"Why no University of Kentucky apparel"
We get probably 15-20 messages daily asking why we do not have licensed University of Kentucky apparel or why it has been discontinued. Most of those people blame us for that as if we have a choice in the matter, but we don't. So, we wanted to address our customers on this matter, so you all have a better understanding of the WHY we will no longer have licensed UK apparel and what has gone on over the years to get us to this decision.
Over the years, to say we have had a rocky relationship with our Alma Mater, the University of Kentucky, would be an understatement. As we have grown our brand, it has always been our goal to be the one-stop shop for locally-made, licensed collegiate apparel and state pride wares. We now have 16 licensed collegiate partners across the state covering almost every school in Kentucky both large and small and are still working on some of the smaller partnerships you have asked us to try to acquire. The only school we have been unable to attain a licensed partnership with is our hometown school, the University of Kentucky.
We have now applied for licensing with the University of Kentucky multiple times in the past ten years, being denied outright every single time, and being left in limbo for the past 10 months on the final time we applied with the only resolution being to use a 3rd party (NON-KENTUCKY BASED) brand to have licensed UK apparel. We have complied with this in the past, just seeking to be in the UK business, attempting to find a partner that makes items close in size, comfort, and fit to our brand.
In 2016, we reached an agreement with League Collegiate Apparel to provide our UK wares. This partnership lasted 2 years and the University of Kentucky stripped League of its license and we were left to clearance the remaining merchandise at a major loss. As a small business, this was detrimental for us and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
In 2018-2019, we were left searching for options, when a brand called JAmerica reached out and asked us to carry their UK Product, much like League prior. We wanted to be in the licensed UK game, so we played along, but the merchandise was again subpar compared to our brand and customers took notice, so we discontinued until we found something better.
JAmerica was purchased by hat brand Top of the World, and again they asked us to sell their UK apparel. We made an agreement that it had to be on the blank shirts we picked and they did so. The quality of the shirt was back, but the printing and production were awful and inconsistent. On our last order, they sent thousands of misprint tees which ended up being sold off once again at a huge loss to our small brand.
In 2022, Fanatics took over the UK helm of licensing, and we were told to apply to be a licensed brand again by representatives at UK, but in the meanwhile, they suggested we work with yet another brand IVY Citizens to create a very similar UK Product, and they even went as far as allowing us to design and print in-house...just not on our brand of course! Yes, we were stoked! We could finally print UK products after nearly 10 years! It could not have our branding, but we could control the quality! Unfortunately, this partnership too was a facade for the bigger problem of not allowing us to be a locally owned, licensed brand.
We applied for licensing with UK for the final time in June of 2022 and were told it would be a four-week process. That seemed reasonable because we had acquired 15 other licenses at the time and that is about the length of time it took. 4 Weeks passed. Then 8 weeks. 12.... All with emails along the way saying it would only be a "few more weeks", etc.
Fast forward to February 2023 when we were told that the University would rather us go back to League Collegiate Apparel (The folks they took a license away from previously and cost us tens of thousands of dollars) instead of being a licensed brand. We asked why! They simply said that the University is not prepared to give licenses to the local market because of sensitivities among the local market. After a conversation with our representative about what that meant, it seems that if we were in any other state or place, we would be a fine fit for UK, but they are not prepared to issue licenses locally. Not sure why that is and was not given a reason.
However, if we were outside of the state borders like many other brands both large and small, we would likely be approved per their licensing team. For example, we have an acquaintance with a small boutique in Arkansas and as part of what they do, they offer some Kentucky apparel. They have a license... in Arkansas. We have colleagues in Indiana - They have a license. We know brands from California that are smaller than us, have the same manufacturers and printing capabilities that we have...they have a license. We don't know anything other than that, and will not jump to conclusions, but the bottom line is that the University has taken a stance that we do not approve of as Kentucky's go-to collegiate apparel brand and we simply can not support this anymore. We are "Shop Local Kentucky" and to continue supporting this by sending our investment and our customers money to vendors from out of state would be hypocritical and we would rather lose out on that revenue (it's a large bit y'all) than continue to stay quiet and support their decisions or lack-there-of.
At this point, we can no longer support the University of Kentucky, so we will be selling our remaining stock, and no longer be carrying any officially licensed University of Kentucky apparel. No worries, we will have EVERY other school in the state and our Kentucky State pride wares, but we simply have been pushed around enough by an institution that does not support us. We have asked that our license application which has been sitting in limbo now for 10 months be pulled from consideration as we have no interest in continuing down this path. We can simply no longer in good faith support their programs in full. We will always be alumnus, fans, and employ students from the University, but our days of selling that big beautiful wildcat are over.
When we began this company in 2013, it was our dream to have a brand that would have all of the colleges in the state and be a true community partner providing unique, fun apparel. As lifelong UK fans, this has really gutted us personally. It was a big dream, and one we have chased now for ten years, but unfortunately, it is time to hang that dream up and focus on the other 16 schools who have supported our mission side by side and allowed us to be true partners.
Thank you all for the understanding moving forward!
Rick & Joni