How baseball fashion continues to evolve for women
By Lisa Granshaw
Walking through the stores at baseball stadiums as a kid, there were never many choices for women when it came to apparel and accessories. A lot of the available products for girls and women were pink or sparkly and rarely in the colors of the team I loved. The experience felt similar to trying to find a Star Wars top I liked that wasn’t for men or boys, and likewise I ended up in boxy men’s baseball tees or just sticking with a hat. Thankfully, baseball fashion for women has changed since then.
Over the last few years, wandering the stadium shops at Mets or Yankees games now reveals a growing women’s section. Next to crew neck tees are scoop and V-neck styles as well as tank tops, bottoms, pajamas, and accessories like hand bags and jewelry. Team colors are there as much as if not more than pink and the choices are staggering compared to what was available to fans in the past.
Christine Ryan has worked at Major League Baseball since 2004 and is now the director of consumer products for apparel and headwear. During her time at the organization, she’s seen tremendous growth in the variety of apparel for girls and women.
“We’re focusing more now on brands and specialty areas like maternity and plus sizes. We’re definitely trying to stay as far ahead and fashion forward as possible,” Ryan told GeekFold.
Expanding offerings and listening to what women want seems like a no brainer considering women have been fans of baseball as long as men. Sales in apparel and headwear in fact follow the overall fan base demographic closely, according to Ryan, at 55 percent male and 45 percent female.
Looking at the MLB shop online, there are as many overall departments listed in the women’s section as the men’s. The only differences are sections for dresses and bags instead of equipment and lawn and outdoors. Within these categories, the amount of options varies. Women have more choices when it comes to accessories than men, but men have a larger variety of jerseys to choose from than women. The “pink tax” doesn’t seem prevalent in the official store, with a New York Yankees Aaron Judge jersey by Majestic for men priced at $119.99 and the same version for women priced at $99.99 while a San Francisco Giants flannel shirt was originally $69.99 for women and $64.99 for men.
Out of the items Ryan works with, some are more popular than others with fans.
“Fashion tops, tank tops, and T-shirts are definitely a bigger sell than a bottom or a pant where you need to try the product on,” she said. “Headwear obviously is the cream of the crop here. Headwear just flies off the shelf.”
When it comes to adding new products to the lineup, as Ryan previously mentioned, being fashion forward is taken into consideration. They work closely with partners and see what’s trending, also looking ahead to what’s moving forward in fashion over the next 12 to 24 months. While Ryan wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenge, they do need to make sure they are on cue with female fans when developing products.
“We have over 50 million active fans right now so I think it’s more of a balancing act as far as we’re not going too fashion forward where the product hasn’t even been introduced within the United States,” she explained. “Are we looking on a more global level at something that’s a trend that has happened or is happening currently internationally and it hasn’t hit domestically yet? It’s more balancing what the right fit is and is our consumer ready for that next trend.”
It’s hard not to draw another parallel to the world of science fiction fashion searching through MLB’s offerings because one of the most noticeable brands in women’s apparel is Touch by Alyssa Milano. The story of Touch is comparable to that of Her Universe started by actress Ashley Eckstein in that it was also founded by an actress who noticed a lack of options for women in an area she loved and led the way for more fashion for women by starting a company. Only this was sports instead of Star Wars. Actress Alyssa Milano recognized the limited choices for women in baseball fashion during a night home game more than a decade ago between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. Cold and without a sweatshirt, she headed to the team shop to buy something to keep her warm and didn’t see anything fun or fashionable to purchase.
“I walked to another team store location and found the same thing. I ended up buying a basic women’s Dodgers hoody to wear, but even that did not really fit me right. It was at that point that the concept for a cool, trendy women’s MLB collection came to me,” Milano told GeekFold in an email interview. “I figured if I was looking for something like this, there must be thousands of other women looking for the same thing. When I got back down to my seat I started jotting down notes in my phone. That was the birth of what is now known as Touch by Alyssa Milano.”
Milano asked her agent to arrange a meeting with the MLB consumer products group and took three weeks to prepare for the meeting by researching companies making MLB women’s licensed items. She also put together mood boards and product renderings of the styles she wanted to create.
“When it was time for the meeting I was very prepared. What I was not prepared for was a meeting with four male MLB executives—not one female was in my initial meeting with MLB. Let me tell you, that may have been the most nervous I have ever been in a meeting,” Milano said. “Here I was, known to them as an actor and advocate, trying to convince them that they were missing a HUGE opportunity, not having a women’s specific apparel collection. I did not get approval right away on my concept, but after a couple more meetings I had finally convinced them.”
Now looking through the shops at Citifield and Yankee Stadium, many of the options in the women’s section are from Touch though other brands have since entered the area. Ryan said MLB likes to align with top brands.
“We’ve done business now with Victoria’s Secret PINK for the past eight or nine years. Obviously we have great partnerships with Under Armour, New Era, Levi’s, Touch by Alyssa Milano,” she explained. “I’d say when we’re looking for a partner, [we look for] strength in the marketplace, fashion forward product, and do the brands align? Do they sync? Is there some synergy between the two?”
In these partnerships, the MLB lets the brand mostly take the lead and they just add their baseball aesthetic to it.
