As we at KTTP say farewell to 2019 and the twenty-tens we compiled a video of some of favorite moments from this past year. We spanned the globe this year talking to some of the most innovative and interesting names in and around the beautiful game. From online personalities Poet and Vuj to tastemakers Romance FC creator Aneesha Dewshi and Kish Kash to playmakers Mesut Özil and DeAndre Yedlin we would like to thank everyone that took the time to talk to us and contribute to Kicks to the Pitch. Here’s to a new year and decade as we proceed and continue to connect culture and the beautiful game.
More than a decade ago, before he was the masked barber to the England’s most illustrious footballers, Smokey was doing time for some poor choices he made in his youth. Looking for a way to break up the monotony and get out of his cell he talked his way into getting a job as a prison barber.
There he honed his skills as a tonsorial artist and his listening ear as a much-needed therapist. After getting out Smokey looked to earn an honest living with his newly acquired skills. Although he admits that at the time he was not that great of a barber, after all, he had only been cutting heads for a year on the inside. His is not an overnight success story, though. He found his fair share of disappointment and adversity as he looked to make it in London as a barber.
After he was posted up in the right location, the ethnically diverse Surry, Smokey got on his grind. His status as the premier barber to London’s elite did not happen by accident. Smokey hustled to find the clientele to build his brand and name. He would go to the training grounds of local clubs offering to cut hair and pass out flyers.
Redding manager, Steve Clarke, also helped Smokey cement his influence in the world of English football. Clarke asked Smokey to come every week and cut his players’ hair. Not only did he help the Redding footballers look fresh but he brought the team together by creating the barbershop atmosphere in the changing room.
Among his many skills, Smokey and his crew are master marketers. Starting with the name Smokey. After starting his trade as an honest and upright entrepreneur Smokey tried to get away from the nickname that was associated with his troubled past. Originally he called his shop D.O.’s using his government initials. But patrons who knew the barber as Smokey would refer to the shop as Smokey’s. Instead of correcting them he used the familiar epithet to his advantage, adopting a memorable catchphrase to describe getting fresh cut, “you just got smoked.” The term stuck and before long kids were spreading the word and letting their peers know, “hey yo, I just got smoked.”
Another stroke of genius that helped spread the word about the barbershop was a sitcom Smokey and his friends made for YouTube. The show Smokey Barbers went viral and got millions of views which helped the brand gain even more traction.
Even though the Smokey Barbers brand has gained an impressive following and status, he has not let that fame cloud his perspective. He says being able to advise youth—steering them onto the right path and helping them through their problems is one of his important roles. He also told us how good it feels to give a youngster a confidence boost by hooking them up with a proper cut.
Smokey is a testament to what a good mindset and hard work can achieve. He has not let prejudice, adversity, or mistakes turn him bitter. Instead of letting the difficult things in his life be obstacles he has seen them as opportunities and let them be the building blocks of his success. Smokey, in turn, has tried to instill that mindset into the youth that sit in his chair.
And instead of looking to become a celebrity himself he has chosen to wear a mask letting his work speak for itself and his many happy customers get the shine. When he told his friends that he was going to be anonymous and wear a mask while barbering they scoffed at the idea but as Smokey’s dad told him, “If someone laughs at your idea, mate it’s such a good idea.”
Turns out it was a great idea as Smokey and his brand have gained a loyal following that includes some of the biggest names in London. The barber isn’t just after a high profile clientele however, he welcomes all, seeing his shop as a place where everyone, no matter their ethnic background or social status can come together.
Besides his amazing story, which, seems tailor-made for Hollywood treatment, we were impressed by how genuine and open Smokey was with us. He was generous with his time and skills as he fixed my hair situation up proper. Make sure to show Smokey some love and follow Smokey Barbers @SMOKEY_BARBERS on Instagram.
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. The sensation when you are reunited with something you thought you lost forever is unparalleled. That’s why when adidas partnered with Arsenal as their official kit maker for the ‘19-‘20 season onward, we knew we were in for some feel-good retro vibes. Celebrating a reunion 25 years in the making, the Gunners and The Three Stripes are back and better than ever.
Leading the charge in the design department is adidas Design Director Inigo Turner, who’s been with the company for 14 years and has carried his passion for kits since childhood.
“I always loved it as a kid, always been obsessed with football shirts. Growing up in Manchester, I used to draw kits as a hobby.”
Inigo went on to study art in university, and turned his pastime of designing football shirts into an internship with adidas, self-training along the way and rising up the ranks in the company. He now oversees all major club teams including Arsenal, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Juventus, and works closely with colleagues who craft the international jerseys.
He has seen a vast progression of kit designs from his youth to his current tenure, and one constant he has discovered is that much like the past, the current kit fashion really emphasizes the streetwear potential of performance clothing. No longer seen solely as functional pieces, even to the casual observer, the off-field aesthetic was just as important as the one on the field.
“One thing you would see kits being worn on the pitch by your idols and then on your favourite band on stage…these kits stood for individual expression. Like a tribal piece. Football fans can be very tribal.”
