Union Creators’ Collective member reveals what it was like to design a shirt

FSC Interview – Chris Gibbons

Philadelphia Union’s new shirt is the talk of the town, and with good reason too.

The vibrant, lightning bolt-adorned design is notable not just for its aesthetic, but also for the process behind the look which saw a collaboration between a group of Philadelphia fans, and the usual parties of adidas and the club.

Looking from the outside in it seemed like a slam dunk of a move to involve fans, but I was curious to hear from someone who actually took part in the process. Did adidas and the club actually let the fans have any sort of meaningful say? What were some of the wild ideas left on the cutting room floor?

Coming to the rescue was my friend Chris. I’ll let him introduce himself…

A fan from day 1

Q: Hey Chris! Thanks for taking the time to chat to us. Could you start by introducing yourself, what you do for a living, and what your connection is to Philadelphia Union?

My name is Chris Gibbons and I own my own business in Philadelphia. I’ve been a fan of the Union since the beginning, but started writing about the team several years ago for The Philly Soccer Page.

Q: You mentioned you’ve been a Union fan since the early days, but what about pre-Union? Were you following any other soccer teams in the 90s or early 00s?

I was definitely a fan Day 1 for the Union, and have played the game my entire life. However, I was very naive as to what the global game had to offer before going to graduate school in 2005. 

It was there where I met a bunch of Liverpool fans who introduced me to English club soccer. I genuinely had not heard of Liverpool as a soccer team before then and did not know of more than a handful of club teams either. Growing up in rural America back then meant little to no access to that kind of information.

Q: Let’s talk more about jerseys. What’s your opinion of MLS jerseys as a whole?

MLS jerseys started out colorful and chaotic, and then swung wildly back toward boring a decade later. They’ve sort of settled in the middle between those two extremes now, which means there’s plenty of opportunity to take chances.

Q: Do you have any favourite MLS jerseys, or favourite jerseys outside MLS? Can be Union or otherwise!

I’m really partial to Ajax’s 2020 away kit (the light blue one) and am generally enjoying what PUMA is up to right now.

Q: How would you summarise the jersey history of Philadelphia Union in particular? Were you generally quite high on the kits or a bit underwhelmed?

The history of Union jerseys is one of consistency: a gold bib on a navy shirt at home, and an all-white change kit. League rules and design timelines make it challenging to break a cycle like that, and most teams fit into a similar framework of year-over-year consistency.

At the end, it leads to a general sense of disappointment from fans when new kits are released because they often look a lot like the kits that came before. When the Union abandoned the bib several years ago, it was because of fan input.

Picture via Philadelphia Union

Coming together for something special

Q: Now let’s get onto the main topic of today, Union Creators’ Collective! When did you first hear about the collective?

I was invited to the UCC just a day or two before the first meeting, at the behest of my old friend (one of those guys from grad school I mentioned earlier) Adam Cann. He is now the Manager of Marketing and Digital with the Union and thought that since kits were something I had a passion for and was already writing about for PSP, I would make a good addition to the group.

Q: What was your first involvement with the club and/or adidas? What sort of things were discussed in those early meetings?

This was my first time working with the club and with adidas, and the first meeting was all about understanding the design process, identifying design elements that we thought represented Union fans and our community, and relaying that information to adidas in a brief that was essentially a mood board.

Q: Were you surprised by anything in the process, or did things play out how you imagined they would?

The biggest surprise to me was probably how methodical the process felt. In our case, we went from a completely blank canvas to the brief that would be sent to adidas in just under two hours.

Picture via Philadelphia Union

Q: Did you guys actually get to drive discussions and make calls, or were you primarily vetting ideas from the club and/or adidas?

Our primary role was to build this initial board and then vet the handful of options that came from the designer’s desks as a result. The Union let us have full freedom though, which was fascinating and humbling. Once the brief was in, several months later our comments were limited to minimal tweaks on what adidas produced. The first meeting was actually the most crucial moment.

Q: What were some of the crazier design ideas discussed during the process?

We talked about all sorts of Philadelphia-area icons: the LOVE statue, the Commodore Barry Bridge (which spans nearly on top of the stadium itself), the Constitution, etc… We didn’t want anything that felt disingenuous or hokey, so that eliminated some of the literal elements quickly and allowed us to focus on simpler and more referential pieces instead.

Q: Were there any other kit designs which made it far in the process, or were you tweaking the final design over a long period before completion?

There were two choices for us to work with in meeting two, presented in blue with yellow accents and yellow with blue accents. The other design was a clean shirt with a giant lightning bolt down the center, which was both comical and shocking while also being stunning and brilliant. I would have been just as happy had we chose that one.

There’s more where this came from

Q: How does it feel to have played a part in designing a professional kit for a team that you love?

I’m still a bit shocked that I was fortunate enough to be in this group, and even more proud that our initial work was understood well enough by adidas to come to fruition so beautifully. It’s a mantle I know our group carried with the weight of responsibility, and something I’ll never forget.

“I’m still a bit shocked that I was fortunate enough to be in this group”

Chris Gibbons

Q: Will we see more Philadelphia kits designed by UCC?

Yes! But the pandemic threw a wrench in that process in 2020. Next year’s kit is already done (and has been since last August or so) and 2023’s will start its conceptual phase in a few months. It’s very much to-be-determined at this point how we’ll participate, though the club has been very vocal about this being the beginning of a fan-design partnership and not a one-off.

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to chat with us! The fact that this is just the start of UCC’s involvement with Philly is incredibly exciting, and all eyes will be on Union to see if lightning can strike twice.

Phil Delves

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