Bethany Clough

Retail Therapy: Sports apparel catering to female fans in Fresno

Years ago, if a woman wanted to wear a T-shirt to support her favorite team at a game, she’d probably be stuck with a boxy, unflattering unisex T-shirt.

Times have changed.

Sports fan apparel – both for professional teams and colleges such as Fresno State – is now designed for a woman’s body. Clothing is made to flatter curves and includes everything from a little black dress with a “Bulldogs” scrawled across the chest to low-backed shirts that expose skin.

Although the industry still faces challenges that its nonsports fashion counterparts don’t, local companies and national retailers are catching on to what women want.

And it’s about time, since 51 percent of women consider themselves sports fans, according to a Gallup poll last year.

For years, women have been stuck buying men’s shirts and cutting and tying them up or gluing on rhinestones to make them more fashionable and fitting. Then the industry started learning that women prefer shorter sleeves and V-necks over crew necks. Then, everything was pink. After that came the onslaught of glitter and rhinestones.

Jill Crecelius, general manager and buyer for locally owned Sports Station at Fashion Fair mall, has seen even more changes happen.

“It’s been within the last 10 years they started making women’s stuff,” she says. “If you pick the right item, it flies right out of here.”

Her store added a dressing room about seven years ago after it started carrying women’s clothing.

Former “Who’s the Boss?” actress Alyssa Milano nudged the industry along. The actress got chilly while watching a Dodgers game years ago and looked for a hoodie in the team store. She only found pink ones – and she didn’t want pink – so she launched her own line of clothing.

Touch by Alyssa Milano debuted in 2008, and now features clothing in team colors for professional football, basketball, baseball, hockey and NASCAR. She also sells maternity and plus-size clothing and apparel for some college teams, but not Fresno State.

Some specialty stores at Fashion Fair mall have started selling national sports team clothing. Victoria’s Secret has a few San Francisco Giants pieces. And Forever 21 has basketball gear, but it appeared limited to the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers last week.

But plenty of Fresno State gear is available at local shops – with more on the way. At a recent private event at the college, brands licensed to sell clothing with the words Bulldogs or Fresno State on them pitched their newest designs to buyers from local stores.

Among the designers was Fresno native Shab Sadeghi, who graduated from Clovis West High School in 2000 and is a former professional cheerleader. Now based in Orange County, she debuted her Shabbella line of “casual luxury” Fresno State clothing.

It features a black dress made from stretchy ribbed tank top material with the word Bulldogs and the team logo on the chest and bands of transparent mesh on the bottom. It costs $60-$70 and can be worn to a game with sneakers or sandals and dressed down with a denim jacket, Sadeghi says.

“You can go to a Fresno State game and look nice enough to go out to dinner afterward,” she says.

The collection also features tops with lots of transparent mesh and sparkly lettering, including short and long sleeves and tank tops. They are available for sale at Shabbella.com and Amazon.com. Sadeghi is in the process of finalizing deals with some local stores, though they might not carry the clothing until football season starts.

Sadeghi’s inspiration to create the line came from firsthand experience. A diver who was also involved in the dance program at the University of California, Davis, she “lived” in her UC Davis clothing, she says.

But such sweats and T-shirts could feel frumpy, so she modified them. She took in the sides of shirts to make them more figure flattering and added rhinestones.

She did the same thing as a cheerleader for the San Francisco 49ers and the Sacramento Kings. Her fellow students and cheerleaders noticed and began asking her to create clothing for them. She ended up creating the preseason outfits for the Kings cheerleaders.

Another local Fresno State clothing maker has been on the scene for a lot longer.

Royal Rock

Royal Rock Apparel in Madera puts bling, stretchy glitter and shiny vinyl embellishments on clothing for all kinds of customers. It also sells a line of Fresno State clothing at Sports Station at Fashion Fair, Bulldog Fan Zone at Sequoia Textbooks across Shaw Avenue from Fresno State and its website.

Royal Rock makes lots of vintage-inspired shirts with “burnout,” that slightly transparent, textured look. Some have Fresno State written in rhinestones or other shiny materials.

Women’s sportswear often costs more than men’s, with a blinged-out sweatshirt costing $60 or $70. But often the customer is not a student, but an alumna or a Fresno State athletics fan who is older and has the disposable income to spend.

“They know women will pay more even though it’s less fabric,” says Crecelius from Sports Station.

Stocking clothing for women is challenging, several people in the industry noted. The number of manufacturers of Fresno State clothing is limited because they must be licensed to use the school’s trademarks. That costs money and needs approval from the Collegiate Licensing Company and the school. And a portion of the sales must go back to the school.

If a team has a bad year, a clothing store could be stuck with tops that don’t sell. And some manufacturers require minimum orders that make small shops nervous.

Stores like The Bulldog Shop at Barstow and Cedar avenues are owned by a national company, meaning they have less flexibility when ordering styles.

Plus, the clothing is often bought six to eight months in advance – decisions about football season clothing are being made now – making it hard to keep on top of trends.

Being a smaller company works to Royal Rock’s advantage, allowing it to stay on top of trends, says Malinda Wintemute, who handles sales and production for the company.

“Every year something is changing,” she says. “There’s a new color or a new design. What we’re seeing with 2016 is a real delicate print.”

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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