Everyone has a Champion.
Maybe it’s the gnarled college hoodie from college. Maybe its the vintage impulse buy from Grailed. Or maybe it’s a collab, one of the pieces produced by the foremost purveyor of sweatshirts in partnership with Todd Snyder or Percival or Kith or Peanuts or The Museum of Modern Art. The list is exhausting and exhaustive. There’s a reason everyone owns a Champion.
The reason isn’t abstract. It’s a strategy. Now, Champion is doubling down by putting a fashion mind in charge of the brand’s new approach. His name is Jay Escobara, his title is Global VP of Design, and his charge is to make Champion relevant to a younger, hipper consumer. He took the job after spending years at Polo Ralph Lauren and brought with him a very Ralph approach to evolving the brand. “There’s a profound historical heritage here, and my job is a way to expand that American tradition,” Escobara explains.
Escobara has been on the job for five months and he’s already moving Champion closer to the center of the collab universe, becoming a gravity sink that pulls in savvy brands the communities they’ve cultivated. He is working to un-commoditized the sweatshirt and, in so doing, proving what everyone suspected to be true all along: It’s not what you make; it’s who you make it with.
SPY spoke with Escobara about everything from the hoodie’s evolution to how some styles never change.
SPY: Champion is an American staple, but it’s changing. You were hired to bring more of a designer sensibility, but you’re also designing for a very wide market and at an affordable price point. What’s your approach?
JE: For me, it’s always been the youth consumer I care about, that’s what I focus on. When you’re younger, where you spend your money is important, you’re doing it for identification. You still want that same garment and freshness. I want to be able to give that to people no matter where they come from. That sentiment drove a lot of my initial creative work. Design has become so interactive. I think of them not just as the consumer, but really as future creatives, that’s how I’m looking at the process.
Design has become so interactive. I think of them not just as the consumer, but really as future creatives, that’s how I’m looking at the process.
When I came on, the Spring Summer 24 assortment was nearly ready to go to the factories. I was like, “Hell no, we can’t go on the line like this.” A lot of what I was feeling in my gut was that we have to start to approach the brand differently. It can’t just be the same thing.
SPY: It’s hard to communicate a vision. How do you talk about those gut instincts in internal meetings and with your team?
JE: I want to build something that’s more hyper-lifestyle than sport-lifestyle without losing the part of the brand that will always be. We see it working too, particularly when we find collab partners like in Angelo Baque from Awake. They’re also designing for youth culture and we’re headed toward the common goal.
SPY: Champion’s collabs with other brands have been a great way to bring an affordable price point to people and still deliver on the design quality. Are there people out there you know you want to work with and collaborate on something for Champion?
JE: I’d start with the people we have worked with. Todd Snyder’s a good example. Todd did incredible work for Champion and still does a lot with the stuff that you see. I always love to talk really great about folks that are ex Polo alumni—Todd is one. These people understand heritage and vintage and know that there are some big shoes to fill. He makes great things, but for a different consumer. For potential other people? I think about the Telfar guys, who are doing great stuff in Japan, and Junya Watanabe. We work with WTAPS out of Tokyo. I think with some of these, it’s about seeing a fork in the road and taking the path that leads upward.
SPY: Are there elements of your own taste and style we should look out for in the next line for Champion?
JE: If I wanted to make garments for myself, I probably wouldn’t be at Champion. I would be at something closer to Todd Snyder. But that’s not the goal. My thinking is:, “I want to make things with my team that young people are going to care about.” At Champion, one of the bigger moves is that I’ve started to evolve the hoodie. We opened up fits and are using mixed materials. We’re working with a much broader material base. You’re going to see workwear influences, high-end runway influences, will penetrate through in the design vision. This consumer base is going to be more exposed to fashion than it has before.
SPY: What, in your opinion, makes for a good hoodie? What doesn’t change?
JE: I would say the most important things are the fabric and the stitch. We’re unlike any other brand because we come through with the quality, and that’s pinnacle. It doesn’t break the bank to have a Champion hoodie reverse—our stitching weave. A lot of folks have tried to duplicate it, but they can’t. Champion hoodies are what they are because of the way they’re built, from the construction of the fabric to the wash we put on it. I spent a lot of time figuring where the kango pocket should go, where people actually rest their arms in a hoodie. They live into them, and the fabric in certain spots like that needs to be reinforced. We look at the vents, and the sweep of the garment. We also look at the archive to see what that can inform us in designing, by looking at where we’ve been. A lot of people when they hear I’m at Champion say, “Let me show you something.” They pull out their college sweatshirt or college hoodie. Even parents wear their child’s old thing. It’s interesting to see where things go in 20-30 years and still holds up.
What’s your favorite thing you’re wearing these days: A cardigan I picked up in London. I also picked up one of our made-in-Japan pieces from the first patent Champion sweatshirts, made on one of the first machines. I wear it while walking the dog.
What’s the last thing you bought: Coffee at the airport.
What’s something you use everyday: My Macbook Pro. It has everything from music mixes I like to things the design team sent me to design files I use to work. I need my laptop more than anything.
Do you have a favorite cheap thing: Coffee. I’m not really pretentious about it. I’ll do a bodega coffee every day.
What’s your favorite indulgence to splurge on: Shoes. I love Yuketen. They do great stuff.