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Style Points: Pickleball fashion finds its niche amid sport’s boom
When you think of pickleball fashion, do you picture cartoon pickles swinging racquets? A mid-2000s aesthetic? Think again.
Published Aug 17, 2022
Who wore what? Style Points breaks down the latest collabs, kits and fashion statements from around the tennis world.
By now, we probably don’t have to tell you that pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States.
Take a peek at your own local tennis courts, and the steady takeover of paddle-wielding and plastic-ball-toting players is relentless—and for good reason. Pickleball, a mixture of tennis, table tennis and badminton, is ridiculously easy to pick up, relatively inexpensive compared to other sports, and features a welcoming and social atmosphere.
Even as pickleball is dominating the neighborhood courts and skyrocketing in popularity at the professional level, the sport is still having trouble shaking off its dowdy image. Especially when compared to its more stylish cousin, tennis, whose aesthetics have become a style trend all on their own in recent summer and features a long history in the fashion industry.
But it seems that won’t be the case for long, with a number of brands gearing up to make their mark on a growing audience.
If you’re looking to upgrade your style and turn heads on and off court, these USA-based, pickleball-centric brands are a good place to start:
Founded in 2019, Los Angeles-based brand PKLR is the brainchild of Brooks Proctor, after a shopping trip in search of some pickleball-inspired merch left him bombarded with “zany” designs of “cartoon pickles”.
“I started to like the sport so much I thought I’d go out and find a pickleball shirt…and it was probably the worst idea of my life,” he recalls in an interview with Inside Hook.
“Everything was zany and neon colors, pinks and purples, or cartoon pickles swinging rackets. I was like, ‘I can’t get jiggy with this…I want to look cool!’”
“Being the fashion head that I am, I thought, ‘OK, how can I sexy this up? How can I swag this up?’ I wanted to make it more minimalistic, but still cool enough so people would want to wear it.”
PKLR offers athleisure cool with a pickleball twist, with tees, tanks, sweatshirts and joggers that stand out off the court, too. Some of the slogans in their collections are all too real for the pickleball community: one shirt reads, “the sport you accidentally got addicted to,” and another simply says, “if you know you know”.
With nearly 5 million pickleball players in the United States alone—up from 2.5 million in 2015, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association—the sport is quickly becoming a big business. And that means big fashion names are looking to get involved early and leave their mark.
The Austin, Texas-based Recess Pickleball caught the eye of the fashion world via a collaboration with American classic J. Crew for a capsule collection of custom paddles. The brand was already a pickleball staple for creating paddles with dreamy, retro-inspired designs and solid craftsmanship for the casual crowd—without “the 2004 look”.
"It seemed like a lot of paddles were catering more toward this competitive audience, but our experience with pickleball is super recreational," founder Grace Moore said in an interview with Axios. "Grab a drink, grab a friend, let's just play. Maybe we keep score, maybe we don't.
“We wanted to cater to that audience."
Italian for “be civil”, Civile is a female-founded and San Diego-based brand that was born out of the “darkness” of the 2020 COVID-19-related lockdowns.
When founder Aubri Steele and her husband set up a pickleball court in their family’s driveway as a way to stay active—despite not knowing much about the sport—what began as a way to get together and stay active while socially distanced soon became a passion.
For Civile, the key message is positivity and, of course, civility: pickleball-themed slogans on clothing include “don’t be a dink” and “play nicely” help promote the community oriented culture that the sport is so known for.
“Civile apparel is defining the emerging culture of pickleball,” brand partner Katie Nowlan told Califorina’s Apparel News. “When you look at skateboarding, for example, it’s a niche sport, and there was a culture that emerged with that and brands that attached themselves to it and helped define it.
“You can say that is what we are doing in a similar way, so the growth opportunity is tremendous for us.
“It’s about bringing civility back and being nice and being kind.”