From Playing on the Floor to Stylizing it: How a former Lancer Basketball Player Became a Fashion Entrepreneur
by: Shaun Smith
What comes after the Lancers? For Chris Poloniato, who played guard on the varsity men’s basketball at the University of Windsor from 2016-2020, the answer was slightly different from most graduates: a clothing line.
“It was an idea where I’d seen shirts that said [basketball related-phrases] before, but it was a one-off. I’d think that’s a really cool shirt, and then I’d never see one again.”
Chris, a graduate of the kinesiology program, and his brother, Nick, co-founded “Hoopn” last year and launched their first products in December. Through their line, they contend, basketball players to be able to make statements through fashion.
“Basketball is a sport where everyone is trying to represent themselves,” explains Chris. “Everyone is trying to make a name for themselves.”
Certainly, Hoopn’s designs are eye-catching. As their website puts it:
“Simple black and white designs are straight to the point, while the golden shine winks back at the crowd.”
Maybe so. No doubt supporters of the Windsor Lancers through the years can resonate closely with a golden shine, given the colour’s prominent place within the university’s athletic uniforms. Hoopn has its sights set beyond the Windsor market though, and others are taking notice.
Tyler Bennet is the founder of Four Quarters Media, an independent news outlet that focuses on U Sports and collegiate Canadian basketball. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of Hoopn’s vision.
“Chris created a product and a brand that can resonate with basketball players at any age or level…whether you’re a ‘bucket,’ or a ‘dimer,’ a ‘gym rat,’ or take ‘no days off,’ there’s a shirt for you, and the basketball community knows what you’re about.”
And for those unfamiliar with the terms “bucket” or “dimer”?
“While the shirts are more focused on basketball, there’s a shirt here that can resonate with everyone,” states Bennet. “The products are high-quality, comfortable, and make a statement. In a gym or court, Hoopn products do the talking for you.”
Starting an entrepreneurial endeavour in the middle of a pandemic is challenging. Some businesses were looking for ways to cut back, Hoopn was just getting started.
“I’ve gotten pretty far ahead of myself with what I have planned, but it still made sense to me the more and more I thought about it,” grins Chris. “As much as I told myself ‘nah it’s not going to work like that,’ it came down to that this is basketball and I know basketball people and its culture. So once I got past that I started putting together the product.”
After building some hype around Hoopn through various media channels, the brand was launched last December. It’s accrued a following on Instagram of more than 1500 followers and is continuing to grow. As it does, it’s impossible not to notice Chris’ mark on Hoopn. Basketball is a universal language, and Chris’ experiences have allowed him to create a brand that is also universal, in Bennet’s mind.
“The experiences he has from years of playing the sport at various levels along the way, Chris has had a massive influence on shaping the product. He knows the market well, and has identified a niche that wasn’t really a niche market until he pointed it out,” Bennet observes.
As for Chris, he looks back over the last four months following the release of Hoopn and sees growth, in both the brand and in himself. Although Hoopn is not a personal reflection of Chris, as the man behind the vision, the products and satisfaction of those who purchase them is a confidence boost for the budding entrepreneur.
For students with their own entrepreneurial aspirations, Chris offers some words of wisdom. Although he’s only four months into his own endeavour, he’s already seeing how the little steps of the everyday grind compound together behind the scenes.
“If you have something in your head and in your heart that you just want to just go for, put in the time to make sure you do it properly. But if you do put in that time and execute on the things you need to, I think you’ll be surprised with the positive support and the people willing to back you up.”
It almost sounds as though Chris is describing a basketball team rather than a clothing line. You can take the man out of the sport, but you can’t take the sport out of the man. With continued support from the basketball community, Hoopn has the potential to be a slam dunk