Local Roots, Global Ambitions: The History of Fila
Ever wondered about the history of Fila? Before the hype, before the comeback, before everything else. This is “Fila history of a company”. Get to know more about one the most important sportswear brands, ever.
It seems like a good number of Italian footwear and clothing names originate from identical roots. Now, we don’t mean they necessarily come from a specific region, but more of an idea.
That idea revolves around stressing high quality and considerate design. Additionally, a lot of these Italian brands start out in a relatively remote part of the country, passionately crafting wears and goods for the people around them.
That love, that ambition to live up to lofty standards seems often to remain with brands. It guides their future, all the way from their past. The history of Fila is no different.
Fila‘s reputation to anyone under the age of 30 has more to do with a sort of vague relevance in the fashion world. Today, it hangs on to the accidental success of a retro wave.
This trend, bringing back brands such as Champion as well, brings Fila back to the forefront of our fashion consciousness leading up to around early 2012. This only intensifies when names such as Kanye West bring some good PR back to the baggy sweats.
All of a sudden, we go into 2015 and the 1990s streetwear look is not just back, it’s in full force. This works particularly well for Fila, a name that sports a connection with the hip-hop scene of the 90s and early 2000s.
In fact, the history of Fila in the game racks up quite the catalog over time. At one point, the brand secures an endorsement deal with Grant Hill, a young guard for the Detroit Pistons who spends much of his early career fielding comparisons to Michael Jordan.
Combining that hoops relevance to a connection with a superstar NBA player, Fila spends a few years just at the tipping point of massive success. Their earlier models, featuring a wearability and style profile akin to Nike’s Air Force 1, only amplify this effect.
So, the question then, inevitably, becomes: what happened? How did a brand of this caliber, boasting this sort of cache, end up in its comparatively low-key status?
(Very) Early Days
Well, to understand this involves an exploration of Fila’s past. The background of this brand takes us to the Alps of Northern Italy. There, in a little town by the name of Biella, two brothers start with quite the simple notion.
The Fila brothers, as they are known by legend, start the brand’s journey as a manufacturer of quality underwear and knitwear. The origins of Fila date back to 1911 when the brothers take inspiration from literally everything around them to put together quality clothing.
They start this outfitting name as a means of articulating an Italian aesthetic. Each piece takes visual inspiration from aspects such as the rolling hills surrounding them and the graceful roar of the Mediterranean coastline.
After years of establishing the Fila name as a provider of top quality clothing, the brothers decide to do something bigger. In the name of expansion, Fila forms a partnership with Maglificio Biellese in 1923, effectively kicking off the Fila we know today.
Suddenly, this wasn’t a textile company providing a few select pieces of quality clothing anymore. The partnership makes this the first time Fila really aims for the larger Italian fashion market.
The years to follow include more work towards maintaining the brand’s reputation for premium and utilitarian goods. This habit captures the attention of many investors, all looking to join in on the wild success of the hometown brand.
As Fila’s sales numbers take the family company beyond the borders of its hometown, there is a pressing need in the market. Italy and high fashion have what feels like a permanent connection. In Fila’s earlier days, this is no different.
But, there is a notable gap in the sportswear market, featuring a relatively small number of options for consumers in the 1940s. In 1942, the brand responds to this by merging with Fratelli Fila.
Now a larger group, the Fratelli Fila company had been looking for ways to expand and get more involved in the sportswear market at this point. This merger brings the two names together and helps launch a full-scale assault on this section of the industry.
Of course, the numbers only get wilder from there. After decades of massive sales numbers, the staff total climbs to over 250 people. More importantly, Fila works their way to revenues numbering in the equivalent to nearly a billion euros.
That stretch of time sees massive success as the years go by with the family brand managing to maintain a focus on the highest quality standards. For the purposes of understanding the company’s history, this is also an important time for Fila’s transition into a more specific section of the global sportswear market.
Leading up to the 1970s, the sportswear market starts to see noticeably more intense competition. Though Fila’s earlier years involve having a fairly hefty section of the regional market, global sportswear quickly becomes a big and booming business.
Consequently, the brand finds itself in a spot to make a critical decision. In order for Fila to continue their lofty aspirations, they had to arm themselves with some more punching power in the sportswear sector.
In 1968, they do just that. The company takes on the services of Enrico Frachey. The new chief director makes waves early, bringing with him the talents he needs to push Fila to new heights.
The early 1970s see Frachey hit the ground running. Fila makes their entry into major sports endorsements by taking on the tennis world. Choosing this route as your entry into the sportswear world makes a lot of sense for a few reasons.
Tennis, much like soccer, offers a naturally global fanbase. Since the beginning of the Grand Slam era, tennis brands often have a chance to meet the eyes of consumers in several continents, from the United States and the United Kingdom to Japan and Australia.
