Whether you’re a casual fan of the sweatshirt or a full-on casual-wear collector, the chances are you’re probably familiar with Champion Reverse Weave. In fact, the chances are also pretty high that, whether you realize it or not, you probably own a Champion Reverse Weave sweatshirt. That might be a new purchase, or it could just as easily be decades old at this point: an artifact in its own right and the go-to canvas for brands, bands, sports teams, and even colleges, Reverse Weave has been propping up the full spectrum of culture and counter-culture now for longer than most of the people wearing it have been walking the Earth.
First patented in 1938 and finalized as we know it in 1952, Reverse Weave has become – in terms of production – a byword for quality. Institutions of all kinds have been making their mark on Reverse Weave sweatshirts for over half a century now, depending on its quality and its durability to act as a kind of time capsule – to freeze a moment in time. And, for that same reason, it has become a favorite among consumers, too: not just because Reverse Weave holds up structurally, but because it has held up those memories. It is, in a sense, nostalgia in garment form. Or, as Vanessa LeFebvre, Global President of Champion, calls it “the canvas for culture and self expression.”
“I was actually just looking at a sweatshirt a couple of weeks ago from the 1930s,” LeFebvre says, speaking over Zoom, “And it holds up, you know? It holds up because of the quality – a quality Champion has been committed to this whole time, still making Reverse Weave the same way we did in the ’30s. But there’s more than just quality in a tactile sense – think about how and where it’s showed up throughout history. That just adds another level of storytelling.”
So, why, knowing all that, would Champion decide to rework Reverse Weave? Why would the brand make changes to something that is not only highly respected as a product but also emotionally charged as an object? Human beings are famously change-averse, and from an outside perspective it feels like a serious risk.
Yes, it’s kind of a mouthful by comparison, but what it represents is much simpler: an Earth-friendlier version of the Reverse Weave material, designed to biodegrade in the end-of-life process – without losing any of its trademark durability. Where classic Reverse Weave’s heavyweight construction is a mix of 74% Cotton and 26% Polyester, Eco Future updates that recipe, swapping out the regular, petro-derived plastic element for something new and innovative; something which, in light of our precarious situation, feels – as Reverse Weave should – more in step with the cultural moment of today.
So, what does that mean in practice?
Well, in terms of the detail, Eco Future still technically uses the same base material ingredients as classic Reverse Weave – it isn’t so much about removing the problem as adapting around it and lessening its impact. Instead of mixing cotton and plain-old petro-polyester, Eco Future uses a 9:1 ratio of organic cotton and CiCLO® polyester – a technology that allows the synthetic element to biodegrade in the same ways as natural materials, cutting back on high-impact parts of the process.
Naturally critics will ask what the point of this is, why Champion opted to add something instead of removing it, but in doing so those critics will miss not only the point in terms of this product but also in terms of how things happen more broadly. To take a product like the Reverse Weave sweat – something that people know by touch and by weight and by feel – and to change it completely overnight might sound like a bold move and a clear statement of intent, but to consumers it’s likely to be too much too fast; likely to turn them off the product, rather than convert them outright to the cause.
The fact is, meaningful change – the kind that lasts – is almost always incremental and rarely comes from handing your consumer base something that they perceive to be a “worse” version of something to which they’ve grown accustomed and even come to depend on. In this sense, the inclusion of CiCLO® in Eco Future Reverse Weave – a decision which makes wastewater treatment, sea water-based processes, and landfill all viable conditions for degradation – puts the burden of change onto the brand itself, which is an all-too-rare thing in the fashion industry.
Speaking about the launch of Eco Future, to Vanessa LeFebvre, Global President of Champion, she explains the thought process behind switching-up a brand that has become almost synonymous with the sweatshirt. “This was in development just because it was the right thing to do,” she says, “Not for the marketing component or for the storytelling component, but because it was necessary.”
