athleta original

Photography: Anthony Blasko

In the Belenzinho neighborhood on the outskirts of Sao Paulo stands a memorial to the Brasil national futebol team's exceptional style: it marks the place that made the globally recognized canarinho uniforms of A Seleção. It once housed Athleta, the nation's greatest sporting apparel maker and a global brand, dressing not only every club Pele played for, but also the World Cup champions of 1958, 1962, and the greatest of all-time, 1970. Photographer Anthony Blasko's visit uncovered abundant evidence of the beautiful games and players it clothed.

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Athleta made Brasil's uniforms from 1954 through 1977, the glory years of Pelé and Edu. The company designed the classic 1970 canary-yellow shirts with the green trim, voted the best kit of all time by the Times of London in 2007. Company lore also holds that Athleta inaugurated the idea of adding World Cup–winner stars to a national team's crest.

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Athleta was founded in 1935 by Antonio de Oliveira Padua. Its legacy is now overseen by his grandson, Antonio Bulgarelli.

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In the 1940s, the factory at 193 Rua Siqueria Bueno was one of the centers of Brasilian apparel manufacturing. The building closed its doors and switched off its multithread knitting machines in the 1990s.

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Originally founded as a maker of shirts and socks for amateur athletes, by the 1970s Athleta was Brasil's largest sporting-goods manufacturer, while also outfitting foreign clubs like Benfica and the Cosmos. Yet because uniform traditions of the time frowned on external branding, Athleta's global reach in the market was limited.

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An early '60s photo of Milionários Futebol Clube, a travel team made up of legendary veterans, including Garricha (top row, third from left), Djalma Santos (top row, fifth from left), and Argentina's José Ramos Delgado (top row, seventh from left).

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New York Cosmos, 1978

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It is at clubs like Vila Nova, perennials in the minor-league Championship of Goiano, a state in Brasil's interior, where the national myth of “jogo bonito” futebol developed, and persists. Athleta is remembered not as a brand worn by legends, but as a symbol of soulful perfection that every man could touch.