My path to designing football kits has been a long winding one. Would I do it the same way again? Probably not, but there’s no doubt it taught me a lot about myself and how to handle adversity.
Let’s start way back. As a child I was taught to draw by my uncle. He would set up still life compositions for him and I to draw together and he would constantly give me tips and suggestions as we went. One thing I always remember him saying was “draw what you see”. It’s a pretty simple phrase but one I still use today when looking at scale and proportions. I used to draw everything; motorbikes, cars, football kits, houses, I just wanted to draw whenever I could. Therefore, during school, anything art, design or graphics based, I loved. It was obvious to me, even at this age, that I wanted a career in a creative field. After studying Graphics at GCSE and 3D Design at A-Level I still didn’t really know which one.
At university I studied a combination of Architecture, Product Design and Mechanical Engineering with Automotive Design but I just couldn’t find the subject matter that hooked me. I also played American Football and it’s thanks to this sport and its wider community that I do what I love as a career. The shift to becoming an Apparel Designer within sports started out by volunteering to design some graphic tees, match day programs, social media graphics and event logos for the teams I played for. I obviously had a creative background from my school days, but I had very little knowledge of the relevant computer software or production methods for any of the things I volunteered to do. It was a matter of learn how to do it, or embarrass myself in front of my friends and teammates. With the help of Google and Adobe’s many tutorials I used these projects as a way of learning the Adobe Creative Suite (predominantly Photoshop and Illustrator) as well as simple apparel production methods, such as screen printing. Despite this, it was safe to say that although I had the ideas, a lot of the time my practical skills didn’t match up. To help me learn faster I’d give myself extra projects and kept working on these, along with the team related tasks, until I was at a point where I could pretty much do anything I needed in these programs.
After leaving university without a degree, I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do with my life, let alone my career. This was, most definitely, my lowest time. It was during this time that I forced myself to analyse what makes me happy, and to make sure I do it as much as I can, maybe even as a job. It was a lightbulb moment “I love to design, I love sports (both playing and watching) is there a way I can combine these?” After sending out some emails, texts and making phone calls, I was put in contact with Xavier Andre, a friend of an American Football teammate, and I started to design some American Football kits on a freelance basis as I worked seasonal jobs in my hometown of Weymouth, Dorset. I was instantly hooked; I knew I had found my sweet spot. Xavier was patient and took the time to answer all the questions I had, no matter how complex.
After a year or so of freelancing, I saw that Under Armour were advertising for a full time Team Sports Apparel Designer role. I applied, completed a Tottenham Hotspur design brief that they sent me (below), had an interview and was told they wanted to hire me. This was amazing! I had finally secured a job doing what I love to do. Or so I thought. US immigration then informed Under Armour that I did not have enough experience to get a visa to work in America, nor a degree in the relevant field, so they would not be able to hire me. This was devastating. After picking myself up from my lowest moment, I had been given the opportunity to do what I wanted to do as a career, only to be told I couldn’t.
Shortly after posting about my story with Under Armour on Facebook, another American Football teammate, Rod Bradley, who is one of the founding members the UK Sportswear brand PlayerLayer, asked me if I wanted to relocate and work with him in Nottingham, full time. I immediately said yes. This was my first office-based Apparel Design role. Whilst there, he and I designed kit for some of the UK’s top universities and private schools as well as Conference side Barrow AFC, my first (semi) professional football kit to see the field. At PlayerLayer, I was given the freedom and support to develop my skills every day. I loved my time there and made some lifelong friends. I always felt though, that I needed experience with one of the global giants in the industry to take my skills to the next level. I needed to know how things were done at Nike or Adidas.
In March 2015, I applied for and succeeded in getting a Licensed Apparel Designer job with Adidas Football. Same as Under armour, I was asked to conduct a project on any adidas asset. Rather than choosing something obvious like Real Madrid or AC Milan, I decided to use what was close to me. Living 10 metres from the City Ground, I conducted my project on Nottingham Forest (below). Living in the city and knowing the culture of the team cannot be understated and I think this definitely contributed to me getting the job.
Whilst at Adidas, I had the honour of being a part of a great design team. Sure, I had to put pen to paper on the clubs I was assigned, but at a large company like Adidas, it is definitely a team game. From brainstorming, to developing a design, everyone shares their thoughts throughout, making it a truly collaborative process. This isn’t reserved for just internal meetings, though, it is vitally important that this extends to the club itself.