Chapel Hill Sportswear, opened by former UNC varsity athletes, Kathy Sapp and Tommy Kearns, had a humble and storybook beginning in 1989. The credit for its beginning belongs to Tommy, who befriended Kathy and encouraged her to start her own business. Her business “plan” was written on a notepad, and the partnership based on a handshake.
Chapel Hill Sportswear is still owned by Kathy and her partner, Tracey Beine, also a former UNC varsity athlete. Tom remains an invaluable mentor today, but refused ownership after being repaid for his initial startup loan.
Chapel Hill Sportswear tries to continually honor Tom in the Carolina way by putting team above self. We do this in our commitment to each other, our customers, and the community. John and Joan have worked for Chapel Hill Sportswear for more than 30 years. Holly, along with part timers, Tina and Tammy, have been here more than 20. We nurture our family in several ways including sponsoring staff trips, gifting vehicles, and gifts for weddings or first home purchases. In 2021, we are gifting an employee land for his first house.
Giving back to the local community has always been especially important to us. In 2004, Coach Williams and the men’s basketball team donated $10,000 to the InterFaith Council in honor of CHSW. One of our favorite donations was $30,000 to Lineberger Cancer Center in honor of Coach Williams’ 800th win. Some other supported charities include the Interfaith Council, the Woody Durham Aphasia fund and the Eric Montross Father’s day basketball Camp.
Chapel Hill Sportswear has a storied relationship with UNC athletics. CHSW has employed many student athletes over the years, including Bill Chamberlain, Wes Miller, David Noel, Jackie Manuel, Jeanine Gunther and Gina Elmore. In 1998, we partnered with Tar Heel Sports Marketing to launch the first official on-line store for UNC Athletics. From 2007-2018, we were the official vendor at UNC on campus athletic events. Our staff has traveled with UNC athletics to several ACC tournaments and bowl games, setting up pop up stores in the host hotels.
Chapel Hill Sportswear was known for the wood floors at our first home at 133 E. Franklin. The floors were laid by friends and family, paid for in food, beer, and Carolina clothes. Those floors “ate” hundreds of high heels over the years, so beer was probably a poor payment choice. All fixtures were purchased used and some moved with us to our current location at 119 E. Franklin Street.
Since our humble beginnings, family, friends, and customers have sustained us. CHSW has withstood serious challenges during its existence, including a total print shop fire and our worst year in history due to Covid 19. We are proud to be a Tar Heel institution and could not have survived without great support from our family, friends and customers. Thank you.