers officially established themselves as a knitwear manufacturing company. It was also at that time they partnered with Maglficio Biellese who helped the business to grow beyond the town it was established in and eventually expanding to beyond even the borders of Italy.
A few years later, it expanded once again, merging with the Fratelli Fila company in 1942. In 1968, Giansevero Fila hired Enrico Frachey as the company’s Managing Director. Frachey shared Fila’s vision, and the duo began work on transforming the company into a global sportswear brand, moving away from their initial textile and underwear manufacturing business it started off as a few decades earlier.
By 1972 the company had reached sales of over one billion Lire and a workforce of more than 250 people, under the creative and managerial guidance of Frachey, who had also enlisted the help of innovative artist and designer, Pier Luigi Rolando, and an engineer, Alessandro Galliano, to help craft the company’s new vision.
Now operating as a sportswear label, they set out to conquer Tennis by endorsing numerous leading players from the time, including Bjorn Borg, and in later years, Boris Becker, Jennifer Capriati, and Monica Seles and Kim Clijsters. While they were able to carve a reputation in the world of tennis through Bjorn’s amazing 5-time Wimbledon sweep, the brand barely had a foothold in the burgeoning sportswear market.
Fila was also one of the first brands that made sportswear that lived beyond sports. These adopters came in the form of football hooligans that brought back Fila tracksuits from football away days in Italy. At the same time, up-and-coming rappers, such as LL Cool J, who, along with Run D.M.C. and their song “My Adidas,” helped the masses in the states to embrace the tracksuit look into their own culture.
In 1994, with Nike’s world-shattering acquisition of Michael Jordan, Fila wanted a piece of the figurative basketball pie too. They placed their bets on the Duke University star Grant Hill. The basketball star wanted the chance to swing the course of Fila’s destiny like what Jordan did with Nike. And he did just that, with the help of his various signature shoe models, Fila placed just behind Nike in basketball-shoe sales in 1996. However, unfortunate injuries stalled his rise to superstar status and by the turn of the millennium, Nike continued to assert their dominance by signing every future star, from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James. Fila was left scrambling and that started the brand’s downfall.
The early 2000s saw Fila selling off a number of their assets. Fila U.S.A. was bought by a subsidiary of the private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, which in turn sold it to Fila Korea, in 2007. With Fila Korea acquiring the global Fila brand and all its subsidiaries proved to be a pivotal point in the brand’s history. In that same year, Fila partnered with GLBH – Global Leading Brands House – a fashion organization aimed at helping companies in developing high-end fashion products. In 2010, Fila hired Louis Colon III as Vice-president of Heritage and Trends. He pushed for the early revival of the Grant Hill shoes as consumers began valuing retro shoe models, a play that has turned mainstream through Nike’s continued efforts. The re-release sold out instantly and paved the way for Fila to enjoy a renaissance period. The kids these days have not grown up with the past sporting achievements and cultural impact of Fila, the brand was unfamiliar with the youth. And because of that, Fila could be new again. Navigating their history to inform and speak with contemporary consumers came in the form of the Disruptor. The model was first released in 1996 but in a time of chunky-dad sneakers, they found a new lease of life in the current times. Not only do they please long-time aficionados but as well as nostalgic fans, Fila managed to reach a new and younger audience.
Alluding to the first statement, Fila went and came back in boisterous form. It is now truly well in the limelight and has taken strides to maintain their longevity in the scene. With notable collaborations with Gosha Rubchinskiy and luxury label Fendi, Fila is in the spotlight once again, standing alongside other heritage brands in this 90s revolution. There is no better time. With sportswear and streetwear, the main protagonists in the fashion world, Fila is prime to be a mainstay once again. A brand with over a hundred years of history, we’ll be looking forward to the next 100 with keen anticipation.