Augusta Sportswear Brands take the hassle out of apparel management so organizations can focus on strengthening families and creating community.
There is often nothing more satisfying than to see growth and improvement in something you’ve put effort into. This is especially true when the work you do helps those who are helping others.
This is one of the many reasons Derek Ernst, the chief commercial officer at Augusta Sportswear Brands, loves helping partners find solutions that allow them to do better. “I love ‘better,’” he said. “I love helping people become better and I love making things better. My dad was self-made, starting out poor in a town of about 90 people. He made himself and the people around him better every day, eventually becoming a revered leader in a large organization.”
This role model as a kid is what Ernst still values today in his work as part of the largest youth sports apparel company in the U.S. With a mission to inspire a physically fit lifestyle, healthy families and connected communities, Augusta Sportswear Brands has grown from three brands to six over the past six years. These include Augusta, Holloway, Russell Athletic, High Five, CCM and Pacific Headwear.
In fact, Ernst shared Augusta especially saw the power of youth sports during COVID-19, when the rates of mental illness skyrocketed among kids without sports. “Similar to other companies in the recreation industry, we are incredible believers in the power of fitness and sports,” he said. “They build kids, teaching them valuable skills like teamwork, discipline and perseverance. It also builds social skills, creates friendships, strengthens families and creates community.”
Beyond Augusta, Ernst is also on the board of the PLAY Sports Coalition and a member of the Aspen Institute Project Play 2024 — two organizations that are passionately focused on growing youth sports and recreational fitness for the exact same reasons: they build kids and strengthen families and communities.
“I’ve truly experienced these benefits as a kid and believe in them deeply,” added Ernst. “I spent every day of my summer vacation — and basically every weekend — playing a sport in our backyard. I especially loved playing organized youth sports and high school sports.”
This is where Ernst found his passion for growth, innovation and what a uniform can truly represent. “I especially remember uniform day — when the coach handed out uniforms — and what it felt like to put it on for the first time,” he described. “As a kid, it wasn’t just my game day uniform, it was something I wore throughout the week. My mom had to force me to take it off sometimes just to wash it. The uniform means so much. It creates pride and community, and it inspires and connects us all at a critical stage in our lives.”
Augusta gives Ernst the opportunity to deliver that uniform moment every day, merging his two passions — a love of sports, and a passion for growth and innovation. “I’ve loved every minute of my experience at Augusta,” he said.
While Augusta’s mission is set on healthy families and connected communities, Ernst added its vision is focused on being an organization entirely centered around customers. Having experienced growth in a wide variety of industries before coming to Augusta in 2016, he shared one common element critical to growth and success is deep customer partnerships.
“Our manifesto clearly states we don’t want to be our customers’ apparel partner. That’s intentional,” said Ernst. “We don’t want to only be a vendor for our customers. We want to be their growth partner. We start with truly trying to understand our customers’ goals, then build solutions around those goals.”
Ernst elaborated in the recreation industry — especially with YMCAs and JCCs — customers have been trying to get out of the apparel business. Understandably so, the uniform process can be a huge source of frustration when these organizations want to focus on what they’re set out to do, which is provide and grow youth sports programs.
Furthermore, it can be a great hassle for customers to have multiple vendors for everything they need. “Today, recreation organizations want to create amazing experiences for their members and customers, yet they’re incredibly strapped for time and apparel management is one of their biggest challenges,” said Ernst. “It not only drains valuable time and resources, but emotionally can also be a major source of stress and anxiety for their people.”
“When a member registers for a sports program, our customer can send them a link to our store where the member purchases their uniform — along with any related accessories — and we ship those directly to their home anywhere in the U.S. within two days,” explained Ernst. “It’s turned the youth sports apparel business into an Amazon-like transaction. More importantly, it’s taken the recreation organization out of the apparel business. Now, they can focus on building great programs and amazing experiences instead of dealing with the apparel headaches.”
For this process to work, Ernst said it starts with great people. “We were very fortunate to hire some super talented people early on,” he said. “They helped bring more talented people and those people brought even more. Good people are the only true source of fuel to growth. It’s our biggest differentiator.”
Beyond people, Ernst added it also starts with service. “We make service our top priority,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t exist without it. Kids need uniforms for game day. You can’t play without them. Service is everything in our industry. It has to be everything to us.”
To learn more, visit augustasportswear.com.