Chalk Line, David Goldberg, and the Revival of Cult Sportswear Jackets

 

Back in the licensed sportswear boom of the mid-’80s and early ’90s, Chalk Line jackets stood out from the crowd with their bold, colorful graphics and officially licensed designs. They weren’t just jackets, they were wearable murals that captured the dynamic energy of an era in sports that has gone down in legend.

Chalk Line’s lights went out in the mid-1990s, but held onto a fierce following that has only grown in recent years. With fans ranging from sports fanatics and collectors to fashion freaks and Kanye West, it was only a matter of time before the brand made an official comeback.

Enter David Goldberg, the new owner and president of Chalk Line Apparel. A grown-up ’90s kid and retro sportswear fan himself, Goldberg glided into the apparel game in 2012, reviving the then-defunct Ewing Athletics. Fresh off that success, Goldberg is now working on a Chalk Line comeback that’s “100 percent true to the original heritage of the brand,” as he tells Green Label.

The new Chalk Line has picked up right where it left off, hooking up with various teams to produce limited-edition jackets with smooth updates to the bold designs of old, which sell out immediately.

A native New Yorker, Goldberg was working as a corporate manager when he decided to wade into the apparel business, driven by his enthusiasm for the classic brands he collected from eBay and vintage shops.

“I grew up in New York City during the ’80s and ’90s, right on 34th Street,” Goldberg says, “so that clothing vibe was kind of my childhood. I’ve always been a collector, even when I wasn’t in the business.”

The intense demand for certain old brands was obvious. “I was able to tell just
from going on eBay,” Goldberg recalls. “People were paying $400 for beat-up, busted old Ewing shoes.” Recognizing opportunity, he decided to track down whoever was sitting on the defunct label and take it off their hands.

Within a couple of years, Ewing Athletics was back. When Goldberg’s business partner Ilan Friedman suggested trying the same thing with Chalk Line, it was a no-brainer.

“Chalk Line was so unique, even compared to the other licensed jackets at the time,” Goldberg says. Compared to competing brands like Starter, which has also made a resurgence, “Chalk Line was very different,” Goldberg continues. “The art they had on these jackets, in a time before Photoshop—it’s actually amazing what they were able to do.”

Goldberg says it’s all part of the current ’80s-’90s revival that’s swung into play as younger generations discover and rediscover forgotten classics of decades past.

“A lot of it is kids younger than me, like in their twenties, who are getting in on this whole ’90s vibe for the first time.”

That’s not to leave out the influence of old-school fans, who never lost track of Chalk Line’s appeal.

“The retro sportswear stuff has become huge, and vintage stores have been carrying these brands for a while. There’s a store in LA called For All To Envy that’s been a big Chalk Line dealer. In Japan, there’s been a huge Chalk Line market. You can search the hashtag on Instagram and see the following.”

It’s enough to make you wonder how such an appealing brand was ever allowed to die in the first place. Goldberg says he’s pondered that mystery himself, concluding that when the licensed sportswear bubble burst in the mid-1990s, Chalk Line was just one of many not-necessarily-unsuccessful brands to fall by the wayside. “The market became very crowded in that period,” Goldberg says. “There was Starter, Apex1, Logo7, on and on, all these licensed jackets.” When Russell Athletics bought Chalk Line in 1993, the brand was eventually left to languish.

But as Goldberg sees it, the signature graphic design of Chalk Line jackets mean their relevance never has to expire. “Chalk Line jackets are like a blank canvas. There’s no end to what we can do with them, especially now. They had to do a lot more by hand the first time around, but we don’t have those limitations.”

All that extra freedom doesn’t mean the new Chalk Line will be bigger, necessarily. Just better. “We wanna keep the energy going that we have now,” Goldberg stresses. “We don’t want Chalk Line in the malls with tons of units. We want it to be special projects with rappers and teams and so on.”

He says he can’t reveal too much, but, “We definitely have a bunch of deals on the table. We’re working on future jackets with rappers, entertainers, even ’80s and ’90s properties like TV shows and toy lines.”

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