When the choice came down to quick, easy money or grinding out his own brand, Maurice Woodard played the long game. His payoff comes Saturday with the grand opening of Champ System’s first brick-and-mortar ChampZone storefront in Westport.
“You’re going to look different because there’s such a limited amount that we’ll release,” he said, noting his lifestyle and apparel company’s hottest commodity: shiny, full-patent leather shoes.
But his footwear — and growing clothing line — could’ve easily been nothing more than an unrealized dream.
An all-time reception leader for Lincoln University of Missouri Blue Tigers, Woodard found himself in Germany in 2014 playing for the Elmshorn Fighting Pirates, he said. The Kansas City native was approached by a German sportswear company that offered him an endorsement deal.
The catch? He couldn’t wear or promote his own still-developing apparel line.
“I went home, talked to my pops about it. Prayed about it. And I was like, ‘Man, why not invest more in myself — create a shoe and really go into more depth with the apparel?’” Woodard said. “And it’s taken off since then.”
Dropping fresh trends
The concept is simple: Look unlike everyone else.
For Woodard, that meant trips to the craft store in high school to give his own outfits a unique flair, he said.
“And whenever I would play football, I always wanted to look different. I would spray on my shoes, tape them up, whatever I could,” he added. “That was long before I started thinking about creating a brand.”
Champ System ramped up operations in 2015 and 2016, Woodard said, with the venture evolving rapidly from ironed-on T-shirt designs.
“I’d buy some Gildan T-shirts, create my designs, and have a lady press them for us,” he said. “It just expanded more and more. Now we do our own apparel manufacturing — we produce everything from scratch; our own sweatsuits, leggings, joggers.”
The new store at 3955 Broadway Boulevard — set for a family-friendly, public grand opening event 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 18, followed by shopping from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday — will be home to the latest iterations of Woodard’s trendsetting design work.
Retro styles that harken to the 1990s are among the most attention-grabbing pieces, he said.
“It’s out there. A lot of these styles are starting to come back around. People are wearing the short shorts again,” Woodard said. “I’m going to stay ahead of the curve and drop something really colorful that nobody’s doing yet.”
An evolving brand
Moving beyond online-only sales is a big step, Woodard said, and Kansas City is just the beginning. He hopes to open additional stores in California and Alaska by the end of the year.
“It’s been fun — I’m not gonna lie, it’s been tough too — getting to this moment,” he said.
In addition to sponsoring local football leagues, like the Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs sports associations, Woodard is getting more teams in the Golden State to wear his custom sports apparel, he said.
Champ System is also transitioning away from a male-dominated lineup to clothing and shoe options for women and children as well, Woodard said. Offerings for university students in the Greek community are being fleshed out too.
The brand will take an even bigger public role — beyond its new store on a busy Kansas City thoroughfare — through a collaboration with Healthy Hip Hop, a performance and technology-based educational platform founded by rapper Roy Scott.
Partnering with Scott’s H3 production is expected to include not only a cross-promotion of brands, but the integration of Woodard’s Champ mascot into Healthy Hip Hop’s live performances and educational programming.
“It’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to be part of, but I’d never met anyone who was doing something like this,” Woodard said. “Meeting Roy, I found out it was actually much bigger than what I thought, which is amazing.”