As the epicenter of world sport, soccer has an impact on globalization incomparable to anything else. By constantly spearheading the latest in design and fashion, soccer is able to shape the literal fabric of communities from Los Angeles to Lagos. But you already knew that. Much of this innovation, however, doesn’t just spur up in the design labs of the major sportswear labels, but is rather influenced by the communities formed on humble pitches around the world. As a leader in global manufacturing, Avery Dennison is one such giant that is embracing grass root movements in both elevating the visual aesthetic seen across soccer, along with minimizing the damage done to the environment. KTTP founder Curtis Brown hopped on a call with Nikita Jayasuriya, Avery Dennison’s Global Director, Head of Team Sports to discuss the corporations involvement with the beautiful game.
A little background on who you are, how you got into this position and your relationship with football?
My name is Nikita Jayasuriya, my position at Avery Dennison is Global Director, Head of Team Sports. So i’m in charge of growing the business with team sports. Dealing with the clubs, big brands, the league, but not just football. Also rugby, cricket, baseball, basketball. There’s a strong focus on football, being one of the biggest markets.
I studied at Chelsea College of Arts and I originally started up the creative studio within Avery Dennison where we would brought in the best creatives from around Europe and offered creative services to all the brands we worked with. I inherited this fictional Avery Dennison brand called “Uniti”, and when we would go into any of the big brands we work with, We can’t show them product that we’ve done for another brand, so we would have to show them the fictional Uniti brand to show them the different types of products and techniques we can do. It just didn’t resonate using Uniti when dealing with the big sportswear labels, so we started to collaborate with real brands and small brands which we call halo brands to show real product in the market. From there we started doing activation and started building this network within football culture, the most popular one being in Paris with Le Ballon, the Soho Warriors FC in England and the Avery Denison Toffee League in Portland. These vents attracted all the influencers and design directors from Portland, UK and Germany for example to be involved, and from that it made an obvious step for me to developing the business for team sport.
What are some of the key football projects in and around the states that you work with and how do you feel that this group of creatives have left an impact on the game with the things you’ve created together?
Looking at Le Ballon for example, they started a five side football league in Paris — one being from Colette, other ones with designers from different brands — I just feel like what they’re bringing to the designs of the their individual football kits, to the passion they bring to the pitch to the way they share within Instagram is bringing that whole subculture of football to the forefront and it is influencing the big brands as well.
You know after doing the collaborations with the big brands we’ve done, I mean they’ve already semi-worked with the big brands already but they started working with the big brands in a more in-depth way. It definitely great for the brands we work with. We go into it with examples and show them these young creatives that we’re dealing with and they spot them on instagram and figure out how to collaborate with them. That’s the key thing with these younger brands, they can put out a certain product in their shop within two weeks as opposed to two years with the bigger brands.
What have been some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on so far?
One of my favorite on-going ones is the Avery Dennison Toffee League because it’s in the heart of Portland. Also involved with the pub and everyone loves drinking. Again, it’s tapping into the creative industry — it’s got the Ace Hotel, Industry PDX (Nike’s creative agency), Soccerbible, to name a few. Very important brands in the industry involved in that league and they’re all super actively involved in by inventing new ways to push it forward. It’s got a real sense of community there as well being in Portland. For me, that’s the most rewarding thing cause it really makes an impact seeing the passion behind it all.
Are there any other projects you’ve done in the past that stands out to you? The project you did in the last European Cup resonates with me. Can you talk about that process.
The one in Paris was when the Euro Cup was going on, so all the brands came out to watch the match over that month period. So if they were there to see a match for two to three days, they would have to check out the city and do some research about the Le Ballon events because it was one of the real sub-culture events going on I feel at the time. From there we did the collaboration with you and Kevin Lyons, and you brought in PSG and the French federation to do customization with Kevin Lyons. Then PUMA came in to takeover for their EVO booth, then NIKE creative team customizing jerseys, then KITH as well. So it was the perfect event to bring together all the creatives from around the world to watch a match. How did you feel about it?
I mean I thought it was great. It brought together a lot people who aren’t familiar with the sport and brought those differing views on the sport which is what’s so cool about it.
Yeah and we were going to that for Russia as well but the venue called out last minute.
Since Avery Dennison is known to do patches or crests a lot of the time, what are favorite patches you’ve helped create?
This is a tricky one, but one of the interesting ones that is coming to life for us on June 1st 2019 is the new Premier League sleeve badge. I love the new Premier League branding with the lion being so universal and I believe can carry as a stand alone brand, if the Premier League goes that route. For example, there are just NBA and NFL products regardless of team and they stand for the brand in itself and I think the Premier League has the full potential to do that as well.
