Sometimes the best business opportunities are sitting right in front of you. And men's football (read: ‘soccer’) – the world’s most popular sport – is fast becoming one such example.
From terrace culture to on-pitch style icons like David Beckham, huge amounts of money have always been made off the back of football. In the past few years, notable collabs – like those between Yohji Yamamoto and Real Madrid, Palace Skateboards and Juventus, Adidas and Gosha Rubchinskiy – have all become highly collectable (and expensive).
But this time round, the current meeting point of football and fashion is different. Consumer behavior is changing and, maybe for the first time, wearing a football shirt in public is no longer considered taboo. Vintage football shirts have become big business. A recent Vogue Business headline stated: ‘Footballers are the new fashion icons,’ and a special report from Highsnobiety agreed: ‘When fashion brands enter football, expect an industry earthquake… You’re silly if you don’t find a way to tap into it.’
It’s hard to keep up with the football-fashion crossover – especially at a grassroots level, where so many new businesses have found original ways to drive interest into the sport and its subcultures to a much wider consumer base, far beyond the stereotypes.
• In Paris, there’s nineties-inspired Retro Football Gang, created in 2018 by Nathan Aubugeau because he couldn’t find ‘cool enough football brands’.
• NIVELCRACK is a creative studio and apparel brand in Seoul working across football, culture and fashion – it even has a football team, FC Nivelcrack, a collective of designers, photographers, chefs and DJs.
• Saturdays Football in LA releases products ‘at the intersection of fashion, football, counterculture, community and the arts’. The same could be said for Hartex, On The Terrace, Goal Studio and many more.
Josh Steeples, 34, is the founder of A Store Like 94, which is turning bootleg football items – from rugs to T-shirts – into collectables.
‘I’ve tried to launch the brand three times before, wanting to become fully self-employed for the first time in my life, but it never really worked,’ he says. ‘But that all changed around November 2019. Demand went wild – a lot of it from America, actually, where I sell 65% of my stuff; a big market is forming in Australia, too. It’s great to see so many football brands launching.
‘People used to think I was mad doing this,’ he continues. ‘But there’s so much momentum, with so many amazing collaborations between football people, artists and brands. The vintage side of things has become quite saturated, but I don’t see any signs of things slowing down elsewhere. It’s unfair when football clubs take ownership of all the merch, and consumers are recognizing that now and supporting independents like us.’
Harry Barratt, 27, is the co-founder of Patterns of Play. Based in Norwich, about 100 miles north-east of London, the creative studio and online shop is inspired by football culture and sells everything from totes and socks to T-shirts and paintings, featuring collaborations with football-related artists and artists from the wider scene.
‘At the end of last year, we turned Patterns of Play from a passion project into a real business,’ Harry explains. ‘We know how to communicate to the kinds of football audiences that have been emerging recently, which is why brands like Adidas reach out to us. We’re presenting new ideas about football: less corporate, more creative. It’s great to see so many other people starting to do the same, and it feels like it’s just the beginning.’