Pouring investment into tennis sponsorship is almost a no-brainer. Yet, Fila makes sure to make quite the splash in this effort.
1973 proves to be an important year for the history of Fila. The brand takes full advantages of the global tennis stage – and all of its audiences – by doing something quite clever.
Tennis is a sport that often traps itself in its own traditional boundaries. The sport has always been a bit obsessed with a clean dress code. In fact, it isn’t even overstating to call it rigid.
Throughout the sport’s existence, most Grand Slam events expect and encourage participants to be in all-white attire. Though the clothing these athletes wear focuses intensely on freedom of movement and ventilation, tennis officials found themselves equally concerned with the sport’s image.
Moving into the early 70s, Fila steps in to change this. After their official entry into the sport, the brand begins to release signature gear and accessories. Eventually, they go on to release the White Line collection.
The tongue-in-cheek nature of this collection is evident from its name. Anyone who knows what the Fila logo looks like understands that limiting to White isn’t quite the brand’s style.
As such, this collection introduces to tennis a splash of color and flamboyance. Importantly, the whole collection features in relatively conservative finishes.
The polo shirts are true to traditional form. The shorts are functional. The sweatpants and jackets meet the physical requirements of even the most elite athletes. It was all up to the standards of these world-class athletes.
In Steps a Legend
And then, just when the wider tennis world squints to really get a good look at Fila, the brand is taken to new heights thanks to the endorsement of one particular player. Bjorn Borg, one of the most recognizable and legendary names in the game’s history, lends his name and fame to the cause.
He is paid very handsomely, of course. But, it’s easy to see why Fila saw him as worth every bit of that fee. In the 70’s, Borg represents a time of rising popularity for the sport, critical to the history of Fila You know that over stuffy elitism we alluded to before?
Borg is the golden bridge between that spotless personal and a more flamboyant expression. As far as PR goes, there may not be more than a handful of players who are better ambassadors for the game.
Borg’s appearance means a lot to the visual development of the sport. His combination of undoubtedly European styling and the clean reputation contributes a special presence to the game.
He effectively makes it ok to be bold and stylish in the perhaps the world’s most elitist sport. Fila has a big part in that happening. The White Line collection brings enough to this effort to inspire even wilder success throughout the 1970s.
Scores of fans who come to see the legendary Borg play, back in his glory days, show up in his iconic Fila gear. Even legends such as Andre Aggasi admit to spending a good portion of their childhood fawning after Borg’s aesthetic.
On to the 90s
Keeping that success in the 70s in mind, it’s not so difficult to imagine this sort of wave kicking back up in the 1990s. Now, although tennis is still quite popular at this time, another phenomenon starts to really flex its muscles.
Basketball explodes onto the scene as more than just a sport. The 90s, too many consumers, are the years when the game’s visual appeal – the style, the athleticism – really took a leap forward.
Cross-overs and behind-the-back passes were rampant, Michael Jordan was just getting started, and there was more to come. Thanks to these developments, the history of Fila takes on a prominence both on and off the basketball court.
Though the signing of Grant Hill is arguably the brand’s most impressive achievement here, there is more. Fila becomes so popular among basketball circles in the 90s that names such as Chriss Webber – a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee – also join their roster.
Hill and Webber are, to the say the least, remarkably different athletes. But, they share an aspect that helps Fila’s marketing efforts. Both players represent a unique on-the-court flair that contributes to the game’s history.
Hill spends his early years with the lofty comparisons to Michael Jordan. Webber spends his career adding remarkable excitement and dynamism to an often boring and immobile position in the sport. Both are titans in basketball, contributing the history of Fila shoes.
A New Relevance + The Future
As their performance models gain steam, sneakers such as the Fila Disruptor Low find life off the court. Before the current hype behind bulky sneaker, the Disruptor Low first picks up steam thanks to pop culture in the 90s.
A glance at crowds even at pick-up games back then would show these shoes on many feet. Though you might not quite guess it at this point, Fila’s relevance achieved the rarity of two different cultural impressions.
The contributions they make to the visual history of tennis and basketball are part of why the company even sees relevance among hip-hop moguls. That sort of reputation is not earned by chance.
Fila’s ambitions initially center around producing quality wears for the founders’ fellow citizens. The small town of Biella holds a special place in its heart for the Italian brand, even after its transfer to Korean holding.
But, for our purposes, it’s important to acknowledge just how far the history of Fila comes from its roots to global icon status. Not only do major sports save a section of their past for Fila hype, there is a general reference the brand earns thanks to a century-long commitment to quality.
The Fila brothers start with that commitment, so long ago, and it somehow remains with the company despite all sorts of changes around them. That is the reason why Fila now “coming back” shows us a quality in wears that is not remotely surprising.
We should only expect the coming years to add eloquently to the history of Fila.