When Nike released its first branded men’s jockstrap in the middle of October it was an instant sell out. Twitter went into a digital meltdown and demand was palpable. It was the perfect product at the perfect time and was a great debut for Nike’s new men’s underwear range.
Left - The Nike Jockstrap sold out on ASOS (Nov. 2020)
The year before, in April 2019, Nike and PVH Corp. announced a new licensing agreement to design and distribute Nike branded men’s underwear worldwide. It was a natural product category extension for the nearly $40 billion a year sportswear behemoth.
“We are incredibly proud to be working with Nike, as this is an opportunity for two great companies to build on each other’s strengths, making it a win-win for everyone, especially consumers,” PVH’s Cheryl Abel-Hodges, president of Calvin Klein North America and The Underwear Group, said in a statement at the time. It also said PVH Corp.’s The Underwear Group would expand its strong portfolio which includes Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Olga, Warner’s and True & Co.
The men’s underwear category was ripe for a tie-up with a sportswear company and their expertise in technical support, cleaning and fabrics. The new Nike jockstrap was the debut product to make a digital splash while illustrating how this traditional sports style has hit the mainstream.
Troy Daniels, @justcantstahp, says, “Nike has a jock because Calvin Klein released a jock. Calvin Klein manufacturers the underwear for Nike. So the question is actually why did Calvin Klein release a jockstrap?” he says.
“It’s because a cadre of homosexuals who work at the European Corporate Office saw the trend of niche jockstrap manufacturers exploding (Exterface, Bristle, Coyote, Darkroom, Jock, Bad Butt, Gizeppe, etc.) and thought that the world’s most identifiable underwear brand would be remiss not to have a jockstrap in their underwear portfolio. So blame it on the gays.” he says.
If the branded jockstrap at Calvin Klein hadn’t proven to be so popular, then PVH Corp. wouldn’t have pushed it as one of the first products of the new Nike license. They would have gone for something far safer. Add the huge trend of male exhibitionism, on some social media channels, and its opportunity to showcase branded underwear, and you have a huge marketing opportunity.
The jock straps roots are in sports. Wikipedia states, “The jockstrap was invented in 1874 by C. F. Bennett of a Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp & Smith, to provide comfort and support for bicycle jockeys working the cobblestone streets of Boston. In 1897 Bennett's newly formed Bike Web Company patented and began mass-producing the Bike Jockey Strap.”
Jane Garner Co-Founder of Deadgoodundies.com, an online retailer stocking the best international brands of men's underwear and swimwear, selling to customers in more than 80 countries, says, “Deadgoodundies has always stocked jockstraps. Early on designs were mostly cotton, sporty and practical, but in recent years sexy, colourful and uplifting fashion jocks have taken over and proved very popular. With DGU customers, the smaller the underwear the more popular it will be.”
Right - Polish underwear brand, Kust
Regarding the Nike launch, Garner says, “We love any brand launch that encourages men to discover and try new underwear shapes, styles and fabrics. Male shoppers are not always the most adventurous when it comes to men's underwear choices. If a guy starts wearing jockstraps as everyday underwear, rather than purely for sport or exercise, they will start to seek out the best, most comfortable and most carefully shaped designs.
“In mainstream fashion there has been a strong trend towards sporty clothing, so maybe the jockstrap's increasing popularity is part of that - not that too many men will be discussing their new undies as much as a pair of hot trainers.” she says.
The jockstrap definitely taps into the ever present sportswear category and as such is styled by many brands with trainers, caps and sports socks to illustrate this link.
Jakub Stachowiak, Founder & Owner of Kust, www.kuststore.com, a cult Polish underwear brand based in Sopot and specialising in modern and sustainable underwear, says “We do sell jockstraps. It was always one of the bestseller since we launched in 2018. Our version is minimalistic, with a wider waistband, inspired by retro aesthetic and what’s most important made of sustainable, organic cotton. We are targeting millennial + customer, who is looking for minimalistic, well designed and premium quality products.
“As the jockstraps’ origins are from sports, this is kind of matching for NIKE. Most of the brands now have a jockstrap in their offer. It has only been a few years since it became more gay and a fetish product rather than sport underwear. So it really depend how you present it in your offer.” says Stachowiak.
Versace and Armani already have jock straps in their range. For a product that is pure branding and combines sex and near nudity, it is being picked up by an increasingly younger group of male fans, particularly amongst gay men. The Nike jockstrap taps into this market while making a step into the mainstream.
Alex,@retr0fag, says, “I think that the Nike jockstrap is probably most popular amongst gay men. Jockstraps have become a staple fashion item in most gay men's underwear collection. Sportswear brands are fetishised by gay men, so it figures that a Nike jockstrap would sell very well with gay guys.”
He says, “I’m not sure why Nike would release it, whether it was a clever marketing strategy or just worked out well by chance. Exhibitionism on the internet has become quite a normal thing, with many guys posing in their underwear. And all the guys posing in their Nike jocks has heightened the appeal and made it a desirable fashion item.”
Alex P, @notorious_twub, says, “I think it’s a good idea from Nike, they’ve obviously analysed the jock market and have realised that they’re very popular with gay men. It’s a great idea as Nike’s already a pillar brand and I’m kind of surprised that it’s taken this long.
“It’s kind of putting this predominantly gay thing, which is fetishised, and bringing it to the main stream and taking the jockstrap back to its sporty origin. I’m not sure what their angle is, if it was meant to be seen as this revolutionary moment to bring jocks to the heterosexual male as a sexual look, or if it’s capitalising on a product we already know sells well and just using Nike’s brand popularity to boost sales. I feel that it’s great that a major brand are getting behind it. It’ll definitely cause some waves in the underwear industry.” he says.
Left - Men's underwear brand, Charlie by MZ, showing the connection between contemporary sportswear & the jockstrap
One thing is certain, men now knows that Nike does men’s underwear even if they're not ready for the jockstrap style . While women have had sophisticated and sexy underwear for many years, men haven’t, or have felt embarrassed about it showing off. It was a choice of boring, mundane styles or tacky, fetish type underwear. This is being readdressed by niche underwear brands, like Charlie by MZ, Kvrt Stvff and Kust, offering provocative yet cool imagery which proves to be cat nip on social media channels. The large license partners and brands have seen this and want in. They are tapping into this demand, particularly amongst young gay men.
The jock strap is an opportunity for a brand to make a splash online, but looking at Calvin Klein’s continual expansion of its jockstrap range, it must be selling. They also wouldn’t have risked producing a product for a new license partner that they didn’t think would sell well.
Thanks to social media, there is an increasing trend in demand for sexier underwear for men. By linking it back to sports will appeal to a broader range of guys. The jockstrap is now a must-have addition in any brand's underwear category. Expect brands like Tom Ford and adidas to follow.
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