The evolution of Free People from fashion label to sponsoring a major tennis tournament winner in Sofia Kenin was organic every step of the way.
The 7-year-old Free People Movement, an athletic-wear arm of the Free People fashion label, started to focus on tennis in 2021 as the sport’s participation grew. At that time the brand also started a conversation with Kenin, 2020 Australian Open champion, a fan of the brand who had been wearing Free People for years.
“We are still a growing brand, so for us to partner with someone at that level, having access to a top-ranked player gives us the opportunity to take the brand much, much further and test product in a different way while driving credibility,” says Jack Reynolds, Free People’s senior director of brand marketing. “We have a legacy and a rich history in fashion and FP Movement is focused on the merger of fashion and function.”
Whether creating on-court looks that Kenin, tennis-specific product available at retail or athletic wear good for a variety of activities, Reynolds says the goal is to stand out without sacrificing performance. “We think we can do that with the history we have,” he says. “It comes back to this emphasis on individual style and having fun while standing out and still performing.”
The sponsorship with Kenin, now back from an injury that has kept her off the tour for much of 2022, aims to grow FP Movement’s awareness to fans of the sport and give the brand legitimacy with its on-court product. “Given where the trend was going in racket sports, we knew we wanted to cater to her there,” Reynolds says. “For sure, we want to reach a new audience and meet her where the rising trend is and get fans of the sport, leveraging Sofia’s renown for that.”
Kenin’s absence from the tour in 2022 delayed Free People’s entry on the worldwide tennis scene, but it helped the brand focus on the relationship with their ambassador. “I think, honestly, one of the major silver linings of (her injury) was the access we had to her,” Reynolds says. She visited the Free People offices in Philadelphia and the brand used a stop at a local grass court for marketing content. She participated in multiple photo shoots and helped open stores in the Miami area, where she lives and a key location focus for the brand.
Now that Kenin is back on the tour, she’s sporting her FP Movement gear on the court, both with practice looks and a competition dress. Reynolds says that they’re working closely with her and excited to see her competing. Expect to see her in the products she’s already started wearing during the U.S. Open.
While FP Movement has made a foray into tennis, it won’t take the entire brand in that direction. “The brand has versatility to it, and we want to make sure we aren’t just a pro athlete brand,” Reynolds says. “A key pillar of what we do is we are here for the pro as much as the amateur.”
With that focus—and the mantra of fitness, wellness, happiness—the tennis product is a mix of general athletic wear and tennis-specific pieces. Kenin’s favorite pieces include the Pleats and Thank You Skort, Drop Shot Skortie and Happiness Runs Sweetheart Tank. Other popular pieces include the Get Your Flirt On Shorts, Good Karma Tennis Short, See You on the Court Skorts, Check Out My Topspin Skorts and the Good Karma Dress.
“For us, the ultimate end goal is happiness and making sure people are enjoying themselves and look good, feeling confident,” Reynolds says. “As we develop more of the product in the ensuing years, it will be more playing with color blocking, prints and patterns, merging with the technical to stand out without sacrificing performance, whether for a weekend tennis match or something more professional.”
The goal on wellness and happiness, the brand believes, can come from getting the fitness element of the product correct. “This is stuff that is not just fluff,” Reynolds says. “This is fashion function. It will work with you the whole way through.”
Kenin’s involvement in FP Movement should expand the brand’s reach in tennis-specific performance. The brand plans to develop further sweat-wicking materials and use Kenin’s insight to ensure the products not only stand out, but stand up to the professional level, which can help give confidence to fans when thinking about a purchase.
“We are really excited about where this is going,” Reynolds says. “We have a tremendous amount of momentum.”