The Skims and NBA Partnership Is a Masterclass in Brand Repositioning

At the convergence of fashion and sports marketing

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In 2023, the sports apparel market is expected to generate more than $213 billion in revenue, with the men’s segment driving the highest market share.

A growing interest from consumers in pursuing more active lifestyles, along with health and fitness goals, has led to a demand for sports apparel, including athleisure wear. Sports culture has also influenced fashion trends and styles, which has helped expand the market. For example, brands like Nike and Adidas have been leveraging sports culture and partnerships for years to scale their reach beyond just sportswear and into mainstream fashion.

But there was one recent sports and fashion partnership that many did not see coming. Kim Kardashian-owned clothing brand Skims recently announced its partnership with the NBA, WNBA and USA Basketball to be the official underwear for the leagues.

What makes this partnership brilliant? Let’s take a closer look at Skims’ multi-phase approach behind the impactful partnership, and what marketers can learn about reshaping brand positioning.

A powerful kickoff

The partnerships with the basketball leagues gave Skims, a brand primarily known for being a women’s shapewear and loungewear company, an entry point into the lucrative sports apparel market. For the basketball leagues, it was a chance to project a more modern and inclusive image by partnering with a high-profile brand that has a young, diverse consumer group.

For all parties, this partnership bridges gaps between two seemingly disparate audiences and creates opportunities to scale the brands into new markets and demographics. It’s also a great example of authentic brand partnerships by brands that recognize overlapping interests and the power of diversification.

The week before the NBA partnership was announced, Skims launched its new men’s line. But the expansion into menswear isn’t what made headlines that week; it was the launch campaign featuring some of the most recognizable faces across the sports industry: soccer star Neymar Jr, 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, and NBA player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

By partnering with these athletes, Skims established its men’s line as functional fashion. It’s not simply selling underwear—it’s marketing a lifestyle.

What is great about the launch marketing campaign is that it subtly prepared people for the larger collaboration that followed. Skims was no longer only a women-centric shapewear company; it had repositioned itself as a lifestyle brand for women, men, athletes and non-athletes alike.

The future of marketing and partnerships

This collaboration is an example of how brands are not limited to their initial markets. Skims positioned itself as a brand that could transcend new verticals.

While it’s too early to know how successful this partnership will be for the brands, the Skims menswear launch generated a lot of interest and buzz, which spilled over into its partnership announcement with the basketball leagues. What we can learn from their strategy is the need for brands to lean into trends and innovate. In order to be competitive, brands need to embrace new opportunities, take risks and develop campaigns and partnerships that go beyond the traditional and break through the clutter.

The Skims marketing playbook

Here are five lessons from Skims that marketers can learn from.

Recognize shared interests and opportunities

On the surface, a women’s clothing company and professional basketball leagues don’t seem to have a lot in common. But a closer look reveals shared values and interests. The brands embody inclusivity, aspiration and excellence. Skims recognized it, and leveraged it.

Reshape consumer perception strategically

Skims’ launch of its men’s line ahead of its sports partnership was strategic. It gave the company the opportunity to reshape consumer perception of what they thought the brand was and broaden its appeal. By the time the collaboration with the leagues was announced, Skims’ connection with sports felt more organic.

Be inclusive

More and more consumers are choosing brands that reflect their identities and align with their values. Through its collaborations with the NBA, WNBA and USA Basketball, Skims has established itself as a brand that celebrates and embraces diversity through race, gender and body inclusivity.

Ensure a real connection with brand ambassadors

Successful influencer campaigns are a result of authentic connections between the influencer, the brand and the content. One of the reasons why the Skims Men launch campaign made such an impact on consumers was because the brand sought to build a genuine connection with its star ambassadors by leaning into sports culture, style and humor, making their endorsements feel authentic and relatable.

Lean into cultural trends

Skims recognized the value and potential of tapping into the growing sports apparel market and bringing two cultural powerhouses together to broaden their appeal through an expected partnership.

The partnership between Skims and the basketball leagues is a masterclass in a well-thought-out strategic marketing plan. It is a great example of how to build impactful collaborations while embracing diversity and taking a forward-thinking approach to marketing.