Tips for Small Clothing Brands to Appeal to Professional Athletes

Dhane Smith wearing custom LVLS Single Leg Tights

If you’ve found your way to this blog post, you’re probably working for a small to medium sized clothing brand that’s trying to get your apparel onto significant influencers in your industry – specifically professional athletes.

Believe the team here at LVLS when we say this is not an easy feat. Professional athletes are incredibly careful about who and what brands they interact with or promote. They’re often heavily guarded by the league, sponsorships, and their agents. Often times, if you’re lucky enough to get in contact with a professional athlete, their agent will probably ask for financial compensation in addition to free apparel that’s more than likely out of your small business’ budget.

However, after selling Women’s and Men’s Single Leg Tights to athletes around the world and to professional athletes in the NBA, WNBA, NLL, & PLL for almost two years now, here are a few tips and tricks that we’ve discovered on our journey to raise awareness for our capstone products and brand.

Find Alternate Points of Contact

Most brands, if you’re like us starting out, think that they can simply DM an athlete on Instagram and instantly strike up a conversation or negotiation about your product in exchange for social promotion. However, you’ll very soon come to realize that that just isn’t a realistic marketing strategy, especially for the young, unrecognizable brands out there.

Instead, you have to think outside the box. This took us a little while to realize, but if you do some digging on social media, you’ll notice that most professional sports teams have a team photographer. Some of the ultra-famous athletes even have their own personal photographer! Think guys like Jayson Tatum or Kyler Murray. Instead of reaching out to the athlete themselves and getting hit with an unread message, why not contact someone who has less of a following and may actually check their messages from time to time?

Similar to a photographer, most athletes also have personal trainers during the off-season who are also more than likely going to see your message. Now, it’s important to note here that you always have to approach trainers and photographers with utmost respect and offer them something for their assistance for connecting your brand with the desired athlete.

Here’s a firsthand example that we were able to have with Javonte Green of the Chicago Bulls and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics.

When we were first starting LVLS, we came to the realization mentioned above and began connecting with as many photographers, content creators, and trainers of professional athletes as possible – some that have even become great friends and supporters of the LVLS brand themselves. Over time, we were able to develop relationships with Javonte’s trainer at Swishology during the off-season. Since then, we’ve been able to send Javonte a few products, which he has reviewed glowingly and worn during regular season games the past two years, giving LVLS plenty of brand recognition, content, and verification that we’re on the right path.

It was also through this relationship that we were able to connect with Bred Hampton, Jayson Tatum’s personal photographer. Agreeing to send him a few hats in exchange for delivering plain and custom tights to Jayson, we were able to expand our brand awareness in the NBA. Now, don’t get it twisted, we are far from being well-known in the professional sports industry, but it’s this creative way of thinking that’s given LVLS a leg up on getting product into the right hands for further promotion and brand awareness.

Offer Something Actually Unique

In addition to your creative outreach efforts, your brand also has to offer something that a professional athlete is truly going to value. What sets your brand apart from all the other typical 't-shirt and shorts' companies out there?

All too often we see new brands appear that just slap a logo on a pair of athletic shorts or shirt and expect to make an impact. What’s unique about your brand or products? New material or stitching patterns aren’t going to cut it any longer – you need something genuinely unique to make that initial push to stand out.

For example, LVLS Sportswear specializes in asymmetrically designed, fashion-forward apparel for athletes that want to stand out - structurally or stylistically different than any other sportswear products on the market. Even down to our website design, we’re focused heavily on asymmetrical style because we believe that’s where the future of athletic fashion is headed.

Now, it’s important to note the ‘athletes that want to stand out’ part above. Not only is LVLS apparel unique, but we also believe in promoting the athlete and their story over our own logo. That can be demonstrated in many forms, but specific to this instance, we allow customers the opportunity to customize their Single Leg Tights with their number, city, name, or a meaningful acronym.

So how does this relate to contacting professional athletes?

The perfect way to illustrate this is through our experience with Dhane Smith, National Lacrosse League MVP (2016 & 2022) and Professional Lacrosse League Champion (2022). We reached out to Dhane in August 2021 because we saw he was wearing a competitor’s pair of Single Leg Tights but also had a calf sleeve on with BLM written on it. Since we offer custom tights, we reached out to let him know that we’d be happy to send him a custom pair with BLM on the back calf, so he didn’t have to wear the sleeve anymore. He responded right away, saying he’d greatly appreciate it and would be more than happy to promote the brand as well.

To make a long story short, we sent him custom black and white pairs that he wore for an entire PLL & NLL season; the same season the Chaos won the championship and Dhane won NLL MVP on the Bandits. Pretty good timing if you ask us. Some may even say they’re good luck tights!

To conclude this point, it’s important to provide something of value to professional athletes that’s not only unique to your brand but can actually make an impact on an athlete’s life or performance.

Is it difficult to do?


Is it worth it?

Well, to give you an idea, since sending Dhane his tights, he’s been a guest on our podcast, reordered more custom pairs with an updated BLM fist design, promoted the brand constantly on his social channels, and given the LVLS team free tickets to the PLL semifinal game at Audi Field. So yeah, you could say it’s been worth it.

Contact LVLS Sportswear

As a small to medium sized apparel brand, you must always be looking for new and creative ways to get your product in the hands of your ideal influencers. Sometimes that’s not always via the direct and obvious routes we’re used to.

It’s also very important to always be respectful of time and tradeoffs when reaching out to professional athletes and their network. You wouldn’t want anyone wasting your time with unreasonable offers, so make sure you’ve thought about and prepared an appropriate deal. Most likely that may require you to give up some inventory for free in exchange for social shares or simply brand awareness.

Sometimes, things won’t work out and you may never see that inventory again. Just make sure to keep iterating your outreach process and taking small steps each day to get your products and brand in to the hands of those ideal athletes and customers.

If you have any questions for our team here at LVLS or want to learn more about any of the strategies highlighted above, contact us via email or shoot us a message on Instagram!
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