The rise of football shirts in streetwear has increased the exposure of the game off the pitch, making the visual design of kits a matter of paramount importance. A well-made jersey can be remembered for generations due to its impact in football culture and how well it can be worn off-pitch as well as in-game. One kit immortalized in football lore was the “Bruised Banana” away kit used by Arsenal from 1991-1993. It was one of the last kits adidas had made for Arsenal in their first run together. It received the alliterative moniker due to its contrasting yellow and black pattern. Inigo himself holds the shirt in high regard. He witnessed the cultural impact firsthand in the early 90s.
“It’s got its place in history, and it’s an amazing shirt, it falls into one of those ‘best shirts all time’ lists, in that period it was one of the most iconic”
With Arsenal’s global prominence, the adidas design team could hardly contain their excitement when they rejoined forces, envisioning all the new stories they could craft together. This quarter-century homecoming was written in the stars, and Inigo knew his team wanted to pay respect to the club’s rich history and iconic players.
In honour of their renewed vows, adidas decided to revisit the classic Bruised Banana shirt to celebrate their past, present, and future. However, the design team was keen to do their own interpretation of it, balancing between creating something new and paying homage to Arsenal.
“We go to the club, we go to the stadium, the landmarks and look for visual clues or things which we can use to create graphics ideas around new stories to tell”
In the case of the new Bruised Banana kit, the Royal Arsenal Gatehouse was a focal source of inspiration. The building features lightning bolts built in its architecture and these bolts are used within the shirt design as well as the typography around the Emirates Stadium. Diagonal lightning bolts running across the kit, using a grain graphic so that the color contrast is not as strong as in the original design. This softer gradient is easier on the eye and implemented to abide by new European kit rules that did not exist for the old kit.
A second source of inspiration came from art deco styled “A’s” throughout the Emirates Stadium. The art deco style features bold geometric shapes and intense color schemes, both prominent in the kit with the hard edged bolts and bright shade of yellow.
But even throughout this intensive creation process, with all of its layers and intricacies, the design team still has one focus in mind:
“First and foremost, football shirts are functional performance garments and taking that idea and leading with it, focusing on how the athletes would benefit wearing it, use of fabrics, cuts, and application of where logos are positioned.”
A couple years ago the design process for kits was revamped so that adidas could reconnect with its roots and make kits that would perform in a match and on the streets. This dual life of a football shirt means that functionality and storytelling must coexist in harmony. This challenge brings out the best from its designers. In the adidas headquarters, the entire creative team, including those responsible for kits, boots, balls, gloves, and shin guards work in one shared space to bounce ideas off each other and as a result end up creating some truly remarkable work. Case in point, Bruised Banana 2.0.
Undertaking this new age for both Arsenal and adidas, who both have such extensive and rich histories, is no simple task, and Inigo understands the magnitude of this partnership.
“adidas in the 80’s was synonymous not just with football but also with fashion and music, covering several cultural movements. It was a huge part of my upbringing and to the position I have today.”
As Inigo and his team embark on this new journey with The Gunners, they have already put their best foot forward in celebrating the team’s glorious past and promising future. The Bruised Banana is back, and we must say for a shirt named after old fruit, it looks pretty fresh.
Hawaii, the most isolated population center on the globe with a culture unlike any other place on the globe, is hardly a place you would expect to find someone making waves in football culture. But making waves is exactly what Max Anton owner and founder of Paradise Soccer Club is doing. He is helping to change football and its cultural landscape in America and abroad with his store, brand, and club.
Max had a typical Island upbringing growing up playing basketball, baseball, going to the beach, hiking, bodyboarding, bodysurfing and enjoying everything his paradisiacal home had to offer. But he was also introduced to the beautiful game at a young age.
“I grew up playing AYSO, that was probably my first introduction into soccer as a little kid, I was probably 5, 6 years old…In high school is when I got more serious with soccer…Around 16 we took a trip to Europe and played against Ajax and Anderlecht and Norwich City…with Honolulu Bulls.”
That was major for kids growing up in Hawaii—a place that is hardly a hotbed for soccer. “Here in Hawaii soccer is definitely not the number one sport. I wouldn’t say it’s number two, I wouldn’t say it’s number three, I wouldn’t say it’s number four…Definitely an alternative sport….That trip was probably one of the biggest trips of my life where I felt I could compete on a world-level.”
Competing internationally and with top clubs on the mainland was an unprecedented achievement for a Hawaii club. “Being in Hawaii your whole life you play against the same kids growing up. Usually when you travel to the mainland you get hammered…Our team was kind of an all-star team. We were one of the the first teams ever from Hawaii to win Regionals (Region 4 includes the Western States) and win Nationals when we were U19.”
