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Football Fans Can Be Fashionistas Too, Says The NFL

Feb 3, 2012
Originally published on February 3, 2012 6:09 pm

Women who want to look as good on Super Bowl Sunday as they hope their team does on the field have options. With a whole line of fashionable football apparel available, the philosophy of "shrink it and pink it" need no longer apply to female fans who want to don NFL attire, not drown in it.

It's taken some time for the football industry to figure out that women can be both fashion-forward and fans of football, says the NFL's director of apparel, Rhiannon Madden (no relation to the coach-turned-commentator, although she says she's been asked that at least once a day for the past 11 years).

Female fans don't all engage with football in the same way, Madden tells NPR's Michel Martin. "So we looked at them and said, 'What can we do better for our fans?' "

In 2010, the NFL launched Fit For You, a line of apparel geared toward women that's available on the NFL's website and in retail stores. The campaign collected input from football players' wives and Alyssa Milano, who started her own line of womenswear for the NFL ahead of the 2008 season.

Fit For You apparel ranges from casual, V-neck tees with a vintage look to sterling silver pendants featuring team mascots outlined in rhinestones. It also sells nail polish duos in team colors, and rain boots — for those who aren't just fair-weather fans.

"We wanted to make sure that we had something for everyone," which is why, Madden says, the line includes maternity wear, plus-sizes and fitness attire. In addition, the NFL just launched a new line of handbags and footwear.

Madden was a bit apprehensive about higher-end football fanwear, but she says it's been a successful venture.

There's certainly a market for such products. The NFL has seen a significant increase in its female fan base in recent years. Last year, 51 million women watched the Super Bowl — less than half as many who watched the Academy Awards.

Madden says some women might want to be "loud and proud" about their favorite team, while others want to showcase their spirit in more subtle ways. But the Super Bowl can turn even women with an understated style to bejeweled extremes. Madden, for instance, will sport a full-sequined Patriots jersey this Sunday.

"I'm not actually the type of girl that would wear sequins normally, but I just had to. It's just so off the charts and I know it's going to get a lot of attention for my Patriots," she says.

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Switching gears now, we are turning to America's secular religion: football. It's Super Bowl Sunday coming up and as you stock up on necessary supplies - your chili, your wings, your popcorn, your chips - finally, fashionistas have something to look forward to as well. Now, they can stock up on their favorite team gear.

Women make up 44 percent of the NFL's fan base and recently, the NFL launched the Fit For You campaign to better highlight new and improved women's apparel lines.

Here to talk more with us about fashion and the Fit For You campaign is Rhiannon Madden. She is the director of apparel for the NFL. Welcome, thanks for joining us.

RHIANNON MADDEN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So director of apparel means what?

MADDEN: That means I actually handle all of the apparel outside of the onfield. So any of the lifestyle apparel you see - whether you shop at Kohl's, Target, Old Navy - all of that stuff, I would have collaborated with our licensees on.

MARTIN: So off the field - I'm tempted to say the onfield outfits, but that wouldn't be the right - that's not what - that's not right...


MADDEN: The onfield uniforms.

MARTIN: Uniforms, of course.

MADDEN: Yes. Yeah. That's handled within my group as well, but I don't work as closely with that.

MARTIN: But you - do that. So when did this campaign start? Or I guess the question is really, how did you figure out that women would like their own stuff?

MADDEN: Well, we've actually been offering products for women for the past 10 years, but we hadn't communicated that well enough for people to know. So women didn't know where to buy it - or that we even had it. So we realized - yeah - we have, as you said, 44 percent of our fan base is female. That's 80 million women.

These are all individuals. They don't engage with the sport in the same way, so we looked at them and said, what can we do to be better for our fans? So we knew they shopped at all different places, wore different things - whether it's maternity, plus size, fitness products. We wanted to make sure that we had something for everyone.

MARTIN: So what's different about the women's apparel now? I think a lot of women like me, who play sports or like sports, the only way you knew that something was for you was that it was pink.

MADDEN: Yeah. We call that shrinking and pinking and listen, that - some people, that still appeals to. But we have a lot more women that want to be what we call loud and proud. That's our avid fan. Or we have women that want to be a little more casual about it, and show it in a more subtle way.

MARTIN: OK. But what about evening wear? Is there any NFL evening wear?

MADDEN: We do have some. We have very glitzy jewelry, which I'm actually wearing a piece of it right now. We have a...

MARTIN: Really? Tell me. Describe.

MADDEN: Yeah. I have on - it's a sterling silver necklace. I happen to be a Patriots fan. I love all the teams, but I happen to be a Patriots fan.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. This interview is over. I'm sorry. Excuse me. I'm sorry. Never mind. OK. I'll try to pull it together. OK.


MADDEN: It's got a really beautiful, crystal bead - and we have a lot of jewelry like this. We have stackable rings, bangles, all types of stuff, so that should dazzle up your evening wear. We also have evening bags - like, really cool clutches; really nice stuff.

MARTIN: Forgive me. Do people - regular people actually buy that stuff? Glam, blingy...

MADDEN: Yeah, yeah. You know what, I was surprised by it, too, because we did take a chance. And we have a really high-end handbag line and we have, you know, footwear that's a lot more high-end. And the consumers are out there and they've responded, and they rock it. They look just as good as the women of the NFL families, so absolutely.

MARTIN: Fashion, these days, often comes - how can I put it? - bottom up, as opposed to top down.

MADDEN: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: It's not so much about the designers telling people what they should wear as consumers, somehow or another, indicating what they want to wear and the market responding. So how would you describe this line? Do you think it's bottom up or top down?

MADDEN: I think it's a collaboration, really, because I think we do follow because we want to see what they're interested in, and we want to create wearing occasions for our products. So it's a bit of both, I would have to say.

MARTIN: So what are you going to be rocking on Sunday, for the big game?


MADDEN: I'm actually rocking - this is crazy - I'm wearing a full-sequined Patriots jersey. And I'm not actually the type of girl that wears sequins normally, but I just had to. It's just so off the charts, and I know it's going to get a lot of attention and - for my Patriots. So that's what I will be rocking.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we won't be looking for you, but you know, I would say good luck, but I wouldn't mean it.


MARTIN: So before I let you go, you know, I have to ask. Are you related to the Madden?

MADDEN: I am not, but I get asked that; actually, that's the third time I've been asked that today. Without fail - I've worked for the NFL for, actually, almost 11 years, and I get asked every single day. No relation, though.

MARTIN: No relation - not a bad name to have, though, if you're with the NFL.


MADDEN: No, it's not. I probably should just go with it sometime.

MARTIN: All right. Well, what can we look forward to in the future? Are you working on something super secret - you could give us just a little hint about something that might be coming down the pike?

MADDEN: Well, for the fashionista, we definitely have a lot coming out. We're going to be collaborating with some designers. We've been speaking to quite a few, so that's one thing. And then we also have a real focus on fitness - a lot to look forward to.

MARTIN: OK. Something to look forward to next year, when the Giants are hoisting the Lombardi trophy. I'm sorry. Did I just say ...


MARTIN: Rhiannon Madden is the director of apparel for the NFL, and she was kind enough to join us from member station WFYI in Indianapolis, which is hosting Super Bowl 46 - which will be played on Sunday. Thank you so much.

MADDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.