Ravi Kiran talks design for UMBRO

Ravi Kiran talks to SSACHS about the world of kit design at Umbro

Soudi Masouleh

I recently got in touch with Ravi to discuss the world of apparel design in Football. After all, it’s a niche of its own and needs a designer who fully understands it from the inside out. From its audience through to designing a performance garment (and also an iconic one!)…

Soudi Masouleh

Ravi Kiran

Talks Design

What makes Umbro a brand like no-other in football?

We are a brand of many first’s and have shaped football in many ways – From the World’s First Football Player Endorsement with Manchester United Player Denis Law, One of the world’s first collaborations in clothing with Matt Busby, The First Professional team Sponsor in a World Cup Tournament in 1966, to commercialising Sportswear to Replica with the iconic ‘Umbro Sets’ for Children which lead to the Adult replica market – today an industry in its billions.

Our brand personality makes us very different to other brands such as Nike and adidas. We see our purpose as being a true reflection of what the sport should be – authentic, joyful and for everyone. And to paraphrase one of our Founders Harold Humphreys our tenacity and sheer damned cheek also pushes us forward to succeed.

We see our purpose as being a true reflection of what the sport should be – authentic, joyful and for everyone

What is the biggest challenge for a shirt designer?

There are always challenges as a kit designer. The main challenge designers will face is that [to put it bluntly] is everyone thinks they can do it better. The hardest challenge a designer will face is the ability to please The club, The traditionalist, The New/Young Fan and ourselves whilst moving the kit design forward in some way – this by no means is an easy task as the beliefs of each of these sections rarely agree with each other.

Timing is another crutial challenge. Designs are created 18 months to 2 years in advance making sure that we have predicted the right trend and accuracy of designs. This is a big challenge as taste levels in fashion and trend are ever changing – even more so quickly in today’s world. A design cannot alienate or insult fans. The goal is to move forward so designs need to go through various checks to make sure they not only abide by league regulations but also cultural contexts – i.e Crosses in certain countries culturally carry too many religious factors on them – stars (if used in a design) have to be checked for similar reasons. Certain colours can imply political allegiances, bad luck (brazil with white kits) and the list goes on.

A truly iconic jersey breaks the mould and offers a club and its fans a new point of view – Each tell a story and it’s those stories we can connect with.

What makes a shirt iconic?

A truly iconic jersey breaks the mould and offers a club and its fans a new point of view. Each new jersey tells a story and its those stories we can connect with. Growing up with British Football I heard stories of Liverpool’s dominance through the mid seventies & eighties capturing multiple European and League titles – one of the most successful records in footballing history. Remembering Paul Gascoigne’s Move to Lazio opened the world of European football to the British Football Fans. The iconic Italia 90 Kits of the England Football team – New Order. Manchester United building it’s legacy in the Premier League and The Champions League. Manchester City & Oasis & Euro 96. I could go on and  on.

An iconic kit design has to please the ‘ Die Hard’ Fan, the traditionalist, to the ‘Young Fan’

Style and the influence of Umbro’s design on a contemporary fashion

The rise of footballing fashion, in Streetwear & Contemporary Fashion, is well rooted in nostalgia currently but they’ve become hugely influential as cult fashion offerings for their elaborate designs and wild colour schemes. Their rarity in comparison to modern shirts also adds a more individualistic edge to personal styling.

Clearly there is a resurgence of 90s fashion and sportswear, which is driving an increased interest in authentic brands from that era. Umbro dominated football in the 90s so its unsurprising that consumers are looking at us today. It’s attitude and drive to change the game is what many people connect to when we look at this period in the brands history.

They are a source of influence for a generation of Fashion & Streetwear Inspired Labels & Individuals.  A generation, who were raised on the game – connected to the game have taken that connection into their own fashion pieces. It leads to today’s designers who’s origins and upbringing were not from an elitist subculture and have taken the influences of their upbringing and environments to which now dominate the fashion world. Football is definitely one of them.

A generation, who were raised on the game – connected to the game have taken that connection into their own fashion pieces.

Umbro working alongside UK fashion Skating label Palace did their own spin on its design back in 2012 by simply replacing the England badge with their own injecting a contemporary edginess to merging British Football & skate Subcultures.  The trend continued and expanded globally with Labels such as Off White, Vetements &  of course working with Streetwear Icons Patta dropping Ajax inspired designs. Each brand injecting their own flavour alongside Umbro’s continued ethos and design – creating new stories and connections.

Even Brands like Supreme got into the action too [pretty much lifting] Umbro’s Tottenham Hotspurs 91-94 third Shirt – brands that younger consumers are gravitating to are now seeing football shirts and inspired clothing as staple parts of their wardrobes and experimenting with it, integrating it into casual attire. You can see brands such as Nike and Adidas taking inspiration from colours of iconic kits once sponsored by Umbro and injecting that bravado into their designs today.

What Umbro did is look at football fashion as something more than what just players wore on the pitch, and made it more about a wider football fan culture, and how people interacted with their club, which no one had done before.