European fashion has often been a starting point for worldwide trends. When the name Fila is mentioned, a litany of memories come to mind.
Depending on the culture you have the most experience with, when you were born, and where you grew up, your recollection of Fila is probably vastly different from someone whose demographics do not match yours. The brand’s origins story and more than 100 year history is a testament to the flexibility and greatness of what Fila was and is.
In 1911, two brothers from the small town of Biella that rests in the foot of the Italian Alps set forth on a dream to create a space for themselves in the industry. Ettore and Gianservo Fila originally opened their own textile shop to provide sewing materials and fabrics to the townspeople. After 10 years of being a textile supplier, the brothers had built enough experience and networking to take the next step. That step took them from providing materials to teaming with Maglificio Biellese to begin creating their own pieces that included fine sweatshirts, scarves, and jumpers.
No stranger to the grind, the brothers built a reputation for durable, stylish, high-fashion clothing. As word spread of the magnificent offerings from the brothers throughout Italy, the idea of expansion was becoming more tangible. Biellese and the brothers merged with the Fratelli Fila Company, which was another clothing manufacturer looking to expand, in 1942, and the group took on the name Fila. The newly bolstered company ended up experiencing another quarter century of success within the knitwear space.
Expanding the Brand
Fila saw immense growth over that time span and looked to expand even further. Throughout that time period there were not a large number of options within the sportswear market. As the popularity of spreads grew along with its accessibility, there became an opportunity for the Fila collective to tap into the emerging market. With that in mind, Giansvero Fila hired Enrico Frachey as the company’s managing director in 1968. He believed that Frachey already had a healthy respect for the brand and understood the company’s vision of expanding into the sportswear sector. In just four short years, Fila had become a billion lire, Italian currency at the time, company.
However, there were a few more additions needed to ensure the launch into the sportswear sphere was as prosperous and actually functional for athletes. Giansvero Fila hired artistic designer Pier Luigi Rolando and engineering director Alessandro Galliano. With the new additions to the team, Fila aimed to crash sportswear with pieces that were aesthetically pleasing and athletically preferable.
Fila had gaudy goals of not just creating sportswear, but taking the brand global. Already known for fine pieces, and being originally birthed in Italy, the brand had to be intentional in its alignment to sports and sports figures. During this time period only a few sports would provide the chance for international appeal while remaining true to the upscale category. Tennis was the perfect sport to check these boxes. It was a great cross section of country club demographic and high global visibility. Fila honed in on tennis, but wanted to do it their way. They made an immediate splash with the release of the “White Line” Collection in 1973, which was a sarcastic nod to the staunch traditions of the sports acceptable dress code. The pieces in the collection were conservative in styling but veered away from the all white kits that tennis players had worn up until this point by placing the brand’s navy and red colors on off-white polo shirts. More importantly, the collection put the Fila “F” logo on TV screens worldwide.
The Perfect Match
The instant acceptance of Fila into the tennis world led to an endorsement deal with Bjorn Borg. This was a match made in brand expansion heaven as Borg won on one of the sport’s largest stages, Wimbledon, for five consecutive years from 1975-1980. Though his winning helped, it was his fearless personality that made Borg the perfect billboard to announce Fila’s arrival as a fresh, new global contender in sportswear as he was an unabashed break from the elitist fashion norms of tennis, and rocked Fila while doing so.
The late 1980s going into the ’90s saw another sport begin to take on massive, global appeal. Basketball burst onto the scene and grew rapidly under the leadership of David Stern. Fila saw another opportunity to stretch it’s brand and signed Hersey Hawkins, Jerry Stackhouse and Jamal Mashburn. The biggest signing, however, came when they were able to woo Duke Blue Devils superstar Grant Hill in 1994. Two years earlier, Fila had already began to see street wear success with the FX-100 that came in a bevy of colors to match the colorful style of the era. The Hill endorsement, though, provided critical validation to the brand’s viability as a basketball shoe. The Grant Hill 1 was a favorite and took Fila to a new stratosphere that had previously been held for the likes of Nike and Adidas. However, the Grant Hill 2 crossed over to the hip-hop world with it’s unique patent leather tracing around the upper. One of the culture’s most iconic pictures of all time features 2Pac rocking the Grant Hill 2 in the booklet for his classic album, “All Eyes on Me”.
The Future of Fila
Fila’s presence in the basketball world wasn’t as impactful as they had hoped. The lack of technical specs made it difficult to keep pace with brands that had a sports background and a plethora of athlete endorsements. Though waning in popularity, Fila was always around. The shoes, sweatshirt and tracksuits were always accessible. That persistence has paid off as Fila has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years, specifically with the Disruptor. The trend of chunky sneakers carved just the right space for the Disruptor 2 to flourish as an affordable chunky shoe option.
Fashion is a funny thing. What two brothers started as a textile brand in a small town in Italy ended up enjoying a run in the upper ranks of the sportswear world and making an indelible mark in street fashion.