He Jokingly Branded His Shirt, Then Turned It Into a $2.5 Billion Company

People worldwide have most probably heard about the brand Lacoste. However, does anyone truly understand its roots and how it became a booming business?

From Fun and Jokes to Becoming a Legend

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Everything about the Lacoste brand started as a joke. But René Lacoste, the legendary tennis player, might have had more foresight than everybody else!

René Lacoste went from jokingly branding his shirt with a crocodile to making millions of dollars selling clothing with crocodiles on it! But how did he turn Lacoste into a billion-dollar company?

The Brand’s History

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Lacoste’s founder, René Lacoste, was born in Paris, France, in 1904, to his parents Jean-Jules Lacoste and Jeanne-Marie Magdalene Larrieu-Let. They were part of the upper class, so René could do whatever he wanted in life.

Of everything he could have done, René took an interest in tennis when he was 15. René enjoyed the sport so much that he wanted to make a career out of it, but his father wasn’t so thrilled with the idea; after all, René wasn’t as skilled as the other top tennis players.

An Ultimatum and a Blessing

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However, René’s dad saw how passionate he was about the sport. So, he gave his blessings under the condition that René became a world champion in five years!

Though it was a considerable challenge, René Lacoste did not falter; he wanted to prove himself to his father. He began intense training for three years and entered his first competition in 1922, which was the Wimbledon Championships Grand Slam Tournament, but unfortunately, he lost in the first round.

The Pressure to Succeed

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René was incredibly disturbed by this loss because of the pressure from his father to succeed. Then, the following year, in 1923, he entered his first competition in the United States.

This time, René made it to the fourth round, but Cecil Campbell defeated him. Even so, René didn’t give up and continued training diligently, slowly going beyond his limits.

Another Chance

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Then, he was selected to play in France by the Davis Cup team. René ended up playing with three other athletes, and together, they were a force to be reckoned with; this earned them the nickname of the Four Musketeers!

René reached his first major final in 1925 at Wimbledon but lost to one of his fellow musketeers! This defeat spurred him to train even harder; he never forgot his promise to his father.

Seeing Good Results

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Later that year, René won the French Championship title, and by the next Wimbledon tournament, he once again came face to face with a rematch with the fellow Musketeer who had defeated him before.

This time, he emerged victorious and was the champion of the tournament! René became worthy of playing tennis in his dad’s eyes, even though he lost his French Championship title the following year.

More Training and More Achievements

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With his defeat, René decided to skip the next Wimbledon tournament and instead use the time to train and train and train! Then, in 1926, René competed in the US National Championship, and his match was once again against the same fellow Musketeer.

He won the match and was labeled as the number-one tennis player in 1926 by The Daily Telegraph. Aside from this, René was also credited for his invention of the tennis ball machine!

The Creation of the Brand

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Because of René’s dedication to the sport, he developed a unique style of playing tennis that did not go unnoticed. He would often slither around the court while playing, so in 1926, while René was playing against Bill Tilden, he did something that intrigued an American journalist.

Bill Tilden was known for being undefeated, but this fact soon changed when René won their set! The American journalist covering the event noticed René’s unique playing style and nicknamed him The Crocodile.

More Wins

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The French team lost the cup, but René’s one win against Bill Tilden increased their chances of winning the next one. True enough, René defeated Bill Tilden again in the next world final.

The Crocodile’s nickname made its way to France, and René loved it because he believed it showcased his tenacity on the court and his dedication to never giving up on his prey! Later that year, René was promised a crocodile skin suitcase by their team’s captain if he won the competition.

Winning the Game and Earning the Emblem

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René made good on his promise and won. Then, Robert George designed a signature crocodile and embroidered it on René’s blazer.

He then started wearing the blazer on all his matches, and five years later, the Lacoste brand finally launched!

His Insights

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Because René had been playing since he was 15, he made some notes on their match uniforms and commented that long-sleeved button-up shirts were uncomfortable and limited their movements while playing. This observation led René to design the first version of the Lacoste shirts we know and love today.

In 1933, René asked Andre Gillier, the owner of the most prominent French knitwear manufacturing firm, to embroider the crocodile on the front of his tennis shirt so he could wear it at his next match. After this, they produced more t-shirts, ultimately launching a business called La Societe Chemise Lacoste!

