Peter Capolino didn’t feel as if he was having the proverbial wool pulled over his eyes back in 1985. Capolino was the owner of Mitchell & Ness Sporting Goods in Philadelphia when he visited an area manufacturer and saw some piles of old wool flannel lying around. Historic baseball caps were one of Capolino’s specialties and the old wool sparked an idea that baseball fans might have similar interest in vintage jerseys. Capolino’s idea with “throwback” jerseys turned out even better than he could have envisioned as he quickly made it the sole business focus of Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Company. People of all ages are buying them for football, basketball and hockey as well as baseball. The success of the concept led to Capolino’s inclusion in the Class of 2020 of the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame. Mitchell & Ness opened in 1904 and became a Philadelphia institution in the sale of sporting goods. Capolino’s father Sisto started working there in 1917 as a stockboy, bought the company in 1950 and served as treasurer of the NSGA Board of Directors from 1970-72. Peter started working for his father at age 11 and took over the store in 1978.
After Capolino came up with the “throwback” baseball jersey idea, he did extensive research to ensure even the most minute details were accurate. A Sports Illustrated story in 1987 about Capolino’s concept led to international consumer demand that helped the concept take off. Mitchell & Ness eventually began producing “throwback” jerseys for all the major sports leagues – the NFL, NBA and NHL. Capolino originally believed his idea would be tailored most for a middle-aged and older white male demographic. His employees convinced him they could target a younger urban consumer after the rap music group Outkast wore one of his jerseys in a 1998 music video. The jerseys also resonated with current professional athletes and celebrities. NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who had a Philadelphia 76ers jersey like the one his dad Joe “Jellybean” Bryant wore in the 1970s, donned replica jerseys of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson, Edmonton Oilers’ Wayne Gretzky, New York Jets’ Joe Namath and San Francisco 49ers’ Joe Montana during the 2002 postseason. Legendary director and actor Spike Lee called Capolino’s work “exquisite” in a 2003 People magazine story.
Klaus Obermeyer is clearly not wired to sit back, relax and enjoy everything he has accomplished as he approaches the century mark of his life. Obermeyer is always thinking ahead to ensure Sport Obermeyer, the company he founded in 1947, does not fall behind in the ski and snowsports industry. He is still a daily presence at the company’s Aspen, Colorado office even after celebrating his 100th birthday in December 2019. The innovative spirit dating to his early childhood is a big reason for Obermeyer’s induction in the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame Class of 2020. At age 3, the German-born Obermeyer created his first set of skis from flexible crate board and string. He studied to become an aeronautical engineer before coming to the United States at age 27. After one winter, he moved to Aspen to become a ski school instructor. One of the first things Obermeyer noticed was the need for proper clothing so more people would be able to keep warm and stay on the slopes. Obermeyer made a parka from the down blanket his mother sent with him to the U.S. He joked that it resulted in him having feathers in his cereal for weeks.
What Obermeyer also had was the genesis for a company that changed the world of ski gear. Zip turtlenecks, nylon wind-shirts, mirrored sunglasses, double-lensed goggles, two-pronged ski brakes, ski boots and the first high alpine sunscreen were all created to enhance Obermeyer’s philosophy that “skiing is a celebration of life and its celebrants must be comfortable to enjoy it.” The quest to ensure that philosophy continues as the company released the light and versatile “Klaus Jacket” a year ago. But Obermeyer’s success has not come at all costs. Sport Obermeyer is conscious of the environment and researches the chemicals that can be used so the company’s garments are water repellent and are not a health hazard. He also remains fiercely loyal to retailers who sell the Sport Obermeyer brand. Obermeyer helps retailers who may have a tough season because of a lack of snow, listens to their concerns. Obermeyer’s enthusiasm for the ski and snow industry and what it means to so many people is reflected in his amazing attendance streak at the annual Snow Show. Since 1960, he has not missed the opportunity to enthusiastically greet as many attendees as possible.
An east coast blizzard led to a flurry of west coast success in the footwear industry for Skechers founder and CEO Robert Greenberg. The Boston native always had an entrepreneurial spirit and started dreaming of living in Los Angeles after stops there on travels to Asia. He made the move with his family after a snowstorm crippled his hometown in 1978. A visit to a shoe fair in Long Beach, California led to his launch of L.A. Gear. Then, in 1992, he started the Skechers brand that has grown to immense popularity. His impact in creating two iconic brands led to Greenberg’s election in the Class of 2020 of the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame. Greenberg was in the roller skating business when his interest turned to footwear. L.A. Gear had modest beginnings with one style that came in 10 colors, but grew to a publicly traded company in 1986 that was worn by stars such as singer Paula Abdul and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the brand fell on hard times and Greenberg was forced to change directions.
Greenberg and his son Michael began a successful distribution of boots and Robert saw even greater opportunities. About a year later, he launched his own utility boot and Skechers was born in 1992. The new name was a family affair as two of Greenberg’s kids suggested it since the word “skecher” meant a cool kid who has lots of energy. Skechers resonated with the public and the company expanded into the running, walking and golf categories that are part of its successful Go performance division. It was a prime example of what has made Greenberg successful – a willingness to act without fear since the creation of the Go division was the response to an idea that didn’t work out. Greenberg was honored by Footwear News with its Manolo Blahnik Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. Skechers’ growth and success has continued as the $4.64 billion global brand has a presence in more than 170 countries with more than 3,100 company-owned and licensed retail stores.