ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The modified block “M” logo began popping up on the University of Michigan campus in September, around the start of the fall semester.
First, the “V” that appeared to sprout wings appeared on baseball caps and knit hats. Then, it showed up embroidered on backpacks that students toted between buildings in Ann Arbor. Then, it was silk-screened onto shirts that students wore to class and to the gym.
And, of course, it appeared in Michigan’s athletic facilities.
When Jon Jansen showed up to the Michigan-Michigan State football game in October in East Lansing, Mich, he wore an ostentatious sport coat, covered in Michigan logos and lettering set against a white backdrop — a Valiant Brand original.
— Jon Jansen (@BigJon76) October 29, 2016
You couldn’t miss it — or Jansen, a radio commentator for Michigan football games. With that, Valiant Brand clothing had officially arrived.
Victors versus Valiant
Valiant Brand — better known as Valiant — is a Michigan-based apparel company and the brainchild of John Wangler, a quarterback at Michigan from 1977 to 1980. Its name is a spin on Michigan’s fight song, The Victors.
“Last January, when we were coming up with different name ideas, I came up with Victors Valiant,” said Jared Wangler, a linebacker on the Michigan football team and John’s son. “We wanted something that would stick with the community. We thought, though, that if we kept it with just that, we’d pigeonhole ourselves to just Michigan. But if you take out ‘victors’ and just go with ‘valiant,’ that’s something that can reach everyone.”
John Wangler lives in Royal Oak, Mich., about 45 miles northeast of Ann Arbor, and has worked in athletic apparel sales and merchandising since 1985. Wangler owns Top Cat Sales, a wholesale athletic apparel distributor, but within the last year he has created and developed Valiant with the goal of filling a niche in fashion and sportswear.
When Nike took over as Michigan’s athletic apparel outfitter in August 2016, Wangler saw holes in the offerings. There were no knit caps. And few designs for socks and women’s apparel. In southeast Michigan, he didn’t see another company offering unique apparel that identified with the University of Michigan or Ann Arbor — nothing along the lines of Homage, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, or Steel City, which is based in Pittsburgh.
“Nike has done a great job with sideline gear and performance attire,” Wangler said. “But we found a few unique areas, things like track jackets, unique designs, the use of certain fabrics, headwear … it was finding where the opportunities were.”
But how did Valiant distinguish itself while aligning with Michigan?
It formulated a unique logo — the top of Michigan’s famed block M manipulated into a V with horizontal lines stemming from each side.
What is it, anyway?
Scott Hirth, co-owner of university apparel retailer The M Den, needed a few minutes to figure out the logo the first time he saw it.
He only saw the V, not the outline of the block M.
“They had to explain it to me,” Hirth said, laughing. “But I told them, ‘I love this.’ ”
It wasn’t just about drawing a logo and silk-screening it onto a T-shirt. Wangler had to go through Michigan’s compliance office to manipulate the Michigan logo and to bring three of Michigan’s football players into the fold to become brand ambassadors — his sons Jack and Jared, and tight end Ian Bunting.
“We had to get everything approved,” John Wangler said. “As long as you do things tastefully and respectfully, Michigan has been open to us playing with the logo. It’s not a block M, per se, but you can get that connection from it.
“But at the same time, it’s more than just a block M. Michigan is a cornerstone, but we do think it can stand on its own, and it could work with some other school. When you look into the definition of ‘valiant’ and what it means, it’s more of a lifestyle, a philosophy and a feeling. The connection with the school is a start.”
— Valiant (@valiant_brand) October 23, 2016
See and be seen
The unique logo has shown up in the social media galleries of a few familiar faces, including NFL Hall of Fame running back and Detroit native Jerome Bettis.
Thank you to our friend @JeromeBettis36 for representing Valiant & his hometown!
— Valiant (@valiant_brand) February 25, 2017
Valiant has also launched its City Collection, shirts that represent several major United States cities, including Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Diversifying its products has helped Valiant grow its brand and its sales since it launched in August 2016, although neither Hirth nor Wangler would disclose current sales numbers.
Valiant sells its clothing through its website and through The M Den, which has six locations in southeast Michigan and offers online sales on mden.com. Hirth worked with Wangler when he was an Adidas sales representative, and worked with Wangler to identify what could be marketed to its customers.
The first item? A knit cap with the Valiant logo, which retails for $18.
“That’s easily been the most popular-selling item,” Hirth said. “And socks is another huge, growing market where we plan to put the (Valiant) logo on it.”
Jared Wangler, who regularly totes a backpack (retail: $60) embroidered with the Valiant logo, regularly sees his classmates and peers wearing Valiant clothing.
“This campus has been very supportive of it,” Jared Wangler said. “My friends, friends of friends, they’ve all been very helpful in spreading the word. And it’s been a really cool experience, coming up with ideas and seeing the feedback we get.”
Hirth sees an opportunity for continued growth of Valiant. In fact, he’s preparing to stock M Den with new products, including more sport coats covered in the block M logo (retail: $70).
“What that brand is going to show up on, it’s going to be on a lot more things than where it is today,” Hirth said. “It could be on shorts. It could be on a drop-tail T-shirt. Some of the new things for the fall, they’re going to be awesome.”