“Our age group was one of the more successful age groups in Hawaii for the Olympic Development Program…85 and 84 (kids born in 1985 and 1984) were able to set records… a record amount of players on the Region 4 squad…and to compete for the National Team. We had a lot of [Hawaii kids]…on that…Region 4…team…Our whole team was made up of Region 4 players and we had 2 or 3 guys that were on the National Team or National Team alternates…”
Anybody who has spent any extended period of time in the Aloha State understands just how unique of a place it is. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean about halfway between North America and Asia, the Hawaiian Islands have a cultural identity of East meets West knit together beautifully by the Native Hawaiian culture and Spirit of Aloha.
“In a sense, Hawaii is so isolated from the United States, we’re in our own country. We talk different. We act different. We carry ourselves different. We conduct business a little bit different[ly] than people on the mainland do. We greet each other a little bit different. It is something that if you are from Hawaii you are very prideful to be from Hawaii. You might not be of Hawaiian descent but you hold this special place in your heart. You take that…pride that ‘I’m from Hawaii’. A lot of other places don’t have that national pride or state pride(however you want to say it).”
That culture and pride binds the people of Hawaii together and locals usually consider neighbors and friends family. “Over here in Hawaii everything is really about community. You hear that word get thrown around a lot, Ohana. Everybody’s family over here. The way we greet each other and treat each other is way different from say that East Coast. A lot of people internationally or from the mainland think that Hawaii people are soft…because of that Aloha Spirit we give. They take that as a weakness, they want to take advantage of it because we are so kind and so giving but Hawaii people are fierce, they are fighters, they have attitude and a type of pride that no other people have.”
Wanting to share their culture and aloha is almost a birthright for those born in Hawaii. That is something Max has done since his youth soccer days. “Aloha shirts (don’t call them Hawaiian shirts unless you want to sound like a complete haole) have been a huge staple since I was a little kid. When we would travel to ODP(Olympic Development Program) camp we had an official state aloha shirt that was our travel shirt that we all had to wear to dinner,…traveling, when we had meetings. We constantly had to wear [these] and then at the end of camp we’d trade [them]…to other campers. A lot of us would go to the [Honolulu] swap meet and get more aloha shirts to bring to camp and…[trade] them for shoes from other players that we didn’t have access to. Because here in Hawaii we only had a certain amount of soccer shoes. Our soccer shops…had limited amounts and limited styles of soccer shoes. So when we got to the mainland that was our chance to actually touch and feel certain…shoes. And we were able to…get them for cheaper than at stores because we were using our aloha shirts for bartering.”
More than just a material exchange football exposed Max to cultures and opportunities that might not have been available to him without it. “Playing soccer and going to mainland tournaments every summer, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas break…was the only way to get good competition and to get seen. It opened my eye up to the rest of the world. I was lucky enough, and fortunate enough to be able to travel and see the rest of the world and see that there’s more to the world than just Hawaii. A lot of people that grow up here aren’t as fortunate to be able to leave the Islands and see what there is in this…world.”
Something Max was blessed to learn at a young age is that the beautiful game is ubiquitous. It touches every corner of the globe. It provides connections between places and people seemingly worlds apart. Through Paradise Soccer Club Max has connected with likeminded people all over the globe including the Le Ballon in France and Liga Tóquio in Japan.
As a store owner and head of an amateur club he has not stopped sharing the aloha with customers and collaborators. “We recently did a project with the guys in Tokyo, Liga Tóquio…It’s huge for us being able to travel to Japan and to throw an event in Japan. [We did] a small-sided tournament with some companies that I’ve looked up to my whole life like atmos and mita sneakers. I never would have envisioned working with those types of companies, let alone being able to trade my PSC jersey with their team jersey and them getting more hyped on [receiving] my jersey than I was getting theirs.”
“Some of [those] people I meet in the industry become family because we work so closely and work so often together. We end up at each others’ weddings and each others’ kids’ birthday parties. That sense of ohana comes full circle. The world is so small, but the soccer community is even smaller.”
Max has more to offer the football world than just aloha. Paradise Soccer Club is truly a unique concept, shop, and brand. PSC blends the worlds of street and youth culture with the game of football in its own unique way and did it before everybody was on the lifestyle kit bandwagon. But Max has always been ahead of the curve when it came to style and trends.
“I was a big basketball player so I was always into shoes…Was a big AF1 collector, Nike SB collector…I was always into streetwear. I have family that is one of the pioneers here in Hawaii in streetwear. [My cousin] started one of the original streetwear companies here in Hawaii. He was a big influence…A lot of my friends and family were into it so I was just into it. My mom was real big into textiles…patterns and fabrics, she’s obsessed with [them] so it got me obsessed with it.
“I’ve always been obsessed with jersey designs and what jerseys look like. The [high] school [I] went to wasn’t air conditioned so Dri-Fit…was the way to go because it was nice and comfortable and cool. But at the same time I was the weird kid…that was wearing SBs or Air Force 1s with a matching soccer jersey with some type of weird sponsor on the front of a company that nobody knew of with a crest that nobody…had any idea…what is was…Back then it was just a polyester shirt and it looked cool and it matched my SBs…like…I was [even] matching Iversons with an Arsenal jersey.”
