A couple of years ago, Jason Vu, the founder of the clothing brand SWISH Authentics, met Kevin Johnson, senior art director for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I was managing an artist back in 2016-2017 and met Kevin through a commission project,” says Vu one afternoon from the Kimpton hotel in downtown Cleveland. Vu was in town this week to see a couple of Cavs games and promote the new SWISH Authentics gear that’s now available in the team shop. “He reached out to me about one of the artists I was working with at the time, and a year later, I started talking to him about doing something with SWISH.”
SWISH “redefines modern and vintage silhouettes through a strong focus on distinct designs, quality materials, and craftsmanship,” reads a press release about the new line of Cavs-branded clothing items that includes hoodies, T-shirts, caps and sweat pants. Often compared to brands like KITH or Ambush, SWISH brings an artistic touch to standard athletic merchandise.
Vu’s history as a fashion designer dates back more than a decade. He designed his first T-shirt in 2008.
“Growing up as an immigrant in an Asian household, a creative path was never encouraged” he says. “I studied business, but in high school, I got into fashion. It wasn’t until my uncle gave me a copy of Photoshop in college that I got into designing. The LRG fashion brand really inspired me because, at the time, there weren’t a lot of Asian American designers. I familiarized myself with the story of their late founder Jonas Bevacqua, who happened to also be Vietnamese. He was my ultimate inspiration.”
In college, Vu studied business and learned designing on the side.
“We had some success and got our shirts into the local Davis-Sacramento area shops,” says Vu, who lives in the Sacramento area.
Vu started SWISH in 2017.
“I love basketball and sports,” he says. “I saw a big opportunity for apparel and fan merch. I liked wearing team gear to the games, but there wasn’t anything I would wear outside of the game itself.”
SWISH initially met Jordan Bell, who played for the Golden State Warriors at the time. He started wearing SWISH clothes and then so did Sacramento Kings players such as De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III.
“From there, the goal was to get our stuff in the NBA and work with teams,” says Vu.
The Kings debuted a SWISH collection in 2020.
Vu says he hopes the Cavs collaboration expresses the unique nature of the team, a real surprise in the NBA this season.
“I want to build my own story in fashion,” says Vu. “It’s an opportunity for me to tell my story. We want to get into sports fashion, but I still want to build my name as a fashion designer. The Team Issue collection allows us to partner with sports teams. With the Cavs, similar to the Kings and whatever team comes next, we want to give the team an opportunity to be more creative. After working with a few teams and learning their stories, there’s an opportunity to get into the creative realm and having that extension of your creative team to make clothes that tell their story. We want to be in the trenches and tap into the team and look at the archives. Other brands don’t take that extra step.”