Danish brand Hummel – named after the German word for bumblebee – is that rare beast among sportswear brands: successful and influential for almost a century now, yet still flying under the radar for some of today’s sneaker and streetwear aficionados. With its Hive project focusing on innovative collections and exclusive collaborations, the company aims to change this, and judging from the current line-up, it looks like the plan might just work out fine. After all, it is sometimes said that bumblebees with their ratio of body mass and short wings should not be able to fly at all. Yet they do, and pretty well at that. It’s this can-do spirit of conquest that has carried Hummel from the start – and is now coming full circle with HUMMEL HIVE.
The Hummel history starts in northern Germany, far from the country’s traditional shoe capitals of Pirmasens and Herzogenaurach. In 1923, shoemaker Albert Messmer develops one of the very first football cleats after watching players struggle during a match in typically messy Hamburg weather. In a move not unlike the one that happens in the same era further south, Albert opens a shoe company called Messmer & Co. with his brother. Legend has it the brand’s initial name “Hummel-Hummel” – derived from a Hanseatic slang greeting – is taken on in the early 1930s. Another twenty years later, the company is taken over by businessman Bernhard Weckenbrock, who shortens the name to Hummel and finally introduces the trademarks that will carry the brand into the future: The double chevron logo to symbolize a forward-thinking drive – and the bumblebee emblem.
The Only Way is Up
In the 1960s, Germany is swinging as much as the rest of the Western world. The economy is strong, the spirit is youthful, spectator sports are very much in fashion. It’s the time of football players flaunting their wealth as well as some of the more outrageous hairstyles. And with the growing influence of pop culture and the availability of colour TV, their apparel becomes more colourful by the minute. In 1968, Hummel signs its first official sponsorship deal with the second league football club MSV Duisburg. According to some sources, Hummel reps pay each member of the team 50 Deutschmarks per match for wearing their gear, handed over in cash in an envelope before each game. Just a year later, the brand – along with a refreshed, somewhat rounder bumblebee logo – presents its first collection of sportswear to the public and scores an instant hit, enjoying ever growing sales in Germany and the neighboring European countries during the decades to come.
By 1980, sportswear has become a staple of modern everyday life and also an industry in its own right. After already having gained a standing in the northern neighboring country by outfitting the Danish Football Association and the Danish Handball Federation, Hummel is finally sold to Denmark for good. There, the brand is led to new heights thanks to clever marketing strategies and signing the right teams and athletes. Among these are tennis ace Mikael Pernfors from Sweden and Danish badminton legend Morten Frost, who both get their own successful signature apparel and shoe collections from Hummel. In the early 80s, the brand has long established popular lines for a multitude of activities. Next to team sports such as football and handball, there is also specific footwear and apparel for the defining disciplines of the sports-crazy decade: tennis, running, fitness and aerobics.
Taking Off Around The World
With now being the biggest sports clothing brand in the Danish and Scandinavian market, Hummel soon makes its mark all over Europe and abroad. Every year, two new collections are launched, including everything from football boots to leisurewear, wallets and even swimwear. In 1984, Denmark reaches the final of the European football championships, wearing Hummel tracksuits that will be officially crowned as the tournament’s most attractive. At the Los Angeles Olympics the same year, the bumblebee logo is introduced to a global audience via the apparel of the Danish handball team who are given the fitting surname “Candy Boys” due to the colours of the kit. As Hummel marches on from success to success in the years to come – crowned by a deal with the football team of Real Madrid in 1988 – the brand becomes more and more visible in the streets as well.
An important watershed in the Hummel history is the acquisition of the company by Christian Stadil in 1999. As one of Denmark’s youngest and most successful entrepreneurs, Stadil knows about the market value of being hip. Thus, the brand soon introduces an innovative fashion line based on old tracksuit designs, which becomes an instant success. But during this redefining phase, Stadil is smart enough not to forfeit the roots of the brand, bringing together sportsmanship, charity and a global conscience by sponsoring the Tibetan national football team – which in turn creates the unusual sight of celebrities like U2 singer Bono or the actor and buddhist Richard Gere wearing the Hummel jersey to show their support for the Tibetan cause. Rather fittingly, “Changing the World through Sport” will become one of Christian Stadil’s mantras for his brand.
Coming Full Circle With HUMMEL HIVE
Fast forward to the 2010s and Hummel enters the sneaker collaboration game that is becoming increasingly important for all sportswear brands who want to keep up with the zeitgeist. For the first cooperations on classic Hummel silhouettes in 2015, Stadil turns to Japan, where the brand is already enjoying quite a reputation as one of the true pioneers of European sports apparel. Together with Atmos, a special – and at only 28 pairs, very limited – version for the Globetrotter high-top model is created. This is followed by a second Atmos collaboration on the popular Marathona sneaker, this time in cooperation with the Japanese brand Mila Owen. Another Japanese capsule collection on the Marathona is presented with the Monkey Brand label in 2016. In the fall of the same year, the hotly anticipated collaboration with Berlin’s Overkill is released – and this Marathona version with its purple fades finally manages to really put Hummel on the map for many European sneakerheads, making it into quite a few official “Best Collab of the Year” lists.
With the Overkill and other collaborations under its belt, 2016 also sees the official inception of the HUMMEL HIVE project. Derived from the word “archive”, the Hive name alludes to the nest of a bumblebee as much as to the rich history of the brand that stretches back almost a century now. As a collective of multi-disciplinary artists and designers, the Hive is based in its own studio within the company’s headquarters in Arhus. Aiming at celebrating modern values such as an active life, function over form, diversity and equality, the initiative is rooted in a passion for sports, subcultures and underdogs. HUMMEL HIVE offers entire collections, relaunches from Hummel’s vast archive and singular projects with likeminded souls – always seeking to explore the exciting intersection of past and future, sports and style culture while defining new approaches to creating modern Danish sportswear that is in tune with a globally connected scene.
In the current HUMMEL HIVE sneaker line-up, the well-established Marathona running model makes a most welcome appearance as part of the luxurious Nubuck Pack. This pairing – the other part of which is the low-cut Diamant model that hasn’t been re-released in ages – shows gentle off-white and salmon tones on premium leathers. Also making a comeback is the Minneapolis: A sneaker from the Hummel archives, this marks the first time since its original release that the model is presented in its OG form and colours. And that is only what’s happening this fall. As a spearhead of the entire brand, HUMMEL HIVE intends to continue to inspire fashion and sneaker subcultures around the world through limited premium products whilst striking and engaging communication with its audience.
In other words: Can definitely fly!