Max took that same forward-thinking attitude with him into Paradise Soccer Club. “For us Paradise Soccer Club is always a soccer shop. But your average soccer shop…isn’t cool, it isn’t fun. There’s no sense of pride in it. It’s just a standard cookie cutter style of shop. You know, you have your boots, your shinguards, [and] your balls. You have your Nike section, your adidas section, and a small section of PUMA, you have Umbro…but you don’t have the small independent football brands like [Paradise] or Nowhere or Guerrilla FC.”
“We wanted to be a soccer shop but we are also heavily influenced by surf and skate and streetwear so we wanted to be able to give our customers access to certain brands that they might not know about, that they might not have seen. We also wanted to bring in those streetwear brands and mix it in with the store…The soccer player is the most stylish…The soccer player around the world is the most fashion-forward. We wanted the shop to be a one central location for that soccer player to get everything he needs on and off the field. Whether it be a steezy outfit…his boots, we wanted him to be prideful and walk around and say, ‘hey this is my soccer shop, this is my soccer club. I’m part of it. This is where I get my gear from and this is where I get my everyday lifestyle type of clothing from, too.’ As far as being the first soccer shop to offer streetwear—brands like Undefeated, Stussy, Stance, RVCA…I don’t know if there are any other soccer shops around the world that have those accounts and those brands that support them and allow them to sell their product in their shops the way we’re allowed to.”
Creating a unique space and building relationships with brands and individuals in and out of soccer has provided Max and PSC with some enviable experiences. One of those particularly meaningful experiences happened when Paradise Soccer Club and OG Hawaii streetwear brand In4mation teamed up with us here at KTTP to bring Steve Nazar, the legendary artist behind Thrilla Gorilla, Joe Cool and the other iconic T&C Surf characters, back to Hawaii.
“Working with Steve Nazar and being able to bring him back to Hawaii. He hadn’t even been back to Hawaii for 20 something years because he was in some type of contractual dispute with his artwork…And he was just a huge influence on me being into art…and doodling. [I remember] playing his video game…and here in Hawaii T&C is…a staple. It’s an iconic logo and a brand that people around the world know about…It’s one of the original surf shops here in Hawaii. So working with him was something we didn’t even think would be possible but [then for] him to do custom acrylic paintings for us for the popup and doing custom jerseys with him and pins and a whole collection. People were super-hyped about that because they weren’t able to get any of his pieces for the last 20 something years.”
“We’re also fortunate to…work with big artists. We’ve done collaborations with Kevin Lyons, Aaron Kai, Defer, and Jasper through Pow! Wow! and through Kicks to the Pitch helping us link up with…OG Slick, people that are…huge in the graffiti and art scene and we’re just fortunate enough to use some of their artwork and present it to the rest of the soccer world in the form of a jersey. Some of the [fans] are jersey collectors some…are art collectors and they’re able to wear their favorite artists’ artwork and be [proud].”
But no matter how much recognition Max and PSC get, no matter how global their impact becomes, he remains rooted in his island home and his cultural heritage. He has even kept his tradition of bringing Hawaii to the places he visits.
“When we went to Japan they were our travel shirts and we also gave them to our hosts as omiyage or gifts. When you go to somebody else’s home you don’t come empty-handed—that’s very Hawaiian style—you need to come with…food, you need to come with drinks, you need to come with something. Don’t come empty-handed…So when we went up there we gifted the people that were hosting us, the Liga Tóquio guys, with our aloha shirts. They were so stoked and all of our team players gave away their team travel shirts and then came right back to the shop because they were bummed because they lost their travel shirts.”
Max is helping to make soccer cool in Hawaii while garnering attention from all over the world. A key to that impact is the authenticity with which he represents himself, his home and the sport that he loves. He continues to get inspiration from his surroundings which is reflected in what Paradise Soccer Club puts out into the world.
“Hawaii’s a very different market from the mainland, very different from the rest of the world. So there are certain trends that will always be popular here in the Islands…getting inspired by an aloha shirt and turning it into a jersey. Just being out…and walking around we can get inspired very easily—the ocean, gardens, flowers. So a lot of our designs, the flowers and…elements of our designs are [things that are] only found here in Hawaii. We have a shell design that is coming out that all the shells in the design…can only be found here in Hawaii. We also have another design [where]…each letter of ‘Paradise’ represents…an Islands’ flower. Each Island has its own flower and those make up the letters of ‘Paradise.’ So we try to bring Hawaii…and its culture…to the rest of the world.”
Drake Ramberg arrived in Germany in the early 1990s with the task of launching Nike’s soccer apparel almost from scratch. The studio was in the Nike Germany Offices located just outside of Frankfurt.
He was sent to Europe for a 2 year ex-pat assignment, and ended up building a Design team and designing multiple iconic Federation and Club kits before he left 6 years later.
“Not only did we start up the Design studio, but we had to have all the right equipment to prep each design for production. “I worked with Canon to get printers, I had to set up a dark room, I worked with AGFA to get film projectors and film processors, we had to do our own separations, nothing digital back then… I also was assigned to work on the kits for Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain’, and we also had Olympique Lyonnais at the time.”
