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Last Updated on December 18, 2021
Fila trainers seem to have been swept up (together with mom jeans, platform sneakers, and bucket hats) into the nostalgia hurricane that we are currently experiencing. You might have missed its early stages, but…Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!
Nostalgia trends are now everywhere and you cannot scroll through Shein, H&M, or Mango and not spot the 70s and 90s classic models. Fila was a great brand way back when but, have they managed to remain true to themselves and their brand?
We are definitely going to find out!
Brief History of Fila
Fila is a sportswear, apparel, and shoe manufacturer founded in 1911 by Ettore and Giansevero Fila. The brand is originally from Biella, Piedmont, Italy. It began making underwear and knitwear for the people living in the Italian Alps but around 1970 it migrated to the sportswear niche. Their premium and utilitarian products earned them a name as producers of high-quality clothing.
1973 proved to be a key year for Fila as it set its eyes on tennis. The brand started to release signature gear and accessories leading to its White Line collection. With it, they introduced a splash of color into a sport that was renowned for wearing all-white ensembles. Quite tongue-in-cheek!
Of course, every single garment was up to the highest standards including polo shirts, shorts, sweatpants, and jackets. It all exploded into unprecedented levels of popularity after tennis player Björn Borg endorsed the brand, officially making it ok to be bold and stylish in the world’s top elitist sport.
In 2003, it was sold to Sports Brand International, an American brand, and in 2007 Fila Korea (a separate company operating the brand under license) acquired the brand.
Fila’s sales increased 205% from 2016 to 2018 (from US$821 million to US$2.51 billion) with Gene Yoon (Yoon Yoon-su) as chairman of Fila Holdings. Currently, Fila operates in 70+ countries worldwide. Even with those numbers, Fila continues to be a smaller brand when compared with giants of the industry like Nike and Adidas.
This might not be a bad thing in current trends though, since younger consumers are leaning towards buying from smaller unique brands with accessible prices rather than established giants at exorbitant costs.
Fila in the 90s
Fila was particularly big in the hip-hop scene of the 90s and early 2000s as celebrities wore a lot of sportswear and often restyled it in flamboyant ways to fit their performances. Tupac was a fan of Grant Hill’s shoe, while Chloë Sevigny adored Fila’s tracksuits, to name a few.
With basketball taking center stage all through the decade, tennis wasn’t nearly as big a presence during the 90s as it had been during the 70s. Fila didn’t take long to jump on the wagon though, and signed Grant Hill and Chriss Webber, among other basket stars, to wear their basketball shoes. One of the most notorious models was the quintessential Fila hoops shoe: the Bubble.
However, the most famous Fila shoes in the 90s were the Mindblower (an oversized trainer with a warped logo) and the sawtooth sneaker, also known as the Disruptor Low. They gained traction during this decade thanks to pop culture and their notoriety in the music world. The bulky sneaker could be found on many artists like the Spice Girls and it was quickly adopted by their fans all over the world.
What Makes Fila Cool as a Brand?
Fila’s notorious collaborations with brands like BAPE have managed to set it apart from competitors. These partnerships have helped Fila create exposure and gain fashion cred with a young audience, while also providing the brand with greater reach into the streetwear market, a very lucrative niche aimed at the Gen-Z customer.
To sustain their rising popularity and compete with other major sportswear players, Fila has kept the eye on the ball and the ear to the ground. Evolving together with the consumer’s changing needs and environment protection regulations will ultimately determine if they will last as a brand.
All that being said, Fila’s signature red, blue, and white color palette will continue to garner attention everywhere as an iconic and nostalgic design. Just as it rapidly rose to the forefront of wished-for apparel options when the 90s revival began, it will never fully lose its appeal.
Fila’s Most Stylish Footwear
Both their Disruptor II chunky sneakers and their behemoth platform sneakers lead the charge when it comes to Fila’s most popular footwear. Their low-top Fila shoes come in close as the second most loved model, neck to neck with the classic Fila sandals.
We have previously covered the Disruptor II (also known as the best fila trainer) and its many variations in our “15 of the Best FILA sneakers for women” article. This model is an updated version of the original sawtooth sneaker that the brand released in 1996, and it became so popular that it was named “Shoe of the Year” in 2018 by Footwear News!
The most notorious characteristic of the Disruptor II is their chunkiness and their zig-zag platform sole, together with the F logo on the tongue. They are considered ugly sneakers and, perhaps precisely because of that, loved by Gen-Z girls over Chuck Taylors or Vans.
As part of the brand’s massive comeback relaunch, the Mindblower, a 90s Fila throwback shoe, was reimagined with a range of artists and designers. Some of those working on it included Kinfolk magazine, Marcus Troy, and Pink Dolphin. Accompanying the launch a whole range of apparel was also launched (graphic tees, hoodies, jackets, fanny packs, and baseball caps).
