More than a decade and a half ago, Calyann Barnett was working a temporary gig in the music industry while trying to establish herself as a fashion designer. These days, she is a celebrated stylist to myriad NBA players, a creative consultant for the Utah Jazz, and the driving force behind “CounterPoint,” the team’s lifestyle apparel brand.
A couple of chance encounters in 2007 would set events in motion.
First, she was working with someone who was working with LeBron James, and she marveled both at his chiseled, physical form and how it could be shown off, and also the rock-star vibe and gravitas he exuded, which obviously lent itself well to marketing opportunities — though she believed athlete styling was an unmined niche area.
Then, that June, she scored an invite to rapper Kanye West’s 30th birthday party, held at a Louis Vuitton store in New York City, where she spotted Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade. She thought that, like many of his NBA contemporaries, his off-court look was pretty meh.
And she decided to tell him so.
“I walk over and I’m like, ‘You need a stylist, take my card,’ and I walked away,” Barnett recalled, laughing. “Then I came back and I was like, ‘You know what, you are gonna lose my card — take my number, put my number in your phone.’ And I walked away. And then I was like, ‘You know what? You’re not going to call me. Give me your number.’”
They texted a few times, him telling her that he had a suit-maker he was happy with, her daring him to be more bold and take some risks — namely on her. She was getting nowhere. That December, she made one last-ditch bid to persuade him.
Videos of players doing runway-style walks into the arena pregame, showing off their outfits, were becoming increasingly popular. And with Wade’s Miami Heat scheduled to play James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in a Christmas Day matchup, there would be millions of eyeballs upon them.
“I was like, ‘Hey, let me dress you for this game, and if you like it, we’ll talk; if not, I’ll leave you alone,’” Barnett said. “And lo and behold, he liked how he looked.”
That was all the opportunity she needed to get her fashion career rolling.
She’s worked with myriad athletes since, endeavoring to get them to abandon “that oversized [style] — the white T-shirt as big as possible, baggy pants. For me, it was like, you needed a tailored look that really showed, first of all, they’re the epitome of masculinity.” She’s been able to bring in more clientele by showing them that embracing fashion is not merely about being complimented on clothing, but setting themselves up to capitalize when circumstances arise.
“There’s so many different marketing opportunities, as we see now, that NBA players can go into,” Barnett said. “And that was my goal: ‘What do you want to do? What’s your goal? What’s the future? How do we get that? How do we dress for that?’”
Beyond styling individual athletes, she also became the driving force behind The Shop Miami, where she hosts pop-ups for brands that want to test the market without taking on all of the overhead associated with staffing and finding a physical, brick-and-mortar store space.
Now, some 16 years later, Barnett is bringing her design acumen and entrepreneurial expertise to expanding the Utah Jazz’s brand.
Ironically, it was not her longstanding partnership with Wade — who bought a minority stake in the Jazz in 2021 — that brought her into the team’s orbit.
“Yeah, everyone thinks Dwyane brought me here, but he did not. God brought me here!” Barnett said, smiling.
Well, Wade was tangentially involved, anyway.
Barnett did happen to be working independently with ex-Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and current Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson. But it was her friendship with Clarke Miyasaki (whom she’d been introduced to by Wade), that got her an introduction with Jazz owner Ryan Smith and wife Ashley.
Miyasaki is a BYU graduate whose business beginnings came with a couple of Utah County-based software startups and a venture capital firm, which got him and Ryan Smith running in the same circles. From there, he joined up with Park City-based headphone company Skullcandy, and then became the head of business development at Stance Socks, which is how he met Wade.
After Barnett developed a friendship with Miyasaki, and wound up becoming a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he introduced her to the Smiths, the Jazz’s relatively new owners who were looking for new and perhaps inventive ways to grow the team’s footprint.
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Ryan Smith noted that the combination of Barnett’s talent and force of personality made her someone he felt he had to work with in some capacity.
“If you know Calyann, she’s contagious, she’s a whirlwind,” he said. “… With Calyann, when you have a talent like that, you try to figure out where do you put it. There wasn’t a position within the Utah Jazz to fit something like Caly’s background. How would you? You try to figure out who are the best people we want around us, and how do we find a role?”
