Brooks Proctor considers himself more on the “fashion side of things” when it comes to pickleball, but that doesn’t mean the game hasn’t sucked him in, too. As the founder of Los Angeles-based pickleball clothing brand PKLR, Proctor might be a fervent supporter now, but even he was initially pretty skeptical of the game. Once he got out on the court, though, he found himself drawn into its cultish appeal — just like all its other acolytes.
“I went to go play and I found myself being just as competitive on the pickleball court as I was on the basketball court,” he tells InsideHook. “It’s easy enough to play, it’s fun enough to play. And the community is so welcoming and loving — everybody wants to teach you how to play and is very patient. It just makes for a good time.”
Originally invented up in Washington in the mid-’60s, pickleball has been skyrocketing in popularity over the last few years, particularly since the pandemic directed people back toward outdoor games with minimal physical contact. Set up similarly to tennis or badminton, the game entails hitting a small Wiffle ball with paddles over a net while players stay in certain areas of the court. Over the last five years the number of active players in the U.S. went from around 500,000 to over 2.5 million. There are recognizable star athletes, and now dedicated clothing brands like PKLR.
“It started during the pandemic — people were bored and didn’t have anything to do,” Proctor explains. “They started picking up pickleball and it just kind of took over. It literally popped up out of nowhere. I started playing right before the pandemic, then started making clothes for PKLR in November 2019.” Though plenty of people share the skepticism that Proctor initially felt, plenty more are being won over every day — meaning this is the kind of growing market that any self-respecting entrepreneur would set out to target. But for Proctor, his pickleball clothing brand was born out of something much simpler: He liked the sport, and wanted to represent that.
“I showed up to just have a good time and ended up getting hooked,” he says. “One of my shirts says ‘The sport you accidentally got addicted to.’”
Since he’d already been working in fashion for close to a decade, helming his original clothing company Square Bear, it only made sense for Proctor to start workshopping a way to bring some of his own style into the world of pickleball — something he thought the sport desperately needed. “I started to like the sport so much I thought I’d go out and find a pickleball shirt…and it was probably the worst idea of my life,” he remembers with a chuckle. “Everything was zany and neon colors, pinks and purples, or cartoon pickles swinging rackets. I was like, ‘I can’t get jiggy with this…I want to look cool!’ Being the fashion head that I am, I thought, ‘OK, how can I sexy this up? How can I swag this up?’ I wanted to make it more minimalistic, but still cool enough so people would want to wear it.”
Luckily for anyone not naturally drawn to wearing neon and cartoon pickles, Proctor’s designs embody a sleek, modern look that works whether you’re on or off the court. Yes, there’s the occasional pop of neon, an homage to the bright green and yellow balls, but mostly the brand’s palette hews to black, white and the occasional grey tones. From tees and tanks to sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats and bags, PKLR uses subtle design that hints at affiliation to the sport but doesn’t come right out and say it. This subtlety ties into Proctor’s own assessment of the sport: “If you know, you know,” a phrase that also graces one of his T-shirt designs.
Many of the brands that are cropping up in the space tend to lean toward clothes that work for on-the-court play — moisture-wicking fabrics and sportier items that take their cues from tennis wear. PKLR, on the other hand, is all about the lifestyle of the pickleball obsessive, and Proctor’s vision is about giving aficionados something to wear off the court to indicate their appreciation. This line is all about “pickle drip,” the gear that might work for some light rallying, but does better paired with a jean jacket and Chuck Taylors.
“A lot of pickleball brands are popping up right now, [but] everything’s for the court,” Proctor says. “For me, personally, I wanted to stay off the court. The court is so saturated with Dri-FIT tees and hats, wristbands and tennis skirts — I was like, ‘What about the people who really are obsessed with pickleball and want the world to know?’ PKLR sticks to that lifestyle space, with nice cut tees, sweatshirts, crewnecks and hoodies, dad hats and joggers. It’s athleisure, and something you could dress up if you wanted to.”
That 24/7 appeal is ideal, because if you know (or are) a pickleball addict, you know it’s all they want to talk about.
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