I think the badge that we’re doing for them is going to have a gold shimmer and is going to have a digital watermark which can be scanned/read by the Premier League app. So when you scan it, that content could vary on where you are located in the world. So you could get a completely different reading if you scan it in the U.S. or at home, to if you scan it, say at Old Trafford. That’s going to be really interesting, by bringing this digital product to the digital era. Also we are putting this scan-able digital watermark into every name and number on the backs of the jerseys which will set it apart from anything that’s been done before.
If you have one favorite patch or crest from football history, what crest is at and what makes it stand out to you?
I’m bias because I’m English, but I’d say England’s crest mainly due to the fact that the three lions goes back way way back before football was even a concept. It went back to flags of Richard the Lionheart going through Europe, I’d have to check my facts. But for me, it goes back a long way and that’s real heritage. You know, we don’t go to war anymore with flags waving about, and they are (footballers) are last sort of warriors out there fighting the cause for us in our name. Not that they’ve done a good I guess since 1966.
If you can work with any artist and create a kit or badge, who would it be and why?
KAWS or Kevin Lyons would be awesome.
KAWS and football would be fun because it’s never been done.
But now that you mention it, if you look at the Jordan x PSG interaction and you talk about KAWS and all the basketball collaborations he’s done and then insert him into football. It would be interested in switching it all up by taking someone who isn’t necessarily involved in the game. Like the Jordan x PSG collaboration is like complete opposites. It shouldn’t make sense, but it makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense. That’s the thing about football, it’s all in context, it takes everyone on. Like imagine taking Salvador Dali and putting him in football, that would be pretty trippy.
What about Shephard Fairey?
I do like Shephard Fairey but I do feel like he was KAWS like eight to ten years ago.
I guess it depends on who you’re talking to. If it’s a young kid, then KAWS would have more hype behind it but if your’e talking to someone more into the art scene, then Shephard Fairey is a pioneer and legend in the street art scene.
We did do one with Andre, the French artist, when we had the pop-up in New York which was quite cool. Maybe another one with him would be fun. But KAWS would be fun, but when something becomes so popular, it isn’t as niche and it’s about finding that new niche.
What about Avery as a company, outside of football. Avery is known for labels and brands but what else does Avery do in sport to connect the culture?
We support grass roots which is super important as well as being involved with the biggest leagues like the Premier League. I honestly believe that we’ve helped grow the culture up a little bit — from Le Ballon, Soho Warriors to the Toffee League, to SHUKYU Magazine. We are definitely part of the culture now and everyone within it knows who Avery Dennison is but no know us more than the average person in the public.
The products that we would give to these halo brands like Le Ballon are the same type of product we would give to the biggest clubs on the planet. Smaller brands wouldn’t really be able to get these type of products by going to anyone else. Just not really feasible. So we’re supporting these smaller clubs with products that the best brands in the world play with and make them feel special, as opposed to a screen print on a t-shirt.
Working with Neal Heard, what does that do to blow the game up or make it better. For example, jersey culture is a sort of gateway for some people to get into the sport and you guys are doing that on a daily basis. From your point of view, coming from Europe, does jersey culture impact lifestyle culture as much as it does in America?
Yeah I definitely think it does. Working with Neal Heard and his huge collection of vintage jerseys and knowledge is immense. With us and the big brands working with him, it shows that this whole cycle of the vintage jerseys coming back in. The whole crossover of jersey culture and sneaker culture which Neal talks about himself. When you look at the Nigeria kit for example and how quickly it sold out just shows you that not all those people were buying it to support Nigeria but were rather just buying a sick jersey. Also the influencers were all backing it and all the hypebeasts wanted it. But it’s a great thing for the game and theres a big market for it. Not a lot of the small, medium and even bigger clubs get this whole street culture of lifestyle fashion football. So you’re touching it with this whole Soccercon or Footballcon. Your brand Kicks to the Pitch starting with sneakers and now it’s talking about tops and jerseys.
Yeah, I started because I love sneakers and I felt that sneaker culture needed to touch the space of football culture and how people would be wearing sneakers in the game. So it was literally Kicks to the Pitch.
Are you just going to keep it as that or are you going to spin it a different way like kicking a football?
The thing about Kicks to the Pitch, no one really calls it by its full name. Everyone just says KTTP. When I think of kicks, I think of things you enjoy. I think the play on words is there already and I think the core people we are trying to speak to are sneakerheads and if you think about it, people who are sneakerheads became art fans, hip-hop fans, and sport fans. So you can have anyone — old man to a young girl to a supermodel to a low-income family — they all love sneakers and the culture. From there, they fall in love with whatever sneaker culture brings to them, whether it’s music or art or fashion.