Underwear was the unusual start of the Fila, the Italian sportswear company whose clothes have graced the likes of sports superstars like Grant Hill and Jerry Stackhouse.
This company was founded in 1911 by Giansevero Fila as a knitwear company that specialized in underwear. Headquartered in Biella, Italy, Fila’s products were popular in the Alps, where they were used by skiers to keep warm on the slopes. That humble beginning remained the identity of the company for the majority of its existence until the seventies when it turned to sportswear.
At its highest point, Fila was ranked number three in sportswear in the world, right behind Nike and Reebok in 1996. Prior to that, Fila had worked its way up from nowhere with the endorsements from athletes who loved its products. Part of what made this brand so enticing was that it worked through the Great Depression and World War II, continuing to manufacture its knit lines through a series of challenging times. The company nearly went under more than once, only to bounce back again.
Though it started out in such humble beginnings, Fila took off when it turned to sportswear in the 1970’s. This boom in business was thanks in large part to a sponsorship deal with tennis star Bjorn Borg, who created a massive swell of brand recognition for Fila. That brand recognition led to huge growth and expansion in sales, led by manager Enrico Franchey. The company continued to work with that model of athlete sponsorship over the next forty years to increase its reach and attract customers. By the early eighties, Fila had become a worldwide brand. Its “F” logo was then widely recognizable in the realm of shoes and sports clothing.
Widening the Brand
Fila intentionally pushed its brand to high end retailers like Macy’s and Nordstrom, putting a premium on its branding. This company made its name as a luxury sportswear and shoe company. This strategy was undercut during a scandal in the 1980’s in which fifteen million overstocks of the Italian shoes were sent to the United States through a British liquidation company and sold at less than their premium price. As a result, the brand’s premium plummeted and their sales went flat. Image had been everything for Fila, and it took a while for the company to bounce back.
Sponsoring athletes eventually turned into sponsoring sporting events for Fila as well.
One thing that Fila has always done well is outsource its production when it needed to grow. Rather than keep manufacturing in Italy, the company makes its products all over the world. This helps to mitigate production costs and to allow for further expansion.
Fila changed hands multiple times over the years, including when it was bought out by U.S. hedge fund Cerberus in 2003 through its subsidiary Sports Brands International. Fila’s final buyout came when Fila Korea acquired it in 2009. In 2011, Fila Korea bought the golf equipment manufacturer Acushnet, which owns Titelist, for just over one billion dollars. This moved Fila into the sports equipment business.
With a focus on high end shoes, sportswear, and accessories, Fila is a premium sportswear brand that is beloved by top level athletes.