Reigning Champ

Reigning Champ opens Vancouver flagship store, where premium athletic fleece that’s understated yet functional takes centre stage

The menswear market is a seriously tough nut to crack. Just take a stroll down any fashion forward shopping area and you can count the number of menswear only shops on one hand. This happens because male shoppers fall into two categories, the ones that couldn’t care less how they look or what they wear (how else could the square toed dress shoe phenomenon exist) and the ones who are so picky that they stick to trusted brands until given a reason not to. The good news is, Reigning Champ has cracked the proverbial nut by coming up with a program sure to be copied around the globe by the time you finish reading this.

The store sits on a heavy trafficked block on Kitsilano’s West 4th Avenue, where for months leading up to the unveiling all that hinted at what was to come was a giant brand-less black and white back shot of a handsome man sporting a simple crew neck sweatshirt. Now that the store is open, the experience is akin to stepping inside a massive change room. In fact, that’s what award-winning Canadian architect Peter Cardew was going for when he designed the store.

More aptly called a ‘changing cabin’ within a gym, the space beautifully guides the eye along rows of fleece basics to technical alpha insulated seasonal products. The monochromatic silhouettes have a slim (but not too slim) fashion forward design thanks to sister company Wings and Horns. Everything is milled and manufactured in Vancouver by parent company CYC design. This means no small children or oppressed humans have a hand in this operation. If you take a peek at the underbelly of most successful fashion or sportswear brands, the influence of globally dominated pricing and shoddy labour practice is easy to spot, which make Wings and Horns and Reigning Champ even more of an anomaly.

“We introduced our core program as the foundation for everything else, which has five styles that we can carry over seasons, year after year,” says Reigning Champ marketing zeitgeist Doug Barber. This means the brand doesn’t fall prey to seasonal pricing, mark downs and retail outlets being forced to carry inventory they can’t move. “We have re-orders on a regular basis, we communicate to our accounts that core products never go on sale because they are never dated,” says Barber. “Reigning Champ has never had anything go on sale. I think it’s important from a messaging stand point that we are confident in our products and don’t need to mark them down and blow out inventory because everything sells through.”

Since Barber came on board, the brand has gone from 10 accounts to 300 globally, an online and flagship store and collaborations with Nordstom, J-Crew, Club Monaco, and Bloomingdales. With such a huge interest how does the brand maintain its appeal? “Eighty percent of our line is highly wearable for 16 to 76 year-olds. It’s pretty cool to span that kind of age,” says Barber.

In the next year, keep your eyes trained for a fully branded collaboration with Asics footwear and New Balance, and a full partnership project with Adidas. For the first time Canada is hosting the NBA All Star game, and guess who is making the official warm up suit?

When a company comes along and ticks all the boxes as thoroughly as Reigning Champ has, you can’t help but feel good about the possible future of premium mens sportswear, at least in Canada where the nut thankfully hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.


Edited by Celeste Moure.
Photos by Allison Kuhl.

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