Cool Fila Hoodies and Other Clothing
Cool collaborations with other brands like Urban Outfitters, MSGM, Phillip Lim, and Fendi have guaranteed Fila’s apparel presence both in the streets and fashion venues. Their jaunty bucket hats and overalls sporting the traditional logo continue to gain them notoriety in streetwear style now that fashion weeks are slowly starting to be reinstated. I mean, who hasn’t seen international top models like Bella and Gigi wearing the original Fila logo on the front of the t-shirts?
Authenticity is key when going for these types of pieces, not only because the quality one can expect from cheap knockoffs is a far cry from the real thing, but also because of how tacky it is considered by diehard fans of the brand. Even more so for true fans of vintage sportswear that insist on wearing the real deal from the 90s!
Fila Sponsored Athletes
In August 2020, ATP Tour players John Isner, Reilly Opelka, Sam Querrey, and Diego Schwartzman, among others, debuted the Fila 2020 Heritage collection in New York City. The aesthetic was deeply rooted in the brand’s rich tennis history, as well as in the new contemporary style that has redefined the company in recent years and the ultimate performance standards needed by today’s top athletes.
A similar release had also taken place in 2017 during the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open for another Heritage tennis collection from Fila. Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Jankovic together with Marin Cilic, John Isner, Sam Querrey, and Andreas Seppi were some of the athletes present at that time.
Celebrities Who Wear Fila
People have been wearing Fila as fashionable streetwear since the 90s, with tons of celebrities joining the ranks of collaborators and ambassadors.
Busta Rhymes wore the Fila FX-100 High in 1991, Q-Tip went for the Fila tracksuit in 92, Dr. Dre sported a Fila Jacket in 1993 while walking on the street and Inspectah Deck wore Fila headbands in 1998. And those are just well-documented appearances of some of the most relevant stars of the decade.
Celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Kanye West, and Kylie Jenner have been mixing and matching their designer clothing with throwback and nostalgic Fila apparel for quite some time. In 2018, Niki Minaj was spotted sitting front row on Fendi wearing head-to-toe Fila x Fendi apparel, Emily Ratajkowski was also spotted in a pair of Disruptor II’s in off duty model looks outside fashion week venues.
In October 2019, South Korean boy group BTS became the global brand ambassador of Fila. Korean celebrities like IU and Kim Yoo Jung have made Fila a staple streetwear brand in K-fashion, both for fans of K-dramas and for trendsetters.
Billie Eilish has also sported chunky sneakers and her fans have been fast adopters of the Fila brand.
Is Fila a Good Brand?
If we compared Fila to other competitor brands like Puma, Reebok, Nike, Converse and Adidas they might appear to be less relevant and more niche. This might be true, but when it comes to real numbers they are very far from being a small brand!
Their quality is top of the line. They offer comfort, durability, and excellent support for running or any number of physical activities. They have also maintained their reputation as a brand that is synonymous with authentic European sport and luxury. Fila is fully committed to its heritage sport, tennis, and is often featured sponsoring several ATP Tournaments and Grand Masters worldwide.
The brand is focused not only on sponsoring tennis events but on being actively involved in the support and lives of the athletes and they nurture this platform by building long-term relationships. Fila offers the same elite apparel and footwear to spectators and players alike.
Is fila a good brand? As far as quality and staying true to their roots, we can positively say that Fila has remained steadfast in the production standards and final product expectations.
Reinterpreting their brand’s history and heritage has proved key to their success. Instead of going with the flow and accommodating emerging trends that tend to go in and out of style at light-speed, Fila has focused on leveraging the ongoing 90s obsession and has refined their brand’s strategy to focus on their century-long heritage.
Is Fila cool? I’d say, they are definitely still cool.
Trends inspired by street style and nostalgia will never cease to exist, persisting in the shadows and coming back to the spotlight in a cycle of continued rebirth and evolution, both as logos and branding elements that reappear continuously as key themes on the runways.
That said, remaining technologically savvy, being environmentally friendly, and adhering to labor’s good practices is no easy task in today’s evolving market.
- 2007, WWD – Fila Sold to Fila Korea
- 2016, by Brittany Adams, Allure – Fila, Champion, and More: Why Fashion Loves the ’90s
- 2017, the News Market – FILA Sponsored Tennis Athletes to Wear Heritage Collection for the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open
- 2019 by Shirley Tay, CNBC – How a ’90s nostalgia trend powered the comeback of two century-old sports brands
- 2019, by Emma Hope Allwood, Dazed – The story of the Fila Disruptor II, the internet’s most divisive shoe
- 2019 by Divia Harilela, South China Morning Post – From Champion to Fila – why retro brands are here to stay thanks to streetwear movement
- 2020, by Nima Naderi, Tennis Connected – FILA Athletes to Debut Contemporary Heritage Collection in New York City
- 2020, Fila – FILA Celebrates “A Most Beautiful Thing” With Custom Tennis 88 Sneaker and Tee