When I was thinking about who to include in the Aussie Icons series from a fashion perspective, Sportsgirl popped into my mind. It’s one of those brands that every girl in Australia who grew up in the 80s, 90s and noughties will know, whether they shopped there or not. Their instantly recognisable brand – from the iconic striped shopping bags and logo beach towels to the unconventional window displays and refreshingly Aussie ad campaigns – was hard to miss.
After a little hunt online, I came across the book Anything Can Happen... Sportsgirl: the Bardas Years by Vicki Steggall, which is a treasure trove of vintage Sportsgirl. It recounts the history of the brand up until 1994 when former owner David Bardas exited the company. Over his 35-year tenure, Bardas and his team instinctively knew how to plug in to youth culture and created a positive brand experience that was unrivalled at every touchpoint.
Bardas believed in giving his staff freedom of creativity, which would pay off – Sportsgirl became a place where people wanted to shop, party and work.
The Sportsgirl team openly admitted they would buy clothing from international brands and copy the styles and construction details. What’s amazing is that their customers still saw them as innovators of the fashion industry in Australia. But while they lacked originality in their clothing designs, the brand itself was authentic in how it spoke to Aussie girls. It was bold, curious and carried nothing your mum would wear – and would go on to consistently send out this message for decades.
David Bardas was forced out of the business in the mid-90s when the Australian economy crashed, but the previous decades of brand building and connecting with their consumers meant Sportsgirl’s personality lived on for a number of years.
I may not be their target market these days, but I had a look at their website recently and it seems the brand identity has endured with the logo looking the same as it did over 30 years ago. It’s interesting to see they even sell a Sportsgirl Rewind collection, “paying homage to [their] heritage by breathing new life into vintage favourites.” Now, if only they’d bring back that towel...