One day, Barnett was walking around Vivint Arena with the Smiths discussing options. The team owners were expressing that they wanted the Jazz to become a global brand, and for Utah to become a more welcoming and diverse place. How to accomplish that, though? Well, her background made for a simple solution: “I don’t know which one of us said it, but it was like, ‘Fashion!’ I’ve used fashion to tell stories with players my entire career, so it was like, OK, how do we use fashion as a platform to then tell the story of the Utah Jazz?”
The team had already made one infamous foray into sartorial noteworthiness, with their new cohort of jerseys featuring highlighter yellow and black.
Barnett wasn’t involved in that process, noting it was well underway before her arrival. That said, she’s taken a contrarian view to popular opinion and declared herself a fan of the look.
“Honestly, I love it, because I think that it’s a color that’s not really owned,” she said. “… And then honestly, it pops — that yellow pops on the court, it pops on any branding that you do, so it really allows a fresh start.”
Irrespective of the controversial jerseys, Smith felt like the Jazz had an opportunity to try something different once more: Utah having the youngest population in the country has made local fans very amenable to the growing “drop culture” within clothing and sneaker companies.
There was data to suggest the Jazz could capitalize on that more broadly than they had in a few meager attempts previously.
“We had dabbled in what I would call collabs with brands, where we would do one sweatshirt or one T-shirt, or a hat … but there was no ownership,” Smith said. “We had to work with what people had and slap a Jazz [wordmark] or [J-]note on it.”
The in-house alternative became CounterPoint. The apparel brand debuted with two distinct offshoots: The Core Collection features very simple, sleek, logo-driven designs with a tailored approach; the All-Star Collection (meant to capitalize on the NBA’s showcase game returning to Salt Lake City for the first time in 30 years) is more graphic-driven, and has more of a streetwear vibe.
CounterPoint is trying to navigate a balance between presenting a streamlined look that plays up the team’s J-Note logo and has a mass appeal beyond hardcore fans — “As you can see, it’s everywhere [on these clothes]. It’s such a great logo,” Barnett said. “Honestly, we have the best logo in the entire NBA, so how do we get that out into the world?” — without feeling like a bland and generic design only tangentially tied to the team.
So there are plenty of small, extra details scattered throughout the pieces, with short phrases such as “Property of the Utah Jazz,” “Established 2023,” “Private Label,” or slogans like “Made to lay low, designed to rise above” and “Made for fans, designed for the streets” appearing either printed on the clothing itself, or on the included “jock tags.”
There are items as simple as tonal black-on-black or white-on-white shirts with an oversized, solid J-Note that allow people to rep their favorite team without having to scream “I’m a fan!” or that even non-fans would be fine wearing simply because they like the design.
There are items as intricate as a cityscape jacket; or T-shirts that are a call-back to the 1993 All-Star Game ticket, or that evoke the laser-light show which opened the ’93 ASG; even a sweatsuit that incorporates the 2023 All-Star logo but in the classic colors from 30 years ago.
The CounterPoint collections were given a soft launch at the Vivint Arena event-level store available to courtside fans in early February. The brand made its official debut during All-Star Weekend, when Barnett brought her “The Shop Miami” concept to Utah with “The Shop Salt Lake City” pop-up stores at The Gateway shopping center, which wound up featuring CounterPoint, MRKT, Cactus Jack, Stock X, Thrifthood, Slam, Mitchell & Ness, NBA Closets, Bastille, JSM Custom, Cards & Coffee.
“The response has been phenomenal. I’m always telling Caly, ‘Hey, I’m getting [so many] requests for free CounterPoint gear,’ or [asked], ‘Hey, how do I get that?’” Smith said. “Gail [Miller] came up to me when I was wearing the white CounterPoint [sweatshirt]: ‘Where did you get that? I love the way the note goes, and how it’s not in your face.’ So I got Gail one of those sweatshirts.”
He added that CounterPoint will be constantly evolving, as the franchise analyzes sale trends and Barnett keeps adapting the offerings.
Indeed, CounterPoint will be rolling out additional collections in the near future, and will be available to all Jazz fans via the arena’s concourse-level Team Store starting with the team’s next home game, on March 18.
“[We’re just] trying to find fun and interesting ways to introduce the brand and keep it original and fresh [with] things you haven’t seen in Utah,” Barnett said. “That’s why I was brought here.”