Ramberg grew up in Oregon playing youth soccer and graduated with a degree in Fine Art from Portland State University. He started working with Nike in 1986 as a freelance graphic designer before computers were the dominant tools of the trade. After creating the iconic Flight logo and the Nike Premiere logo…he was assigned to spearhead Nike’s football apparel graphics team and to create the kits and apparel for some of Europe’s most iconic teams including Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Lyon, PSV, Arsenal, and the Italian National Team. This was undoubtedly a daunting task for Nike and Drake who in the early 1990s were just getting started in the world of international football.
“Growing up in Portland in the 80s, our only exposure to European Soccer was, Soccer, Made In Germany, which was on public broadcasting on like…Saturday morning and I had no idea what the difference between Bayern Munich or Dortmund was. As a designer you are almost like an anthropologist. You gotta go deep. Deep into learning what these clubs are. And this [was] pre-internet, okay. So basically you [have] books, magazines. By moving over there I was able to be on the streets, and travel and go to these clubs and see their trophies, see their locker rooms, go out on the pitch and talk to players and talk to managers. And that’s in order to just to do your job right and even then you are just scratching the surface on figuring out their history and figuring out what a club like PSG or Arsenal would wear.”
The fabrics and climate of kit design in the early 1990s did lend itself to creative freedom. “I was working on soccer in the early 90s and we were creating what Nike Soccer looked like…There [were] no rules and it was just me and my team being creative and working to extend and bring to life the legacy of these clubs…try to be true to the spirit. It was kind of a graphic designer’s dream back then because you could just have fun there [were] no restrictions. It was all about sublimated graphics, the jacquards, it was really built for the fans.”
With that freedom, Drake Ramberg brought his own American sensibilities and background into his approach to designing some of the beautiful game’s most beloved shirts including the 1994-95 Borussia Dortmund kit and the 1995-96 Arsenal kit which happen to be the designer’s personal favorites.
“I always go back to Dortmund. That was one of the first clubs that I worked on…I just felt like I had a kinship with that club. We brought in the Volt Yellow and it was such a Nike point of view and they let us take them where we wanted to. There [weren’t] too many restrictions. The first few designs were just having some fun with Nike graphics and motion and blur and those kind of things. But I felt like in 94 when I brought in the wings sleeve graphic—that was inspired by their Dortmund city flag, it had an eagle on it. All over Germany there are a lot of eagle motifs. I decided to go away from the blurred look into…clean geometric shapes. Every time I see it I’m like wow that’s cool.”
“The second one was Arsenal. Again I didn’t know an Arsenal from a Man City back when I got over there but I had traveled to Highbury and met with George Graham and some of the players and got a full immersion into English football. You’re learning about a club and figuring out, ‘what’s a Gunner?’ It has a military kind of background but how do you bring that to life through graphics? So I landed on just a lightning bolt as a motif to use to represent the Gunners and Arsenal. So the first kit in 94 was more of a tonal matte/shine jacquard. But my favorite one was the 95 one where it became more of a half [and] half shirt and more of a strong bold lightning bolt.
“What I thought was fun was bringing to a lot of the work that I did, as an American designer coming over to Europe, a lot of the American sensibilities or things I grew up with…In American sports every team has a nickname. So I had it say The Gunners’ across the top of their crest and then it had Arsenal on the back tail. So it was…bringing their nickname in which I hadn’t ever seen—their mascot or nickname on a jersey. So I was bringing in American graphic design and sport motifs by pulling out like the ‘A’ from Arsenal [which] was kind of like an Old English ‘A’ that [was similar] to the Atlanta Braves ‘A’ or ‘NY’ Yankees. It was a cool single letter. As you are designing a collection you need other elements to play with otherwise it’s just a badge on every style and they have a whole training collection, a whole fanwear collection so we wanted other elements to extend that so having a lightning bolt to play with, the ‘A’ logo, the actual crest, the word ‘Gunners,’ the word ‘Arsenal,’ helped us build out a whole collection. So it’s not just…the same thing on every style.”
“It was definitely a collaboration with my Apparel Designers, as they created the silhouettes, selected fabrics and trim details. We worked hand-in-hand to create each of these designs. I focused on the graphics and they developed the styles.”
The creativity and imaginative art that embodied the kits of the early 90s is something that still resonates with fans today. “It does seem like there’s a lot of this generation that loves that era just because of the fun graphics.”
The thick polyester fabrication of the early 1990s gear was a great vehicle for sublimation, jacquards, and plastisol graphics did result in bold and memorable designs but not the highest performance athletic apparel. “Like [the] PSG ones were just coated in with heavy, screen printed sponsor logos, so it wasn’t high performance.”
