Creative Soccer Culture

adidas x Manchester United Design Q&A

With Manchester United and adidas embarking on a re-energized reunion having launched their 2015/16 home kit, we caught up with adidas Product Manager Oliver Nicklisch to get under the hood of a project that has delivered headline grabbing results.

Receiving a strong response, the 2015/16 home kit has would appear to have gone down well with the United faithful. Delivering a project of this magnitude may sound like a high pressured challenge, for adidas and Oliver Nicklish however, it reads more as a perfect match. A club that has aligned its stripes, the vision of the next ten years shared from a united voice.

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Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us, could you tell us a little bit about your role at adidas and what part you played in bringing the new adidas and Manchester United kit to the table?

So I am the Product Manager at adidas for Manchester United. I'm kind of the middle person between design, the club and our development team, so basically every product question goes through me. I facilitate the design process but the creative mind behind the jersey is our designer, the dedicated designer, and whenever he brings in his ideas we create mood boards which I then take to the club to make sure the story and the designs themselves are going in the right direction. I meet with the club around three times a year to discuss the whole collection, starting with the design phase, then the first prototypes and then the second prototypes by way of confirmation on the collection.

One of the world's biggest clubs, a powerhouse of a brand in itself - was this project a bit of a dream come true personally?

It is a very great thing, for me personally but also for adidas to have this reunion again. I was never emotionally attached to Manchester United but it's actually pretty exciting to work with such a big club with such a tradition and heritage and such great players from the past and present. It's just amazing.

When did you start working on this kit?

The contract negotiations in terms of meeting our timelines for product creation was pretty late on in this occasion. Usually we would work around twenty to twenty four months before the actual kit is launched and for this we had approximately half a year less, at least. So roughly 16 months ago we started on this.

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When it comes to design and football kits, how similar is the process to the fashion world?

It's hard to make direct comparisons with how the fashion world works, but we as a brand at adidas always want to bring fashion to the football jersey. We want to make it an iconic piece for the fans – not only for the stadium but also in the street, and that's very important. We also try to gather trends from the streets, trends from other sports, like urban sports such as skateboarding through to 5-a-side football - so more away from the traditional look. Never the less, for football jerseys it's still very important to keep the football tradition within the jersey and looking at the new home kit, for us it speaks pure tradition as well as being very modern.

How many iterations do you have to get through before you hit the finish line and at what point does the club get involved?

It's tough to say, as it varies. Specifically for this jersey it was quite easy, let's say as from the point when we new that we were going to sign Manchester United and create the kit, it was very intuitive as to what we actually wanted to do. We wanted to celebrate the reunion of the two biggest brands in football and therefore we decided to look for the most iconic jersey's we had; one was the '82 home jersey and the away kit from 1990. We only had slight design changes throughout the whole process, meaning we didn't change much during the prototype phase which in this case made things very easy. But you know, it can depend on the kit and the complexity of the design that can change several times throughout the process. In this particular case it was maybe four to five minor tweaks, the concept was there but we just finalised some twists through the process.

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The club were obviously very happy with what you delivered early on then?

Oh yes, they appreciated the short term work we put into the jersey. We talked to the club before we started the design phase and we were all on the same page from the very start. When they saw the first designs they were pretty blown away and that was the way forward.

When it comes to kit design, often does the marketing element of this kit influence the design or does the design lead the marketing?

It's very much a collaboration and from our side we want to respect the values of the club. On the other hand we at adidas have an image of our brand in our minds and also have certain things that we would like to put in our products. We always like to combine tradition with innovation when it comes to our textiles. Of course, we speak to the club and get their input but all of the execution, such as the technical translation into a prototype, it's up to us but we integrate the club from the start and during the whole process so that they are aware and have a say in it.

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This is a headline grabber of a shirt, what are your favorite elements of this design?

As I am the product guy, I always like the details on a jersey. Especially on the home shrit, the v-neck is a special engineered rib with a white outside and black inside which is very iconic. Another detail I really like is the hem de-bossing which is inspired by the away kit from the 90s in a very contemporised way. When it comes to performance enhancing and giving the players a better feeling with the jersey, I like the engineered front panel that has a mesh in it.

Fashion and football are clearly becoming ever closer, have you noticed that when creating a product like this?

Yeah for sure. Before we kick off a season we go out to make market field trips to check out the latest trends and what the world of fashion is doing – reading fashion blogs and things like that to bring in the fashion aspect more into the jersey. What we do then is translate this into the basic silhouette and then attach certain club specific designs within that. So yeah, fashion plays a bigger and bigger role when creating football kits, that's for sure.

One final question, having received very positive feedback and looking to the future, how do you then trump a shirt like this?

Well, it's a good question and without giving away too many details we have 6 months less in the design process on this project. Luckily the designer is a great Manchester United fan who has put a lot of over hours and night shifts into this to create a design that is very desirable and memorable. I firmly believe we can push the boundaries further with the new collections and move to a place we've never seen before. This is something I definitely believe we can do.

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A big thanks to Oliver and adidas for inviting us to hear more about the project. The new 15/16 Manchester United home kit is available from various stockists including Pro-Direct Soccer now.


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