Revolutionary Release

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René became the brand ambassador of this revolutionary tennis shirt, which was adored because it was a short-sleeved knit polo shirt instead of the traditional button-up shirt. The company could not release its product under the brand Lacoste in the United States, so Lacoste partnered with IZOD in 1950, creating a sub-brand called IZOD Lacoste, which produced Lacoste-made products.

Lacoste started producing only white-colored sportswear, but they soon began making shirts with other colors after their partnership with IZOD. They gained immense popularity in the United States, and even with other brands like Le TIGRE popping up, trying to steal the spotlight, they retained their position—even upping the worth of the brand itself!

His Passion Was Never-Ending

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René retired from the sport in 1932 but continued to design innovative and unique sports goods. In fact, in the 1960s, he developed a one-of-a-kind steel racket with the crocodile emblem; he even expanded Lacoste’s industry.

From being a company that focused on just sportswear, it became one that offered all sorts of sports goods!

Changes That Happened Over Time

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In 1964, René’s son, Bernard, took over the company. Over time, teenagers in the United States stopped referring to the brand as IZOD Lacoste and just called it IZOD.

Even so, the partnership remained solid and profitable, that is, until their parent company, Crystal Brands, Inc., started to go down, drowning in debt from its other business ventures. Crystal ended up having to sell Lacoste back to their original French company while IZOD was sold to another.

Exclusive Rights and More

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In 1993, IZOD and Lacoste ended their partnership, and Lacoste gained exclusive rights to distribute its products under its own brand in the United States.

Lacoste also got to end their identity crisis and dispute with a Chinese company called Crocodile. Bernard Lacoste then decided it was time to move forward with new management.

Saying Goodbye to The Crocodile

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On October 12, 1996, René Lacoste passed away at 92. The company mourned the loss of their founder but nevertheless looked forward to what the future would bring them.

Lacoste in the 2000s

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In 2000, Lacoste changed their marketing director, and this decision helped the company reestablish itself as both a sportswear company and a luxury fashion brand! With this new direction, Lacoste started diversifying their products.

They started branching out into other areas of fashion, like bags and shoes, and they also began producing perfume, watches, and more! In 2005, Bernard Lacoste got sick and passed the company to his younger brother, Michael.

New Management

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Michael Lacoste has been working with his brother in the company for years, so he has a good grasp of everything. He was also more than capable of carrying their legacy on, especially when Bernard passed away in 2006.

Lacoste then started licensing its trademark to other companies, but this soon changed after a couple of years, and Devanlay currently owned an exclusive license to it.

Current Situation

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Since then, the company has grown and continued expanding its territory. In 2007, Lacoste launched an online website for the US market, and in 2010, they started using celebrities and athletes as endorsers and brand ambassadors.

One of the most recent ones is Novak Djokovic, nicknamed The New Crocodile! Today, the company is more popular than ever; they even started the Lacoste Foundation, which helps children play sports in school and give them a supportive community.

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This post first appeared as He Branded His Shirt as a Joke, Tried to Make It a Profitable Business, and Unexpectedly Created a Lucrative $2.5 Billion Company! How Did He Do It? on Quote Ambition.

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Karen Danao

Hi, I’m Karen, a content curator and writer for Quote Ambition; I’m also a marketing and advertising professional. Beyond the keyboard and the screen, I’m someone who’s out to enjoy every bit that life has to offer!

Poetry, philosophy, history, and movies are all topics I love writing about! However, my true passion is in traveling, photography, and finding common ground to which everyone from different cultures can relate.

With the many places I’ve been to, I found that love, inspiration, and happiness are some things that bring people together. No matter how different we are on the outside, I’m a true believer that our emotions don’t lie; if you dig deep into our psyche, we’re all the same inside.

This belief was further amplified when I joined Quote Ambition. Through the quotes I’ve read, collected, organized, and written about, I found that humans are resilient, creative, and compassionate.

We take from each others’ hearts and courage, and it’s through our individual experiences that we learn how to rise above our challenges and pain. In so many ways, Quote Ambition is a platform that allows people from all over the world to gain the inspiration they need anytime, anywhere!