Originally Ramberg went to Europe on what he thought was a two year assignment but he ended up staying for six. He was there for the shift from graphic-heavy kits to the starker, higher performance kits that came to dominate later in the decade. “But then in 96…we wanted to bring performance fabrics into football…we were like, ‘let’s bring in Dri-Fit, performance fabrications, there was mesh on the sides and everything. From that point forward…you could see, if you look back, not just with Nike but…in the industry it seemed like for about ten years it was really just like clean and simple and there was a major shift from graphics and jacquards and all that stuff into more like straight-up solid jerseys and letting the performance fabrics do the work…because of the price of the performance fabrics and the nature of the knit [and because] they didn’t take graphics very well.”
With the introduction of new technologies like VaporKnit artistic expression does not need to be sacrificed for performance. Graphics and design elements are woven into the fabrication of the apparel. In the last couple of years Nike has released kits with bold graphic choices that were celebrated by the public. Specifically the Nigeria Kit for the 2018 World Cup. The shirt sold out instantly and created a buzz that was akin to a coveted sneaker release.
“It’s been satisfying to see the Nigeria kit and some of the World Cup kits. I was with the guys when they were designing them and I brought in my old jerseys and they were referencing them and it’s…fun to see…the spirit of Nike Soccer from the 90s [brought] into…2018.”
“There was a little bit of paying an homage to that 94 [Nigeria] jersey but bringing to the modern day. But I loved seeing it. It was great, not only the jersey but the whole collection around it was just really smart and really innovative…Having some fun with football and bringing it to what the fans are into.”
The fans are still into what Drake Ramberg did over two decades ago. “Another thing that’s crazy with social media…(follow OG Drake on the Gram @dramberg) is that back in the 90s I felt like I was working in a vacuum over in Europe…but now when I look at all the work that I did, not only in soccer but in basketball, and all these fans reach out now and ask, ‘did you do this?’ and they want to know all the details and stories behind the kits. It’s heartwarming, some of the conversations I’ve had. And it is exciting to have had a role in inspiring the Design team as they continue to create the future of football kits.”
Drake Ramberg still works at Nike. Coming full circle, he helped as the Ops Director for Global Football when Nike moved the global football team he started in Europe back to Beaverton, Oregon a few years back. On any given day could be found mentoring young artists at the Blue Ribbon Studio on Nike’s campus.
Christian Tresser has quite the resumé. A very abbreviated work history reads like this: he started designing footwear with an independent footwear design company that did work for Reebok. He later was hired by Reebok in their heyday when they were seriously threatening Nike; vying to become the top dog in the sneaker game. After a few years at Reebok which included him designing some classic runners and helping to launch Reebok’s football category, he got a job with Nike where he designed a number of iconic silos in both the running and soccer categories. Later he worked as the head of soccer innovation at adidas.
Before he ever picked up a pencil to doodle sneaker designs, Christian was immersed in his first passion, soccer. He can remember wanting to play ever since he was little and as a young man was on the California State Select team. Eventually he played at Foothill College in Northern California for legendary American Soccer figure, George Avakian. In the days of Christian’s soccer career there were not many options to pursue after college. So after a year of playing college soccer Christian decided to enroll at The Academy of Arts in San Francisco. His artistic talent would later be the vehicle for him to connect with football as a designer for performance soccer footwear.
Christian Tresser has always been ahead of time. As a young designer working at a shoe design consultancy in the Bay Area of California, Christian was designing athleisure shoes, with the Reebok sublabel Boks, before they even had a name for that category of footwear. Later as the lead designer of Reebok’s football product he was incorporating cutting edge technology like Instapump, Graphlite, and carbon fiber foot plates into performance soccer shoes when the entire industry was pushing out virtually the same boots—stitched K leather uppers on rigid plastic sole plates—that they had been producing for decades. Tresser even designed laceless Reebok boots that were worn by players in the 1994 World Cup.
The innovation and groundbreaking designs didn’t stop with his work at Reebok. After taking a job with Nike, Christian was tasked with designing the first high end synthetic football boot, the game changing Nike Mercurial. The synthetic upper provided a level of freedom for a designer not possible with traditional kangaroo leather which is only available in small hides that had to be stitched together.
“Things changed when it came to the Mercurial. That was the big moment where…soccer footwear changed. Because [of] the synthetic materials you could do a lot more with treatments on those materials than you can with…natural leathers. So it opened the door for design possibilities. Most of the soccer shoes leading up to that point were cut and sew…Weirdly enough the low end shoes were all synthetic. They were all synthetic and they had way more [options]. You could mold onto it, you could HF(high frequency) weld onto it, you could add color, you could print on it.
“It was sort of a weird moment because when we did the Mercurial I was conflicted with it, in that we always did soccer shoes out of K leather or leathers and those are high end shoes. And the low [price point] shoes were all synthetic—it was a low end thing…When the Mercurial came along and they wanted to do this synthetic shoe at a [high end price point] I was conflicted as a player. I was like, ‘O, God, I’m not sure if that’s gonna work,’ because synthetics didn’t really have…the fit and feel that K leather would and I didn’t know if the players would accept it. But as a designer I was really open to the idea because it allowed me to more expressive.”
