If there was a prize for this year’s jazziest World Cup kit, Nigeria would win hands down. The green, black and white design is a far cry from the minimal jerseys worn by the likes of England, France and Brazil, and has become a fashion phenomenon: three million were pre-ordered online and hundreds queued up to buy it in store at London’s Nike Town.
The kit is the centrepiece of a wider collection inspired by Nigerian youth culture – one that also includes a monochrome bucket hat, a floral tracksuit and feather print training tops.
The home jersey contains some historical references (the badge and feather pattern are a homage to Nigeria’s first World Cup squad from 1994), but the collection is inspired more by the present than the past, with Nike’s designers aiming to capture the “youthful exuberance” of contemporary ‘Naija’ and the swagger and spirit of the 2018 World Cup team.
With football shirts becoming ever more streamlined and homogenous, Nigeria’s stands out for its unashamedly bold use of colour and pattern – and it’s little wonder the design has proved so popular both on and off the pitch.
Speaking to CR over email, Nike Design Director Pete Hoppins discussed the multi-year process that led to the design and the changing nature of World Cup jerseys…
Creative Review: When does the process of designing World Cup kits begin?
Pete Hoppins: For Nigeria, we were designing a collection, not just kits, and this was a multi-year undertaking to craft the right look with the best technology. A group of designers from graphics/product/footwear worked collaboratively and built a concept that breathes culture and performance. The on-pitch kit will always be the ‘shining star,’ but the beauty of Naija is the full collection with all the additional pieces. We really wanted to take the Naija culture to an international audience, so that it was visible not just within Nigeria itself, but on a platform for all football fans worldwide.
CR: What is the process like?
PH: Everything starts with the athlete. We obtain insights from hundreds of athletes, which helps us to come up with the vision for the tournament and pushes the performance level of the new kits. The next step is developing a concept that ties to the football federation and fan culture, which entails extensive research and a deep appreciation for each country’s unique attributes. After internal reviews, the designs are presented to the federation and the players for their feedback and contribution.
We looked a lot at social media and the content players post. They are full of energy and spirit
CR: The Nigeria kit has been hugely popular – what inspired the design for it?
PH: With Nigeria, we really wanted to tap into attitude of the nation. There were three Nigerian qualities that drove this collection: the first of these is ‘Supreme Confidence,’ as Nigeria remains confident in their team no matter the stage or opposition. It is incredibly infectious. Secondly, the ‘Youthful Squad,’ because it’s a special time for Nigeria with lots of exciting young players honing their skills all over the world in the best football leagues.
In addition to their on-pitch talent, they also connect so well and seem to be enjoying life, football and being together at training camp. When you work with the team or see them together they are friends. It’s a genuine crew. The third and final, ‘A True Football Nation,’ with a tradition and history within the game.
CR: Did you work with product teams, designers or consumers in Nigeria during the process?
PH: We do extensive research for each collection and that includes talking to the players and federation, but also the fans and young players from the country about their perception of the national team. For Nigeria specifically, we also looked a lot at social media and the content their players post. They are full of energy and spirit, they post themselves dancing and singing, we wanted to make sure we capture those moments and express them through design.
CR: What other things do you have to take into account when designing a World Cup kit – for example, restrictions or technical considerations?
PH: Every kit needs to be signed off by the football governing body and there are guidelines in place that we adhere to. For Nike, the kit’s technical performance is the priority and then the federation-specific design elements are built-in. For example, we’ve worked to develop unique, culturally relevant fonts for many of our federations. Functionally, we are also looking to improve legibility for the spectators at home and in the stands and application of the names and numbers should not compromise the performance level of the shirt. On top of that we have to meet certain requirements in terms of the stroke widths, colours, legibility and so on. Nearly every element of the kits has all these different dimensions, that’s why it takes time to work on them and get it right.
CR: What are you looking to communicate or convey in a national kit for the World Cup? And how much does Nike’s design ethos influence the look and feel of kits?
PH: The national team kits are a modern expression of national identity for each team. We’re trying to capture what the team represents at this moment in time and connect them to the country and football culture.
Football is about progression. The game gets faster, more athletic, and that’s reflected in how the kits have changed. Nike kits are designed for speed and this comes through in enhanced performance characteristics, but also in how they look. You see lots of speed-inspired elements in Nike kits this summer, which are designed to look fast even when standing still.
CR: How do you think the design of World Cup kits has changed over the past few tournaments?
PH: Football culture is in a special place right now. It’s not just about the jerseys but about fans and followers looking for diverse football expressions of their teams. Fashion and streetwear are critical parts of this cultural shift, never before have the lines between performance and lifestyle been so blurred. That’s why everything outside the 90 minutes has to drive this point of view for athletes and fans. Players always get a full collection for every tournament, so as we broke that down into looks, we wanted to make sure every look defined the moment and was something people would love to wear.
CR: And how does the design of World Cup kits compare to league kit? Is there a chance to be a little more daring or playful with the design of a World Cup kit compared to say, one for the Premier League?
PH: With clubs and countries, you’ll always have some that lean more towards tradition and some that are in search of something new and different…. What you’re seeing this summer is a huge festival of football and team kits are a big part of this spectacle. It is a great platform for Nike to communicate our passion for the game through design and create kits people will remember for years to come.