Creative Soccer Culture

Have adidas Taken The Lead In The Football-Fashion Game?

Football and fashion have become almost inextricably linked over the last few years, and while brands are looking to leverage this link in any way possible, adidas in particular has made strides to secure its position at the head of the pack.

For almost a decade now football culture has been rapidly evolving, changing from what was a very rigid and inaccessible approach that barely shifted focus from the pitch to what we see today: an open, inclusive space that embraces influence from all walks of life, inviting collaborations and creativity from other cultures to expand horizons and break down barriers. It’s a far more fluid beast that’s ready to walk confidently into other arenas as well as openly accepting the direction that comes from alternative sources. And nowhere is this more apparent than in football’s relationship with fashion.

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Of course, it's a fact that hasn't escaped the attention of the brands in the game. A growing interest in jersey culture (existing as a subsidiary of the wider football culture umbrella) has seen the prerequisites of shirt design drastically change. No longer is it just about producing a set of kits that will satisfy the club and fans on a game day, serving to represent a team on pitch and around the stadiums. As well as that it’s now about creating a design that goes beyond its position on pitch; something capable of fluidly traversing the space from pitch to pavement. While a football shirt’s primary function will always be to identify a team, its secondary function has arguably become to look good on the lifestyle scene too. And who knows what looks good on the street better than the fashion industry? For this reason, it makes absolute sense that brands have started to look to this industry for a refreshed approach to their output, whether that’s through collaborations or just influence, and there’s one brand that certainly seems to be leading the field in this respect: adidas.

While we can look to the era-defining and barrier-breaking partnership between PSG and Jordan as an example of the shift in football culture, it’s adidas that have been readily exploring the potential that fashion has for football, and the Three Stripes now seem to have an edge when it comes to their kit designs and overall position in the football x fashion domain. Hot on the heels of the introduction of PSG X Jordan, it was adidas that first went outside the confines of its own house to bring us the Juventus x Palace collab (Jordan, after all, is a sub-brand of Nike).


A simple glance at its kit output over the last few years shows how adidas has been consistently hitting the mark, perfectly negotiating the line between progression and tradition for the majority of its clubs, and this is probably most evident with Ajax. The Dutch side have benefitted from some of the most premium releases over the last few years, with adidas quietly manoeuvring them into a position that would rival any club in world football on the style stakes; it’s a move that’s seen the Ajax gain favour across the globe, bolstered by their illustrious history and intrinsic ties to the philosophy of ‘Total Football’. As a club they are now perfectly placed to be many peoples’ ‘second’ team, offering a rich and well respected heritage coupled with a visual style that can carry into any wardrobe.

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This position has recently been elevated further by the collaboration with Daily Paper, the fastest growing fashion label out of Europe, who partnered with adidas on Ajax’s third kit this season. The universally loved Bob Marley-inspired third shirt from the 21/22 season was always going to be a tough act to follow, and so recruiting Daily Paper, who more than stepped up to the plate with a design that celebrates Amsterdam’s unique street football culture and its golden generation, was a shrewd move from adidas, and one that showed the brand’s willingness to not only adapt, but to embrace external influence.

And it’s hardly like this was unprecedented either, with the aforementioned Juve x Palace hook up being preceded by the Y-3 Real Madrid collaboration from 2014/15, which was arguably ahead of its time, and both of those were followed by collaborations with the likes of 424 and Stella McCartney for Arsenal. McCartney also got to work on her own take on the Predator, showing that adidas aren’t just restricting influence to kit design. Indeed, you only have to look at the Predator – one of the Three Stripes’ most iconic silos of all-time – to see how open the brand are, with the likes of Reuben Dangoor and Pharrell Williams also getting to flex their creative muscles with the boot.

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And Pharrell didn't just stop there. As a regular adidas collaborator, the Humanrace Creative Director unveiled a collaborative collection of football jerseys in 2020 for Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Man United and Real Madrid, drawing inspiration from the adidas archives to honour each football club’s history with reimagined jersey designs. The pandemic threw a spanner in the works and detracted from what was a wild collection that should've served to elevate jersey culture further.


One of the scenes that recently stamped the brand’s authority as leaders in their field came from its 2022 World Cup repertoire. Here was a huge platform that would have the whole world’s attention fixed on it for a month, steeped in tradition as it is, and it was an opportunity to showcase exactly where the Three Stripes sat at this current point in time in regards to kit design… and they absolutely smashed it out of the park, with not only some of the best kits in the competition, but also the best all-round collection, showing that it wasn’t just a matter of prioritising certain nations over others. This was a bespoke set, punctuated by the revamped Performance Logo, that reflected each nation’s identity, but that also stood out for the intricacy of their individual designs. Highlights were Germany, Mexico, Japan, Argentina… honestly, we could go on. And the design team at adidas were hardly resting on their laurels following that tournament…

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Not a month after that amazing final, and a new partnership with Italy got underway. It was one that started on the best footing possible, with new home and away designs arriving with a special marble effect, which was inspired by the use of the material throughout the country. It instantly gave an clear sign of what this partnership was going to be all about, while also indicating the potential of just where it could go, most notably through a striking prematch shirt.