Taking a departure from traditional football boots Tresser designed the Mercurial from a single piece of material.
“When I realized…I could do that then I could think about adding more design element to it. And one of my ideas—and this [goes back to when] I worked at my dad’s [auto] body shop—I wanted to put a little bit of a light textural grip on the upper. And I had this idea that I could spray on, and I did, the material that you would spray on the under side of cars…So I took this upper and I taped…off the areas, and the pattern didn’t even change from [the] sample that I [made] to what came out in the market that…literally…didn’t change. So where you see the silver…3M reflective…on the Mercurial…originally I sprayed that with the [textured] spray material…And then I took a silver pen. I needed to highlight it because I wanted to show it off and I wanted it reflective because I wanted the cameras to see it…[when] there was a moment that light would hit it and it would show it off…in a very…clean and subtle way.”
At the same time Christian was experimenting with his high end synthetic boot Nike was setting up there now legendary facility in Montebelluna, Italy where they to this day craft all of their high performance soccer footwear. He hand carried his sample to the Italian factory and shared his vision for the Mercurial.
“These guys were amazing. They said, ‘okay we know what to do.’ And ultimately what we did is we took that upper…to the Aprilia factory somewhere in and around Montebelluna…to go look at this spraying process…We went over there and they showed us some of the motorcycle parts in the factory line and the showed me this spraying stuff and ultimately [we used] this clear spray…a very thin, light…material that was sprayed on to the synthetic. And when the shoes came back they were just beautiful, man. It was a new thing. It was totally new…I couldn’t even believe it myself…how great it came out.”
Even though Christian is complicit in changing the landscape of soccer footwear forever it wasn’t something he did intentionally.
“I don’t think too much ahead of myself at all. I do have a strange vision, that somehow…works for me. I start to create, and I go on a creative journey and I don’t think too much about what the future is and what it is going to be. I only get in the moment, what is inspiring me. The first Mercurial is that moment that changed it. I didn’t know it would do that, but it did…and that’s pretty cool. Where it goes from here, I don’t know, I just don’t. I don’t have that answer, I do know that I can do it.”
With all of the incredible work Christian has done up until this point there is no reason to doubt that he will continue to shape the future of footwear. Besides almost single handedly designing the entire Reebok football range, including signature boots for Ryan Giggs, and creating the some of the most iconic boots in Nike’s catalogue; Christian has also left an indelible mark on the sneaker game. In his time at Reebok Tresser was responsible for the Aztrek and DMX Daytona runners which have both been revisited with retro editions recently.
In his five to six months working as a designer in the runner space at Nike he produced nothing but classic. To name a few he designed the Footscape, the Spiridon, and what is perhaps his most widely known and beloved silhouette, the Air Max 97. His work is still as impactful today as it has ever been. You can always find a Tresser silo, that he designed in the 90s, on a shelf at any sneaker shop today.
The former youth standout soccer player and designer responsible for some of the most iconic sneakers ever, has now seen the worlds of football and sneakers blend. Two worlds where he made such an enormous impact are now more intertwined than ever. From the custom Air Max 97s designed for Cristiano Ronaldo to the Air Max 97 Mercurials released on Air Max day in 2017 Christian continues to be relevant to the culture in new and unexpected ways.
“I saw that and I was pretty blown away. The two worlds, the parallel paths are really starting to blend into each other…My nephew, who’s a soccer player, got a pair of those and was so excited to share those with me.”
Kicks to the Pitch, an outlet dedicated to the entanglement of sneakers and football, would probably not even exist if not for the work of Christian Tresser. His design DNA is in everything we talk about. His work and elements of his designs continually pop up both in the football space and the lifestyle space.
“I stay humble in it…I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t think it was cool. I don’t know, it’s flattering I guess, to have something I did so long ago still [be] relevant. And I get people saying that certain things I’ve done have been impactful in their lives. And I didn’t really think [of] it back then and it’s cool but it’s also scary at the same time…it’s like, wow, I guess I did do a little damage in the industry.”
At KTTP we are obsessed with design and the process of design. We are fascinated by the stories behind the products we use and the stories they communicate to the user. That is why we were drawn to PLAYR.
PLAYR is a tech vest and pod that tracks speed, distance, sprints and heat maps. The focus of the product is solely on the pitch and performance-based and the potential of wearables to impact the game is enormous. We will leave the analysis of how smart tech is changing football to those more qualified than ourselves. We did, however, get the opportunity to chat with Benoit Simeray the CEO Consumer at Catapult, about the design process of PLAYR.
One of the first things you notice about the PLAYR vest is the sleek design—no buttons, no visible outlets or charging chords. That was no accident, a lot of thought went into the crafting of the vest.
“We had to questions those things. Why do we have a button? What is the value of having a button?…what is the value of the vest? How do we approach the smart vest in a different way then we have been doing for the last 10 or 20 years…Why not wireless charging? Could we not use the vest to activate the pod, to turn it on? And to autodetect when you actually started to move? So there is a magnet in the pocket of the vest that signal(s) the pod to turn on.”
