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Champion accidentally hit the fashion jackpot

On a recent Tuesday at the newly opened Champion store in Philadelphia's Center City, the brand's oversize red, white and blue "C" is everywhere: across the chest of thick cotton sweatshirts, down the sides of track pants and on the front of baseball caps. A couple of 20-somethings sift the clothing racks during the lunch hour. They drift through the aisles like wandering billboards.

Jasmine Satchell stopped by with a friend to check out the customisation area on the top floor and perhaps buy a hoodie and get it personalised. Already a fan of the company, she wore a gray Champion hoodie and had a dark blue beanie on top of her twists. "I obviously love the brand," Satchell said, pointing to the logo on her chest. "Everybody can wear Champion. My mom can rep Champion-and my grandma probably can, too."

The century-old brand best known for basic gym attire is experiencing an unlikely revival. Champion is a benefactor of three swirling style trends that converged to create a teen and millennial fashion craze: Logo apparel is in vogue; throwback gear has returned; and streetwear-the casual style derived from skateboard and sports culture-is having a moment.

Parent company HanesBrands, the longtime stewards of tightly-whitey underwear, is certainly enjoying that moment.

The company has had 10 straight years of revenue growth fueled in part by the strength of Champion, its second-largest brand. In its most recent earnings call, HanesBrands Chief Executive Officer Gerald Evans Jr said Champion is one of three growth drivers for his apparel seller-the only label in his portfolio that earned such recognition.

Champion had double-digit growth during the holiday season, which drove the company's best fourth-quarter performance in four years. Teens in particular are latching on to the label, with 9 per cent of upper-income boys and 5 per cent of girls starting to wear its clothes this spring, according to a recent survey from Piper Jaffray. Male teens consider it a top-15 brand, ranking alongside such names as Gucci and Tommy Hilfiger.

Last year it had nearly US$1.4 billion ($2b) in global sales. The company hopes to cash in on Champion's newfound cultural cachet and grow it into a $2b unit by 2022.

Susan Hennike, president of Champion's North America division, has been tasked with reaching that goal. She credits Champion's popularity surge to increased investment in social media channels, updated designs (including more fashion-forward items like cut-off sweatshirts), new brick-and-mortar locations and collaborations with other established brands. "There's been a bit of a newfound discovery," Hennike says of the youths roving her stores. "I don't think we've necessarily changed."

Since 2016, Champion's Instagram followers have climbed from 200,000 to about 6m. (Hennike says she even takes the masochistic step of reading the comments to gauge her followers' thoughts.) You can find Rihanna and members of the Kardashian clan wearing Champion in paparazzi pics and Instagram posts. Chance the Rapper went further last year, claiming during an Instagram livestream that he helped make the brand "unlame."

Champion was once best known for making gear for youth soccer squads and college kids, not A-list celebrities. Knickerbocker Knitting Mills was founded in 1919 by Simon Feinbloom and his sons-Abe and Bill-in Rochester, New York, as a wholesale operation. The brothers would later rename it Champion Knitwear Mills and switched their focus to collegiate apparel.

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