By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
August 24, 2018

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You might be surprised to learn that one of the hottest “tech” companies in the land makes licensed athletic apparel. It sounds so 1999, like slapping a custom logo on a coffee mug. But the private sports-clothing maker Fanatics has shown how a sophisticated approach to e-commerce, super-fast manufacturing, and online-to-offline retail make a new winner from an old idea.

As an off-and-on sports fan, Fanatics seeped into my consciousness slowly. How could a company I’d never heard of suddenly account for such a giant share of the jerseys and hats I was seeing? It turns out, as I read in Phil Wahba’s excellent piece in the new issue of Fortune, that Fanatics owes its position to the smart thinking of its e-commerce-savvy founder, Michael Rubin. He’s the same entrepreneur who founded back-office digital pioneer GSI Commerce, which he later sold to eBay.

Rubin refers to his company’s approach as “vertical commerce,” or v-commerce. In Wahba’s description that’s “part tech company, part logistics company, part manufacturer.” The story of how Fanatics prepared to make jerseys depending on how LeBron James chose his next team is fascinating.

Is it tech? Is it retail? Is it licensing? Who cares. It’s good business—and worth paying attention to.

Have a good weekend.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

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