The result of asking those questions is a sleek and seamless piece of technology that looks great. The design of the product was shaped by four defining principles, Benoit explained. First, needed to be the highest quality. It needed to perform at a high level. It needed to be what Benoit calls, “frictionless.”
“So it was [more than] just high quality and high performance it was [about being] frictionless in all aspects. That’s the third pillar. It’s got to be very easy to unbox, to set up, to upgrade, to use, and then to upload the session.
“And then the fourth thing—it’s got to be beautiful. It’s very simple, but for me, it is fundamental that anything that we are doing at Catapult has to be design led…Not just the way the product looks it’s the way our products interact with our customers.”
The simple and elegant design and packaging is a visual manifestation of the seamless and efficient product and user experience. “We massively enjoyed the creation of that beautiful project… The product is not just the vest. It’s the pod, it’s the vest, and it’s the software—where the user is spending 90 percent of their interaction time…frictionless and beautiful…”
Benoit and Catapult were very conscious in their design choices for the product, the packaging and the story they tell in their online messaging.
“PLAYR is not for every soccer player. It’s for players who are really serious about…their game and who are willing to enhance their performances and get a competitive edge [over] the other team and the other players. And that’s fundamentally all we are after.”
Through the use of colors and selective imagery PLAYR is looking to hone in on their target audience: “the high working, high performer who has this passion [for the game] That is why we chose [certain] colors…electric blue…a strong pink. We also worked a lot around [the idea] of electricity—that electric, dynamic player. The [building] of a human machine. All of that [fed] the art direction.”
The idea of PLAYR being for the select few, those who are passionate about getting better is an idea that Simeray elaborated on.
“The [people] that are buying PLAYR are adapters, they are opinion shapers. opinion leaders. They have an edge on the rest of the population. They innovate and they…embrace new technology.
“In sports today talent is important but it’s not everything. It’s the preparation, it’s the constant performance. Those players, that’s what they have…We are after those…leaders…who are showing the way to the rest of the team.”
Those individuals who are leaders and opinion shapers should be excited about PLAYR’s future plans to add more customizability and more design choices in the near future.
“We are investing [significant amount] into research and development to make it the best performing…smart vest in terms of ability…but also the most appealing and distinctive because this is actually what you wear and this is how you express…your personality…from when you wear it on top of your team jersey during training but also when you wear it underneath your team [shirt] and remove it when you score a goal. This is an expression of who you are. We are looking into…limited editions…and not [just] colors, different fabrics, different shapes…it could be also on-demand printing…the ability to customize and tailor-make your own design so that this is an expression of who you are…we definitely have some things in the pipeline, making sure that each and every system can be tailor-made to your needs and your personality or the message that you’re willing to spread.”
PLAYR’s message is clear. They are serious about quality and performance and it is reflected in every detail. From the product itself to the packaging and even down to the Instagram pics. They are about high quality and performing at a high level all while looking good.
Google “ocean plastic” and you’ll be taken down a disturbing wormhole of images of whales that starved and died from plastic ingestion, trash-riddled waves, and something called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You don’t have to be an internet sleuth to figure out that plastic pollution in the oceans is a serious problem. Parley for the Oceans is looking for ways to combat the problems facing our oceans. From their website, “Parley is the space where creators, thinkers, and leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of our oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction.”
Parley for the Oceans is looking for ways to combat the problems facing our oceans. From their website, “Parley is the space where creators, thinkers, and leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of our oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction.”
Parley has already partnered with adidas on a number of sneakers made from repurposed ocean plastic and even collaborated with MLS last year creating kits for four clubs made from technical yarns using Parley Ocean Plastic.
This year MLS and adidas link up with Parley once again just in time for Earth Day with an even more expansive collab. This year’s partnership, in conjunction with MLS WORKS Greener Goals, is part of the League-wide efforts on and off the field to highlight MLS’ commitment to environmental sustainability. All 23 teams will feature the adidas’ MLS Parley kits during Earth Day weekend, Friday, April 20 through Sunday, April 22. The 2018 edition comes in two colorways, non-dye and carbon, differentiating the two teams in each game.
This year’s kits maintain the classy, muted color palette employed in last year’s models. The subtle colorways devoid of major design embellishments that will be seen on all of the kits worn by MLS squads this weekend bring a sense of unity. For this weekend the attention will be shifted from individual design elements putting the focus on Parley and the great work they are doing. An added bonus of the understated kits is their accessibility and extreme wearability. It is easy to rock a gray or white shirt with pretty much any fit. Picking up the Parley kit of your favorite club is a way to keep it clean, both in terms of style and your impact on the ocean.
We applaud the work adidas has done with Parley and continues to do. Hopefully, as technology advances, we will see Parley Ocean Plastic used in more and more products. There seems to be no shortage of supply of plastic in our waters that can be repurposed for something positive. Make sure to catch an MLS match this weekend and see your favorite players rocking their environmentally conscious threads. Head over to mlsstore.com to get a Parley x MLS kit.