“We don’t handhold, but we like to ensure the brands and partners we are working with are true to their own brand and then they’re bringing baseball to it,” Ryan said.
Since starting Touch, Milano has remained involved in the design process of her products.
“I think if you asked the design team at my partner G-III Sports, they would tell you that I am too involved. I really love the design process and work very closely with the design team for each and every collection,” Milano said. “I share a ton of inspirational pictures I see and sketches I create with the team throughout the year and, with their expertise and guidance, many make it into the seasonal collections. We do a new spring and fall collection each and every year. My collaboration with the design team can be seen in every piece that hits the market.”
Milano has seen the changes in options for women in baseball fashion as the years have passed, including an increase in brands offering products.
“I know they say that ‘imitation is the best form of flattery,’ right?! I am extremely happy to have been the first designer to create a true women’s specific sports licensed fashion apparel collection! After the success of the MLB collection, other pro sports licensees realized that there is a REAL business opportunity focused on women,” she said. “There have been a number of competitors that have entered into the market over the past 10 years. So, the biggest changes are too many to list. However, I will tell you that the mentality of licensees prior to Touch coming to market was ‘shrink it and pink it’—which is a reference to taking a men’s style and simply making it smaller and only in pink, for the female sports fan.”
Team colors dominate in the women’s section online and a quick scan through the T-shirts on the website show hardly any pink beyond some Mother’s Day designs. This does differ for girls though. Navigating to the kids area of the website doesn’t offer separate girls and boys sections, and most items are labeled youth. However, a few items are specifically for boys and girls, and a search for the term girls does reveal a disturbing number of pink shirts and bodysuits as well as a lot of hearts incorporated into designs. There are still options in team colors, but pink is quite prominent.
The end of “pink it” might take longer to reach girls items, but for women the “pink it and shrink it” era appears to have passed. Ryan agrees that time is gone.
“It’s more focused on lifestyle and focused towards women’s every day and what they’re doing actively on their own and tying in baseball to it,” she said.
Increasing options for all different areas of life and price ranges can be seen in the growing number of accessories offered as well. Looking for a bag inspired by your favorite team? There’s everything from $34.99 tote bags by Forever Collectibles to $128 Dooney & Bourke crossbody purses. For jewelry, there are WinCraft dangle earrings for $9.99 and Pandora charms for $75. Popular jewelry brand Alex and Ani, known especially for its bangle bracelets, started working with Major League Baseball in 2012 creating products for all 30 teams. The Alex and Ani licensing team told GeekFold in an email that they incorporate new styles and design techniques each season “such as wraps, slider charms, and cord bracelets.” They have used cap and primary logos, team mottos, and select stadiums in designs as well.
“Our 2018 collection features a modeled baseball charm and team logo with color epoxy. This is the first time we have used color epoxy for all teams and we’re very excited about it!” they said.
Each year apparel and accessories for MLB seem to be raising the bar as they try new things and expand. This includes Touch’s Spring 2018 line which launched in February.
“I worked with the designers at G-III Sports on some really fun ‘Coachella’ inspired pieces, expanded our athleisure styles, and developed some really comfy bottoms. I think there is something for every female sports fan in the spring collection,” Milano said.
Since starting with Major League Baseball, Touch now works with other sports organizations as well such as the NHL, NBA, and MLS but even with these additions, Milano said the “MLB continues to be a big part of Touch’s success.” When asked about areas that still need to be changed or improved in baseball fashion, Milano said her “vision is to always evolve the Touch collection and push the fashion side of the business—that is the real niche we have carved out in sports licensing.”
“However, it is also important to make sure we have styles that are not ‘too fast’ for the female sports fan. So, I developed a collection we change up every season called Stadium Collection. Even though we consider this collection more of our ‘basics,’ we make sure we use amazingly yummy fabrics and cool logo applications so they fit with the Touch brand vision,” she explained. “Other areas we saw a void and have produced for the past few years include maternity, athleisure, curve (our plus size collection) and cold weather accessories. We have seen great success in all these areas.”
At MLB, Ryan said they continually look for new products to make sure fans are happy and excited. As for specific areas, plus sizes is something Ryan would also like to see have more options.
“We’re always looking to improve and to move the needle to the next level. I think we’re in a good spot right now. I would love to see our women’s plus size business increase even more so than it currently has. I’d say the same thing with our maternity business. They’re two categories that we’ve definitely built and we have strong partnerships with our current licensees but I would like to see them grow and expand…” she said. “We’re always looking to get a little bit better and a little bit smarter…overall we’re always continuing to want to improve ourselves and our apparel and headwear lines.”
In the immediate future, fans can look forward to some “really great designs and graphics that will be coming to market for post-season” according to Ryan.
While there is still room for improvement so all women have options when it comes to baseball fashion, the progress made so far is impressive. It’s hard to see it stalling as fans continue to be vocal and those who are passionate about the area working behind the scenes continue to push. Milano shows no signs of stopping trying to offer women more in baseball fashion.
“I would just like every female sports fan who reads this to know that my mission from day one of developing Touch was to create a fashion brand that is created by a woman for a woman,” Milano said. “A collection that can be worn to the ballpark to cheer on your favorite team or out and about with your girlfriends or simply living your everyday life. I have not and will not waiver from that mission.”
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