Homefield Apparel, Big Brand On Campus
HOMEFIELD APPAREL’S HEADQUARTERS is tucked away in a nondescript 65th Street business park, where on a sunny Friday morning in July, I pulled up to the sound of Pop Smoke drifting from a boombox in the gym next door. The man I came to see, Homefield’s cofounder and CEO Connor Hitchcock, happened to be milling about outside, but he was absorbed in his smartphone, oblivious in that moment to any industry that wasn’t his own.
“I was actually texting with Ryan [Vesler] from Homage,” he told me later as we toured the production facility for Homefield Apparel, the retro-chic college athleticwear company that’s now up to 25 employees and sales numbers they say are snowballing quarter after quarter. Their 4,000-square-foot warehouse bustled that day with the sound of buzzing, hissing garment printers, cardboard boxes being popped open and shut, and the genial chatter of a workplace filled with young people who have about as much work on their hands as they can handle.
Hitchcock had good reason to seek counsel from Vesler, who has grown his Ohio-based Homage from a DIY basement endeavor to a retro-apparel retail fiefdom. Hitchcock now finds himself on a similar precipice, as less than a year after Homefield moved into that 65th Street space, they prepare to expand to an office-warehouse complex near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that will be more than four times as large as their current digs.
According to the owners, it took about two months to realize they were going to need a bigger boat.
“We were forward-thinking,” says Christa Hitchcock, Connor’s wife and the company’s creative director. “It was only a year lease, we knew it wasn’t going to be enough, but it bought us some time to figure out our next move.”
It’s a big one, fueled largely by the company’s two core strengths. One is their keen aesthetic eye, led by Christa and a team of designers who make stylish and unique spiritwear in a market where the bare minimum often suffices.
“What they’re doing is democratizing access to school paraphernalia,” says M. Kim Saxton, professor of marketing at IUPUI’s Kelley School of Business. “Not everybody wants exactly the same cookie-cutter thing.”
Homefield’s other advantage is their finely tuned, collective antenna for social media buzz, which has given their brand an authentic personality—as good as gold in an era where fast food companies pepper the Twitter timeline with wan interjections that their chicken sandwiches are “bae AF.”
The business’s singular voice bears the imprint of its creator, Connor, a marketing graduate from Indiana University and diehard Hoosier football fan. Homefield’s origin story revolves around the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl, where Hoosier fans will remember a painful, bizarre refereeing mishap with a “missed” field goal leading to an Indiana loss. Hitchcock printed up a small run of shirts that simply read “The Kick Is Good,” and an idea was born.
“I’d left school and was working a job in Indy leading into the next football season,” Connor says. “It didn’t require licensing, it was tongue-in-cheek, and we thought it would be funny. But we sold a couple hundred of them, which was really the genesis of what would happen, or what could happen, if we decided to get licenses.”
Get them they did. The company is now licensed to print Power Five throwback gear from Alabama to Michigan to Texas, which they hype in a series of much-anticipated “Big New Saturday” merch drops. They started out hunting smaller schools, however, whose athletics-loving but style-savvy students had been under-served by their institutions. Students at the University of Evansville, Wayne State University, and Wright State University could score, with Homefield’s help, merch every bit the aesthetic equal of more established brands like Mitchell & Ness.
Christa, a Miami of Ohio alum, felt the gap personally.
“I have a soft spot for those smaller schools, the Wayne States of the world, and making sure they get quality vintage-style apparel,” Christa says. “The really fun, out-there mascots and vintage designs tend to come from those smaller schools.”
Of course, making great apparel is one thing. Getting it in front of the fans who might be willing to shell out their cold, hard cash is another. But it wasn’t difficult for Homefield to reach those people because they are those people. Connor, the diehard fan, nurtured his company’s close ties to titans of the college sports blog world like Spencer Hall, founder of the iconic Everyday Should Be Saturday site and now a writer for the Substack newsletter Moon Crew, with whom Homefield has partnered for various merchandise and events. In July, they sponsored a week of posts from Defector, the successor website to which the beloved, acerbic staff of Deadspin fled after that site was bought out by private equity.
Homefield’s social media savvy is perhaps best summed up by their self-bestowed Twitter nickname: “The Good Brand.” It demonstrates their facility with the voice that defines a certain mode of extremely online, hipster-adjacent commentary about sports or any number of other things: ambiguously self-deprecating; kidding-but-not-kidding; acutely aware of the crass nature inherent to “branding.”
“If I wouldn’t post something on my personal account, I wouldn’t post it on the Homefield account,” says Whitney Medworth, an alum of the SB Nation blog network and Homefield’s director of content/social media maven.
Everywhere you look on Homefield’s timeline, people are speaking her language. It’s their language, too. And it’s that, not just their merch or niche-finding genius, which has catapulted the company from its origins as a basement lark to their massive new digs near the Speedway, and whatever might come next—just check in again in 60 days.