The Woman Behind Nike's Bespoke World Cup kits
If you thought women would get their own specially designed kit for the World Cup, you’d be wrong. That is before now. Making a huge commitment to the game this year Nike released bespoke kits for all of the national teams they sponsor heading to France in June.
It’s a special moment when the kit of your country gets released in time for the World Cup. Will you get home or away? Who will you decide to get printed on the back? But for the women’s World Cup taking place next month in France, that moment was made all the more beautiful when Nike launched the bespoke kits of 14 of the 24 teams in the competition. Traditionally, the women’s kits have mimicked the men’s kits, and changing this was never going to be an easy undertaking.
Considered, purposeful design for women’s sport has always been a huge part of what we’re about, so when we got to sit down with Cassie Looker, the Senior Apparel Product Manager in global football at Nike, we had a lot to ask the woman who has spearheaded the design and production of the inaugural bespoke kits. Read on to find out more…
As you may not find surprising, Cassie has always been involved in sport – though her personal story will resonate with many women having not had the opportunity to play football in childhood. Talking about growing up on a small island in the US, she told us “my whole life has revolved around sport from a really young age. Every season I played a different sport. It’s interesting because I had a really strong interest in football from early on but it wasn’t offered where I went to school.
“I went through high school and still had an interest in it, and when I went to college that’s where I met more people who grew up in places like California where it was much more prominent, and we had football teams at our school, so I became more involved in it. But to be honest at that point when I wanted to play everyone I knew was so good that I didn’t feel confident in myself in just picking up the sport at that time. So I’ve been more of an observer and supporter of it, and I also started to be a sports journalist [at college] so I covered the teams there too. Reporter, supporter, fan – that’s been my connection to it.”
Of course, she’s also heavily involved in the sport now in her job with Nike, a company she’s been with for 17 years, where she’s had the opportunity to work in various categories across that time until she landed in football. “I’ve wanted to be in football for a long time and I feel very fortunate to now be able to work in that category”, she told us, “it’s very exciting also because football is truly global and it has a greater reach than a lot of other sports".
You could say that brands have had plenty of time to forge this path for the women’s game – so why now, why 2019? A lot of necessary cultural and societal shifts have happened over the past few years which Cassie acknowledges as important to be able to start this process. “As we prepare for large events like the World Cup and we sit down and think about what our strategy is for those events it definitely became very clear that this was a great time to make bespoke kits for women.”
Is it just a case of whipping up a new design and applying it to the existing women’s cuts? Not so much. “For the past 3 years we’ve been very, very dedicated to perfecting the fit for our women’s kits. We’ve been partnering with our Nike research lab, and bringing in elite footballers from across the globe, doing 3D body scans and really looking at what makes up a female footballer, and what we’ve found is they are different from standard sizing.
“If you think of football and how dynamic it is, a footballer really generates all their power through their lower body through such dynamic movement, and with that they have more developed glutes, hamstrings, thighs. So you think of a short there’s a lot to work with there in terms of fit. Working with athletes we really want to make sure we listen to what they are saying about what works and doesn’t work. Men tend to prefer a tighter fit, but for women its very different – they want to make sure they’re comfortable and they’re covered and they look professional on the pitch, so that’s a different definition of fit for us. It takes a lot of time because we’re fitting and then we’re wear testing and then finding out – maybe those shorts are a little bit too long or too short, maybe the waistband could be more comfortable.”
All of this deep, necessary work is admirable, but it’s also something that is easy to be lost on the average fan. What about the way we as consumers see the design – predominantly through the print and colour applications to a kit – and how do you ensure all of the federations are really happy with the outcome? Cassie says that, again, it’s all about listening; “We have a really great design team at Nike and we have dedicated teams for each of the federations, so what that allows us to do is to take the time to really get to know them, the players, consumers, what’s going on there in terms of design, inspiration, music, all of those things that make up a country that are so fascinating. And we have the ability because of the length of time we’ve taken on this to really develop very strong stories that visually come to life when you see it, but also little details that really speak to that federation or the players, so that when they go on the pitch they feel confident or empowered through that storytelling.”
I wanted to know more about the storytelling. For England, this came through predominantly in the away kit, debuting a custom hand-drawn print for the Lionesses highlighting specific flora native to the counties and regions of England. Where there other details from other kits that Cassie was particularly proud of? “There are elements in every kit that I can look at and see that [storytelling]” she said, “I think the ones that are probably most pronounced… Australia is very overt in terms of the graphic and it’s super energetic. When we think of the Matildas, they’re a very young team so we wanted to capture the spirit of them through that graphic, bringing in street graffiti plus all of the beauty of Australia together to bring that to life is exciting.
“I think for France with their away kit with the ‘hexadot’ print, because of Paris having the nickname of l’hexagon, bringing those little details that maybe you wouldn’t know but when you see it you’re like ‘wow, thats so amazing’.
This is the 20th anniversary of the US’ 1999 World Cup win, who were also the hosts that year. It was the first time 16 teams were included, increased from 12 in 1995, and remains the most attended women’s World Cup of all time – a fact not lost on the Nike design team it seems. ”The US is a really powerful story, looking at it I think you can really tell the tie back to the 99’ers and that anniversary story. Its very hard for anyone in the US to think of Mia Hamm and not see that kit in their mind.”
But not all federations actually wanted an entirely new design. In the case of Nigeria, Chile, South Africa and South Korea, the request was that the kit kept the design sensibility of the men’s. Was that tricky for the teams, would they have preferred to design all 14 kits from scratch? Not necessarily, Cassie told me, “We have really great partnerships with all of our federations and we take the time to really listen to them especially going into a World Cup like this, and there are some cases where they have a beloved kit that has standing power, much like Nigeria that became a modern classic overnight. The fact that they can take the pitch continuing in that point of view I think is very exciting. We stand behind all of the designs whether they’re completely brand new for this World Cup or they’re an equally amazing kit that will be shown on pitch again”.
I couldn’t let Cassie go without checking which name she’d be sporting on the back of her shirt come June and find our her predictions for the competition; “Well I have kind of a unique last name! So it makes me laugh sometimes to have my own name on the back, it’s kind of fun. In my opinion its quite an even playing field for a lot of the federations coming in so I think that’s going to drive excitement, it’s going to be really hard to figure out who’s going to do what – but it’s going to be really great football.”