Today, everyone seems to be starting a streetwear company. Every new “influencer” is trying to create the next big lifestyle brand. These businesses often get slack for a high price and lack of substance to their products. Supreme throws its name on a backpack, and it’s worth thousands of dollars. Off-White sells plain white t-shirts, but they go for $400. While this can sound outrageous on the surface, it’s simply great work by these companies’ respective marketing teams. They have been able to build a strong sense of brand loyalty, making their customers feel important while wearing their clothes. But, before the recent streetwear bubble and the rise of the lifestyle brand, a sports company did it first. They didn’t do it the way it is done today, charging outlandish prices to create a sense of exclusivity. They did research, found their niche market and, using one of the most creative sports marketing campaigns of all time, made their customers feel amazing to be a part of it. This company, is AND1.
The origins of AND1 are not what you would expect from what grew to become a multi million dollar apparel brand. AND1 was originally a database, the idea for a project in the Wharton School of Business. This database was of local recreational basketball stars that the founder, Seth Berger, would sell to local shoe brands to use these streetballers as marketing tools for the nearby youth. This idea did when pitched to Wharton professors, but when he pitched to some VCs for potential funding, it was a flop. That being said, when compounding this database, Berger began to realize the extent of the “streetball” culture and the power these local icons held in their respective communities. So, he made a strategic pivot and, the company we know today was born.
AND1 became a clothing company with the target market of the basketball players who showcase their talent in the local playgrounds. Players with flash and flair who always think that they are the best out there. Berger saw a large market of this type of athlete, and a lack of marketers targeting this niche. He filled the void, and did so quickly and effectively. After only a year, AND1 had just under $2 million in revenue, and that number skyrocketed to about $70 million by year five.
This quick success was largely due to their unique business strategies, mixing the classic athletic brands of the time with the up and coming idea of “streetwear” and “lifestyle.” Yes, AND1 is a basketball brand, but there are some key differences from classic sport brands. A lot of AND1’s products were style over substance. It was possible to play basketball in AND1 gear, but much of the apparel was meant more for flash than function. The shoes had crazy designs with swirls and foam on the bottom, a stark differentiation from the classic Nike or Jordan looks of the time. The shirts were often marketed to be worn big and baggy, a trendy style of the time but not all that practical athletically. While AND1 wanted to reach the athletes on the court, how they looked and more importantly felt off the court in their clothes was the primary goal. This was something streetballer types could resonate with, and the brand took off.
Furthermore, when it came to professional endorsements, AND1 also took an unorthodox route. Instead of endorsing the best players possible, they got endorsements from the players who they felt best represented their message and market. They got players like Stephon Marbury, who played in the NBA like he was at a local park. They got an endorsement from Latrell Sprewell, notorious for his attitude and edge. Lastly and most notably, they got an endorsement with Vince Carter, who at the time was known as a fancy high flyer who pulled off dunks people would usually only see in the streets, or in video games. He wore their most famous shoe, The Tai Chi, in his notorious 2000 Dunk Contest victory, what is still widely considered the best dunk contest performance of all time. They didn’t endorse a lot of professionals, but when they did they were strategic and selective in doing so.
All of this being said, the most interesting aspect of AND1 has very little to do with their clothes at all. AND1 really caught on due to their “AND1 Mixtape” series, something different than what basketball fans had ever seen before. Starting in 1998, AND1 would recruit 12-15 of the best “streetballers” from across the country to travel the United States playing the best competition each city had to offer. They would never lose, and not only would they win, but win in style. They would play with an unparalleled flash and flair, truly embodying the streetball mentality of the brand. The showmanship was thought of as much more important than the score, the games more of a spectacle than a competition.
While this started off as nothing more than a marketing campaign, the mixtape grew to have a life of it’s own. It became must see TV, earning a regular spot on ESPN. The players became superstars, many even having fame to this day. Season 1’s star was Rafer Alston, who went by the name of “Skip to My Lou,” and used this tour to launch his future NBA career, spending ten seasons in the league. Taurian Fournette, AKA “Air Up There,” was the high flyer of the group. He got his fame, and another nickname of “Mr. 720” for pulling off the first 720 dunk ever recorded. Lastly, the biggest star of them all, was Grayson Boucher, more notably known as “The Professor.” He is known for his otherworldly dribbling and passing ability, still utilizing that fame today, running a YouTube channel with just under 4 million subscribers.
While AND1 may not be as prominent anymore today, they went from nothing to being on top of the basketball world in no time at all. They employed unique business tactics, thinking outside of the box to great success. They are an example of how taking risks and staying true to your brand can lead to great rewards.