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Retro Apparel Brands that Made a Comeback with Licensing

License Global uncovers the leading classic brands that have found new life from extending efforts in the brand licensing arena.

License Global

December 18, 2019

7 Min Read
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Nostalgia is a powerful force for fashion brands. From classic brands that find new life with a brand collab to deals that bring old school brands to a new product vertical, the power of nostalgia can offer tremendous rewards when done right.

To illuminate the impact of licensing for well-worn labels, we've uncovered a list of top brands that have made a comeback with licensing. Here are leading classic brands that have found new life from extending efforts in the brand licensing arena.

Baby Phat

Baby Phat was a significant player in the women's fashion scene of the early 2000s. Led by model and entrepreneur Kimora Lee Simmons Leissner, the brand was earning nearly $300 million in revenue a year in 2003. However, facing a downturn in the economy, the brand was eventually reshuffled, and its founder was let go as creative director.

Jump ahead to 2019, Simmons Leissner was able to take ownership of her brand back and relaunch the streetwear brand with a partnership with retail giant Forever 21. The 18-piece line features sneakers, heels, jeans, shirts and accessories. Simmons Leissner's collab also proved just the beginning with plans to launch a direct-to-retail line of Baby Phat gear soon.


FUBU was the epitome of the 90s and early 2000s streetwear scene. The neon jerseys and baggy pants of the brand were a stable of the streetwear scene during the FUBU heyday. By 1999, FUBU was earning nearly $500 in revenue from its shoes, apparel and accessories. By the mid-2000s, the brand struggled to maintain success in the face of a changing fashion market.

Cut to today, and the brand has found new life through a mixture of licensing deals and new collaborations with trending designers. FUBU partnered with The Brand Liaison to uncover licensing deals that bring the brand alive with the latest fashion brands. The Brand Liaison helped outsource the label to other types of apparel and accessories, including eyewear, suits and watches. In 2019, FUBU also collaborated with Sorella for a women's line that took the brand to previously unexplored avenues.


Champion has been a fashion staple in the sportswear scene since debuting in the early 1900s. Previously a licensing partner of sports leagues like the N.B.A., Champion has evolved over its lifetime to take on new fashion trends and consumer interests. Owned by Hanes, Champion has recently announced a slate of licensing partners that help the brand stay within the cultural zeitgeist.

In 2019, Champion partnered with unlikely brands such as Dr. Seuss and the PowerPuff Girls for surprisingly successful apparel deals. Both collaborations debuted with pop-up store locations and included branded versions of Champion staples such as hoodies as well as sweatpants. The Champion brand also found success by being an early adopter in the esports scene. Recent deals with some of the top esports teams and organizations put Champion on the map of an esports industry, which is expected to earn $1.1 billion in revenue this year alone.

Juicy Couture

Juicy Couture was an iconic brand since launching in the late 90s. The brand's pastel-colored tracksuits became a must-have piece for the streetwear side of fashion. Since hitting its peak, the brand has found new licensing life under the guidance of parent company Authentic Brands Group.

The licensing deals the brand uncovered in 2019 alone has seen the Juicy brand earn more fans internationally with partnerships with Shinsegae International in South Korea and the Batra Group in Europe.


Iconic American brand K-Swiss has been a well-worn figure of the shoe industry since the 1960s. The classic brand has found novel ways to stay in the headlines and drive sales. Part of the company's strategy includes licensing deals with pop culture brands, both big and small.

In 2019, K-Swiss partnered with Paramount for a pair of "totally buggin'" sneakers inspired by the 1990s classic film Clueless. The collection includes two tennis shoes meant to mirror the look of the movie's protagonist Cher Horowitz. One pair will be available in white with yellow-plaid accents based on the character's signature outfit from the film. The other shoe in the collection will take the inspiration further, being fully covered in the yellow-plaid design.

The Clueless collab joins other recent K-Swiss licensing deals with Rovio for "Angry Birds" and ice cream maker Coolhaus.

Zoo York

The classic Zoo York brand has continued to leverage licensing to expand internationally under the watchful eye of Iconix, and more recently, the company's founders. Earlier this year, Iconix announced the leadership team on a conference call with investors. Iconix brought on the founders to help navigate what it believes will be a busy year for the brand in 2020.

Skateboarding will become a non-medal Olympic sport during the summer games in Tokyo next year. The Olympic bump could mean big things for classic skateboarding brands like Zoo York. To that end, the founders have come on to help re-brand Zoo York to something more akin to its New York roots. Re-branded features include a new logo, apparel, and accessories.


The Starter Jacket became an iconic apparel piece in the early 1990s. Through a mixture of licensing partnerships with top American sports organizations and pop culture appearances on television series such as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," the jacket became a must-have item of the sportswear scene.

Now nearly 48 years since its debut, the brand has continued to expand its identity through the power of licensing. Under the guidance of Iconix, the brand has found international partners such as Fila Korea subsidiary Sparks Glencoe Korea Co. in South Korea and German-based distribution company T.B. International. Coupled with it's continued licensing deals with sports teams and organizations, Starter has even developed the Starter Black Label brand to create a premium option for its classic apparel.  

Ed Hardy 

Alternative lifestyle brand Ed Hardy has been reborn through a selection of on-brand licensing deals in recent years. Based on the work of the Godfather of Tattoos, Dan Ed Hardy, the brand has expanded into new verticals through the power of licensing.

In 2019, the parent company, Iconix, inked a deal with Revlon to turn the Ed Hardy brand into a personal care line. The four-year agreement included the creation of deodorant, hair care products, body lotion, body wash and aftershave inspired by the tattoo-stylings of the brand. It joined Revlon's previous deal with nine Ed Hardy fragrances. The unique partnership helped bring the Ed Hardy brand into a non-endemic category.


Carhartt is a beloved workwear brand from Detroit, MI. The brand has built generations of goodwill based on a brand identity connected to working hard and lasting a long time. It doubles down on that identity, the brand has recently partnered with other classic Detroit brands in recent months.

In the summer, the brand synced up with Chevy for a line of apparel built upon the both company's Detroit roots. The strategic partnership saw Carhartt become the Official Workwear of Chevy Trucks and Chevy Trucks become the Official Partner of Carhartt. Not to outdone, Carhartt followed up the deal with a partnership with Motown records that saw both Detroit brands come together for fashion and accessories. The brand up mashup brought headphones and apparel inspired by classic Motown hits into the Carhartt catalog.


Classic California apparel brand B.U.M. recently made waves with the announcement that it has chosen The Brand Liaison to uncover licensing opportunities for the old school brand. The Brand Liaison announced it is seeking potential licensing partners and retailers across multiple categories, including sportswear, activewear, footwear, loungewear, backpacks and other accessories.

B.U.M.'s announcement marked the first time the brand has gone outside the business to uncover licensing opportunities. According to The Brand Liaison, the time was right for B.U.M. to expand its licensing efforts. The brand has recently inked licensing deals that bring a fresh perspective to the iconic brand, with retailer partnerships with Urban Outfitters and Forever 21.

About the Author(s)

License Global

License Global is the leading news source for the brand licensing industry, delivering award-winning editorial content including news, trends, analysis, and special reports about the global consumer product and retail marketplace.

Through its print edition, website, daily e-newsletter and event publications, License Global reaches more than 150,000 executives and professionals in all major markets. The magazine also serves as the official publication for the sector’s trade events, which include Licensing Expo, Brand Licensing Europe, Licensing Expo Japan, Licensing Expo Shanghai and the Licensing Leadership Summit.

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