Philly Phaithful: Keeping the Faith in Philly Sports

Main merchandise display at Philly Phaithful's Northern Liberties storefront.

Being a Philadelphia sports fan involves a wide spectrum of emotions. Soaring highs, desperate lows. Bursting pride, seething anger. It's what we go through as a matter of course. The experience of loving the joy and pain that is Philly sports is what fuels the catchy designs and phrases of Philly Phaithful, a local sportswear apparel company co-owned by Dan Hershberg.

Hershberg gets it because he lives it.

The company's storefront, located in Northern Liberties, prominently features a well-known quote from former Sixers and NBA legend Charles Barkley: "I am not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean that I should raise your kids."

It's the kind of brutal honesty that Philadelphians love.

Hershberg is, admittedly, a unique kind of Philadelphia sports fan. He is a perpetual optimist. And that positivity is front and center even in his company's name. "Being that we’re named Philly Phaithful, I find it hard to go too far into the anti-Philadelphia sentiment, says Hershberg." I think that I’m a fairly rare breed of Philadelphia fan in that I’m perpetually optimistic. I can’t live with thinking that we’re going to lose all of the time. If teams aren’t doing well, it’s more about a celebration of Philadelphia sports culture rather than a player or a team."

That said, the sales, and therefore fortunes, of Philly Phaithful are tied to the town's sports teams, which can be a tricky situation. But, says Hershberg, "The beautiful thing about being a Philadelphia sports fan is that it’s perpetual, it’s a lifelong thing. He continues, "People here aren’t fickle, in the sense that maybe they won’t go to every single game, but they’re still watching. They’re invested in it, they’re paying attention. The minute things are exciting they’re going to buy again."

One of Philly Phaithful's most popular shirts.

As with all creative endeavors, there's no formula for what brings inspiration to Philly Phaithful's designs. They are part pop-culture, part taunting of other fans, part lightbulb-in-brain. Hershberg comes up with most of the ideas but also partners with his design team in developing the company's offerings.

For example: The impetus for one of the brand's most popular designs came from Hershberg ribbing a Penguins fan at a hockey game. "You can't spell 'cry' without 'Crosby'," he said. And, a shirt was born.

Philly Phaithful had the good fortune of launching hot off the heels of the Phillies' World Series win in 2008. Phillies gear flew off the shelves. Then came the Flyers' Stanley Cup berth, and hockey gear was in high demand. But less successful seasons set in for all of Philadelphia's major teams, and things slowed significantly. It was the first real reality check for the company. But the brand plans to launch ideas for additional gear in the next year or so to, in part, build against the natural ebb and flow of Philly sports.

Look for more city-centric shirts to show that, above all, Philly Phaithful is in love with and proud of all things Philadelphia. In addition, designs that pay homage to Philly's incredible Big 5 college basketball tradition are in the works.

Hershberg's love of the 1993 Philles, a response to a near-impossible question about his favorite era in Philadelphia sports, reveals much about what he loves not just about that team, but about Philadelphia sports and its fans, which ultimately fuels his drive to make Philly Phaithful succeed.

"I just turned 30, so I can’t say I can go back to Stanley Cup teams of the 70s or World Series teams of the 80s. The first team that I remember really getting into was the ’93 Phillies. They just embodied everything that was right and good about Philly. Hardworking, blue collar, people don’t give you the credit you deserve because on paper they weren't the prettiest team or the most skilled team but they were the most team team."

Hershberg also mentioned a love of the "team first" mentality he sees from the current Eagles team and hopes that that, in combination with the enthusiasm surrounding Chip Kelly, will help Philly Phaithful's football-themed items, including a shirt featuring Kelly's already legendary statement, "We're from Philadelphia and we fight," stand out from the competition. (The items poking fun at Dallas certainly can't hurt, either.)

Philly Phaithful aims to celebrate the very things that may not be perfect but that unite Philadelphians. And the fact that this is the place that's brought Hexy back.

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