A new clothing line, officially licensed by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, is reviving the logos and names of Negro League teams to promote the museum and educate fans about the history of the Negro Leagues.
Teambrown Apparel, an off-shoot brand owned by apparel company Love, Linda, LLC is preparing to launch its line of Negro Leagues-themed t-shirts in concert with Major League Baseball’s Opening Day 2017. It’s new territory for the company, according to owner Rob Brown.
“Love, Linda has been in business for over 25 years specializing in infant and toddler apparel, selling both online and to over 250 retail stores throughout the country,” Brown said. “We started with a line of knitwear, which then evolved into a line of t-shirts. The two most notable collections are from Children’s Book Illustrators showcasing their art and a line of allergy-awareness apparel. It was actually both of those experiences that led to the association with The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”
After successfully marketing those lines, Brown and his wife felt the need to branch out into officially-licensed sports apparel.
“As an attorney with over 25 years of technology licensing experience, I knew it was time to turn my expertise to sports,” Brown commented. “I had long been a fan of the Negro Leagues and would try to find shirts over the years, but was often frustrated with the selection and quality. We approached the museum and inquired about licensing the logos. We felt that if we emphasized the infant and toddler market but still sold to youth and adults that we would accomplish two things: first, we would be opening this unique history to another demographic; secondly, we wanted to have products available for adults to share their love of the NLBM with their kids and grandkids. The museum loved the idea, Teambrown Apparel was born, and so was our tagline – History in Your Size.”
After the license was acquired from the NLBM, Brown and his wife, Linda, went to work on designing the brand for production and distribution.
“The association with the NLBM allows us to market the products to our base of children’s retail stores,” Brown explained. “It also grants us the opportunity to inform and educate people about the Negro Leagues. We also plan to highlight the Negro League’s players while keeping the main focus on the museum and team brands themselves. A percentage goes to the NLBM for everything sold, which gives us tremendous pride. We truly feel that this is not just cause marketing, but also an opportunity to contribute to the future of the museum itself. As we grow, so does the NLBM and that is great business for both of us.”
The line did a soft launch three weeks ago, currently focusing on social media efforts to educate potential customers about the product. A discount was introduced last week to coincide with the countdown to Opening Day, which will also be the official release of the products.
So far, the apparel that has been included in the soft launch has been focused on three distinct Negro Leagues brands. The first was the NLBM logo itself, which was then followed by the Kansas City Monarchs and Homestead Grays. That’s just the beginning, however.
“The plan has always been to release new teams and styles on a biweekly to monthly schedule,” Brown elaborated. “We have an internal plan on which teams will be next, including the Philadelphia Stars, Chicago American Giants and New York Black Yankees. We also want to take advantage of social media, have our customers and fans decide which teams to feature next. One other benefit of working with these official logos is that there are many variations. We are already on a second version of the Monarchs logo because there was a demand for both the crown and heart. We don’t want to let the design get too far ahead of the strategy, but we always want to give customers what they want.”
The success that the line has had in its soft launch, and that which Brown anticipates once the products are officially released, creates cause to anticipate further success for his company in officially-licensed sports apparel.
“We have agreements in place with two properties that we should be announcing in the next 30 days and are in negotiations with several others,” said Brown. “Our unique approach of offering apparel in sizes from infant to adult while educating people on the brand is something that license holders react to. We feel the licenses we release next will be the perfect compliment to the NLBM license in both tone and design, and will enhance the experience for our customers and the brands themselves.”
It’s that education in apparel that not only makes Teambrown Apparel and the subsequent lines to come stand out, but also drives Brown to market his company in that way.
“We always knew there would be a bit of an education ramp up for this line for two reasons,” Brown said. “The first is we were trying to introduce the Negro Leagues and specifically the museum to not only a new audience but also hopefully a much broader one. We didn’t want our customers to just be people who already know and love the Negro Leagues, but people who would love them once they came to know them. We also hoped that people would think the logos and designs are great stand-alone sports images, and that they would compete in an already competitive sports apparel market.
“Secondly, and we have experienced this before, selling fashion-forward items to infants and toddlers is a challenge. The first rule of fashion for children is that kids grow, which makes parents reluctant to spend a lot of money on certain types of items. We have always felt that if the item was well-made and if it somehow resonated with the parent, they would buy the item. Parents react to things they love, and if they can buy them in smaller sizes along with for themselves as well, then it’s a win-win. We obviously feel that the NLBM is that kind of brand.”
If the line is as successful as Brown hopes, both his company and the NLBM will enjoy the benefits financially, but the bigger benefit for society at large is that more people will become aware of the legacy of Negro Leagues Baseball.