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Volume 21 No. 1
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Former Sports Authority CEO Campisi takes lead at apparel brand Respect Your Universe

David Campisi is moving from running one of the nation’s biggest sporting goods retailers, Sports Authority, to a considerably smaller Portland apparel brand.

Campisi, who last week was named the new CEO and chairman of Respect Your Universe Inc., isn’t letting the upstart athletic apparel brand’s diminutive nature limit its ambitions.

“I truly believe this brand has legs behind it,” Campisi said. “A lot of people would say it’s pretty risky for you to do something like this, but it’s really something I believe in.”

RYU is a mixed martial arts-inspired brand of premium training apparel headquartered in Las Vegas — home base to much of the MMA world — but is run mostly by a 10-person team in Portland.

Until last week it had been led by Christopher Martens, a former Nike Inc. merchandise director, who amassed a leadership team peppered with experience in athletic apparel, including with Nike and Lululemon Athletica.

RYU, in a news release, said Martens resigned on Aug. 13 with four months’ severance pay. Though the company didn’t provide an explanation for Martens’ departure — he had been appointed to the company’s board of directors in January — Campisi said it was done on good terms, and “we wish him well.”

For Campisi, who joined the RYU board in March, the move is something of a homecoming. Campisi spent 20 years in Portland, including 12 — from 1984 to 1996 — as an executive at former Portland-based department store chain Meier & Frank, where he was a vice president and merchandise manager for women’s apparel. He then went onto work for the Fred Meyer Inc. chain, where he held several titles, including vice president of apparel.

He left the state in 2004 for a short stint with Wisconsin-based apparel and home goods retailer Kohl’s before jumping to Sports Authority, where he rose from chief merchandising officer, to president, to finally CEO and chairman — top posts he held for 17 months before resigning last July.

Campisi joins a brand that has begun to gain traction in the MMA world. In December, it reached a deal to be a sponsor of several Ultimate Fighting Championship events. In February, it raised $1.5 million in equity capital to help build brand awareness. And last month, it announced plans for a flagship retail store in Las Vegas.

RYU is positioned as a premium brand of training apparel, occupying a price position Campisi describes as being a notch below Lululemon, but above Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

Erik Siemers writes for the Portland Business Journal, an affiliated publication.