And it’s that sense of necessity that keeps coming back around when it comes to Eco Future – the idea of this being something that Champion needed to do, of its own accord, rather than something it decided on a whim.
But the idea of Reverse Weave as an iconic product, LeFebvre says, also felt out of sync with an increasingly open, democratized contemporary culture: “When I came in at Champion,” she begins, “I knew that we really wanted to focus on youth culture – we really wanted to make sure that we’re creating a community and that we’re having conversations.”
The first part of this, she explains, was “positioning Champion away from being a noun,” to rethink the idea of the brand as a monolith “at the top of the podium,” and to really think about the verb – to prioritize not the idea of Champion but the action of championing a cause.
“We know that the youth consumer is struggling right now,” LeFebvre continues, following that thread. “They’re struggling with the burden of being the first generation that doesn’t believe that the world is in a better place or is going to be in a better place any time soon.”
And, of course, a huge part of that is related to the state of the environment and the Earth.
“It’s important to share stories and communicate that the work is being done; it’s important to give people that sense of hope that organizations and companies and brands are trying to do the right thing.” – Vanessa LeFebvre, Global President at Champion
On the one hand, it’s about problems they’ve inherited, but it also relates to the problem of what those entities which they perceive to be capable of moving the needle – the big corporations and the big brands with the power of sway – are doing to make meaningful change right now, in preparation for the future. Which, as a household name among consumers and a leading force in the fashion and textiles industry, is where Champion fits into this conversation.
“We really wanted to bring this forward and be transparent about what we’re working on,” LeFebvre tells FUTUREVVORLD, “it’s important to share stories and communicate that the work is being done; it’s important to give people that sense of hope that organizations and companies and brands are trying to do the right thing.” And it’s this, really, that figures as the driving force behind the Eco Future project – not the material innovation itself, but the deeply human heart of it all.
Yes, there are all kinds of new materials and new processes on display here – important firsts for Champion, like the CiCLO® technology, the adoption of a 100% cotton stitching thread, and the use of botanical dyes, derived from natural sources, designed to lessen the impact of environmentally harmful (and human-toxic) pigments and coloring treatments. But LeFebvre is clear that each of these choices is in service of something beyond itself – not made just because Champion can, but because Champion should. Because the brand owes this kind of change to its consumers much more than it owes them a legacy of product status quo.
“For us, this is an opportunity to say that there is there is change happening,” LeFebvre offers, “We can’t claim to be the best, to be perfect, but I think we’re all trying to do what we can within the vein of sustainability. And in that sense, I really believe that Maya Angelou had it right, ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.’ That’s what we’re trying to do here. To be honest and to be open, and to show that we’re doing better – because we know that has to happen.”
All of which, of course, is how FUTUREVVORLD came to be involved in some small way with the Eco Future roll-out – a step we didn’t take lightly, and a decision we approached with the appropriate level of cautious optimism. It made sense to us, because there was dialogue – there was an openness to the whole process and a desire to show progress over perfection when demands for the latter often overshadow the importance of the former. A chance to work on something as iconic as Champion’s Reverse Weave wasn’t enough – it needed to mean something. Not only to us, but to the brand as well.
And so, thinking about the past and the future, LeFebvre ends with a rumination on Reverse Weave’s place in history and its potential place in whatever comes next. “Knowing that Virgil started OFF-WHITE on canvas blanks from Champion – that’s a pretty cool feeling,” she says, “To know that we’ve just been trusted by creators throughout so many years of existence – that means something.”
And she’s right, of course, but it also means something to put that trust on the line and use the weight of history to ask a whole new group of people to believe in you – to believe in what you’re doing. Eco Future may not, in LeFebvre’s words, be entirely perfect, but it doesn’t have to be yet. This is progress – and that’s how it works.
If you didn’t get lucky with the FVV x Champion collaboration – or if you did and you just want to see more – visit the Champion web store to find the full Eco Future Reverse Weave collection.