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Speaking of striking prematch shirts, the Italy kit set was quickly followed up by another exciting prospect, this time with Jamaica. To kick things off with the Caribbean nation, adidas broke new ground, taking its willingness to work with lifestyle and fashion brands on the club scene and promoting the approach to the International stage, recruiting the help of acclaimed fashion label, Wales Bonner. It was yet another unprecedented move, but one that again shows the brand’s willingness to adapt according to the shifting culture we find ourselves in.

Inspired by Grace Wales Bonner’s own Jamaican heritage and the Caribbean community’s cross-cultural influence, the new home and away kits represented a solid start and again, as with the Italy kits, hint at an exciting future. If adidas are willing to fully leverage Jamaica’s deep-rooted heritage and cross-cultural influence, then the sky really could be the limit in the future, and the project could become a canvas for creativity for adidas to rival what the brand are tentatively doing with Japan, who already boast a strong standing in the kit stakes.

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A quick look back at Japan's kit history over the last two decades shows what a strong position they are in, and this has been pushed further by the recent collaboration with NIGO, the artistic director for KENZO as well as the designer for Human Made. Inspired by the traditional culture and craftsmanship of Japan, the Special Collection featured a minimalistic and classical design approach, with the combination of pale mauve and fresh green reflecting the symbolic colours of cherry blossoms and “Sakuramochi,” the seasonal confectionery, widely loved and enjoyed for years by people in Japan. Although the kit didn't get used in a match, the collection was yet another marker on this journey, preceding what has now arrived for Jamaica: a full international kit set designed by a fashion label that will be used by both men's women's teams.

The creative influence of the fashion industry and the direction in which adidas are freely venturing is evident in an arena where the brand has a far greater level of autonomy and creative control. Some may look at its partnership with Major League Soccer with a cynical eye, citing a lack of competition in the design stakes and a dangerous possibility of slipping into a standardised template zone. But over the last couple of years it has been quite the contrary, with club's often working closely with fans and the brand to create some beautifully unique designs, and adidas have been quick to push the lifestyle aspect of the jerseys they produce, most prominently in 2019, when they showcased them in an L.A. fashion show – might not have quite hit the mark for all, but further evidence of the brand's forward thinking. Sure, some clubs may not be on board with this approach just yet, but adidas certainly haven't prevented, rather they have consistently enabled.

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It’s not just adidas’s willingness to work with outside agencies that has seen them become so prominent in the football x fashion space though. Obviously, the brand has a rich heritage of its own, with its roots firmly in the footballing world, and this has led to tap-ins through the likes of the recent 'Football Icons' collection and the return of the 2006 Teamgeist look for a collection in 2021, feeding off a collective hunger for all things nostalgic. Away from the obvious callbacks but sticking with a nostalgic vibe, and adidas boasts a timeless piece that possibly exists today as the epitome of football x fashion.

Back in the spotlight in a big way, the Samba was originally created as dedicated footballing footwear but it transcended the beautiful game over the years thanks to its classic styling and cultural importance, maintaining a presence throughout the last seven decades.

Sure, there may be something of a serendipitous nature in the Samba’s current resurgence and popularity away from the pitch (the simple power of Bella Hadid lacing them up for a trip down to the shop should never be underestimated), but it has always remained in the public consciousness thanks to being a focal point in collaborations with the likes of Wales Bonner and Kith. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, and adidas have certainly done that with the Samba, using its unique position to further bridge the gap between the world’s of football and fashion.

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Taking things a step further in its relationship with fashion, adidas recently collaborated with Gucci – a monumental crossover that even the MCU would be proud of. This was a proper coming together of two worlds, and how better to promote it than by utilising your full roster of superstar professional footballers.

A greater freedom to express their extra-curricular interests has led to the likes of Serge Gnabry often being lauded not just for his performances on the pitch, but also for his fashion sense off it, and so all of a sudden you have the perfect models to promote this new direction for football culture.

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All in all, while other brands have remained fairly rigid in their approach to not only kit design, but the integration of fashion in the footballing world, and by contrast, football in the fashion world, adidas has shown a willingness to embrace the potential of external influences – a move that has benefitted its creative output tenfold and one that should be one hundred percent applauded and encouraged. Long may this brave exploration continue if it means we keep getting kit designs of the calibre of the Three Stripes' most recent endeavours. 

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Daniel Jones

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