In the latest edition of our ongoing interview series, I spoke with Joe Joe Gillibrand of New Balance to talk about what it’s like working as a professional designer in the footballing world.
New Balance have made serious waves over the past 5 years in the kit space, taking on major contracts for teams across the globe and bringing forward some fresh ideas when it comes to shirt design. Joe has been at the heart of much of this growth, and you’ll be familiar with much of his work most notably for the likes of Lille and Athletic Bilbao.
How do you get a job working on football shirts? Do designers ever track what people say about their kits on social media?
No other way
Q: Hey Joe! Thanks for speaking with us. Let’s start with the usual introductions, what’s your name, where are you based, what’s your day job?
A: Hi Phil! My name is Joe Gillibrand, I'm based in Manchester and I'm a Football Apparel designer at New Balance. I've been in the role about 3 and a half years and loving it!
Q: Nice one Joe. So you’re a Chelsea fan, did you always love Chelsea and football growing up, or was it something that developed slowly over time?
Some of my earliest memories as a kid involve Chelsea games. My dad and grandparents vigorously ensured I grew up a Chelsea fan from very early and made sure I knew no other way. Football has been a passion all my life. I never played to a high level, but it's always been in my life and always will be.
Q: What about shirts, were you the sort of kid who sketched out kits in your notebook at school, or were they more of a footnote within your broader love for the game?
Design and football started to cross over towards the end of school. I was creating mock-up kits on Photoshop and posting them on designfootball.com and entering the community run competitions on the website weekly.
I used to create kits in my spare time at Uni and built up quite a collection of mock-ups. I was studying Product Design & Technology at Loughborough. A good friend knew of my passion for designing football kits and actually tagged me in a LinkedIn status that was advertising for a design role at New Balance Football. I sent off a portfolio of work to the recruiter and a few weeks later was invited to a first interview!
Q: Thinking on your career now, what were your first steps into the design world? Was it a transition that began before or during education, or something you stumbled into?
I studied Product Design & Technology at A Level at Hymers College in Hull. I went on to study Industrial Design at Loughborough University. Football kit design ran alongside all this and is what I'd spend my spare time doing and developing.
Q: Let’s talk about football shirts. What are some of your favourite kit designs from history?
I'd have lots of favourites for different reasons! Some of these make it into my favourite list because of the memories attached to them whilst some are just favourites from a design point of view and I marvel at them purely as works of art.
Chelsea Home 14-15 Amazing Diego Costa season Chelsea Home 11-12 Champions League winners! Chelsea Home 97-99 My first ever Chelsea kit
Q: Did you have any favourite brands growing up, or even brands which inspired you to work in football?
Obviously brands that are big in football like Nike, Adi & Umbro have a big influence on you when you watch the game and grow up formulating memories around games, goals, players and kits.
I was dreaming of working in the football design industry for about 4 years and was so lucky in terms of timing and location to have the position open up. I was thrown in at the deep end. My first kit was Costa Rica's for the World Cup! What an honour!
Dare to be different
Q: What were your impressions of New Balance before joining, inside or outside the football space?
I knew of their relatively small presence in the football market because before I applied for the role, I had a good knowledge of which manufacturers were sponsoring which teams around the world. NB were on the rise, but still small enough to be innovative and daring.
Q: What’s it like designing football shirts for New Balance? It is a collaborative process, and if so, who are you collaborating with?
It's a very collaborative process. Initially, we work as a closely knit team and then love to involve key stakeholders at the club when designing. In some instances, we have collaborated with external graffiti artists etc. We're always open to different opportunities.
Q: In terms of your communication with teams, is that something you’ll be involved with personally as a designer, or do other members of the team handle that sort of thing before working with yourself?
Obviously, there's fantastic members of the team that manage the product and the relations between NB and the clubs, but I get the chance to be involved in meetings with the club representatives etc.
I've been fortunate enough to travel around Europe to visit the clubs, explore the cities for research purposes and even meet the players. For example, from Athletic Bilbao, Porto and LOSC during the product photoshoots. It's amazing to see the reaction of the players when they're seeing something you've created for the first time. I've brushed shoulders with Nicolas Pepe at LOSC, Pepe at Porto and Iñaki Williams at Bilbao to name a few!
My favourite and most well received kit thus far has been the Home Jersey for LOSC for the 19/20 season. It was inspired by the youthful energy of the city and the vibrant street art around the Wazemmes area of the city. Keep an eye out for next season's Dynamo Kyiv away kit though…
“New Balance were on the rise, but still small enough to be innovative and daring.”
Joe Gillibrand, Football Apparel designer, New Balance
Q: Do you find some teams easier to design for than others?
I'd say that all teams / nations have their requirements and traditions that they like to honour each year. It's the challenge of creating something new within those bounds that I enjoy!
Q: As a designer, do you track what people are saying about your designs on social media? Does that sort of stuff ever get brought up in meetings?
I'd be lying if I said I didn't read the comments on footy headlines, Instagram and twitter. It's very important not to get bogged down in either the positive or negative.
Saying that, the negative can be brought up as banter around the office and we do chuckle at some of the comments. Because our designs have gone through so much NB and club scrutiny before proceeding, we trust our conviction with our designs. At the same time, we also like to have one ear open to the fans and players we design for.
Thanks to Joe Gillibrand for sharing with us! You bet we’re keeping a close eye on Dynamo Kyiv’s kits now after his tease…