One of the most time-honored traditions in soccer is complaining loudly on social media about your team’s new kits. It’s an art that has been passed down from generation to generation.
A sacred pastime. And even if absolutely none of that is true, people do seem to get pretty geared up to yell about the kit even before the kit actually launches. Even if it appears to most of us that those people are typing into the void.
The thing is though, in Philadelphia, the void actually listens. It even talks back. And sometimes it comes to your doorstep, just to make sure it’s understanding correctly.
Almost two years ago to the day, the Philadelphia Union decided to go directly to those people, the people on Twitter with an endless supply of mock-up jerseys made in Photoshop and people just generally associated with Philadelphia, to ask them: “Do you want to make the next kit?”
In March of 2019, the Union took 20 or so of those people behind the curtain to show them the process behind making a kit. And then they asked them to work as a group to make the next one. What resulted is the excellent “By|U” secondary kit. A light blue and yellow uniform representing the flags of the Delaware Valley that looks good; that fits perfectly into the Union’s organizational motto of “By the community, of the community, for the community”; that features wholly unique detailing; and, most importantly, isn’t plain white.
The Union’s Chief Marketing Officer Doug Vosik recognized that fans were maybe hoping for something a little more unique.
“I think since 2015, we've had a white secondary. There's nothing wrong with white, right? A lot of clubs have white as a color. I think it was just that year in 2019 really hit when you looked across the league that people were like, ‘Oh my goodness, look at all this white,’” Vosik said.
“We have to always ask ourselves, are we delivering on that brand promise of ‘By the community, of the community, for the community? ’Let's not make this thing a schlocky fan voting contest. Let's actually go up to the community and say, how do we bring you into the process from square one?”
To bring the community in from square one, Vosik had to go to adidas first. He didn’t expect too much enthusiasm for his plan to bring everyday fans into a very safeguarded process. Instead, the idea took off. Vosik got the go-ahead. The Union found the people they wanted in a crowd of vocal supporters, Twitter designers, media and community members. Those folks signed some good, old-fashioned non-disclosure agreements. And the Union Creators’ Collective was born.
The first part of being a part of The Collective’s process involved understanding the process as a whole. Before discussions began, Vosik and the Union brought them into a room. On one side was every official Union kit from the last four years. On the other were the designs from the last four years that didn’t make it. The folks in The Collective who maybe didn’t care for the kits that made it on the field began to at least understand why they existed.
“The execution on the kits felt at times, to use a football analogy, like it's at the five-yard line. It’s close but not quite where we want it to be,” Collective member and writer for PhillySoccerPage.net, Chris Gibbons said. “And so now sitting there on the other side of it, it helped my understanding of why the gap between the five-yard line and a touchdown exists.
“The context is really important. And it makes me rethink my opinion on some of the other kits. Doug shared with us the process we went through for each of the last four kits. So we not only got to see what they did, but also how they came to the conclusions of the last kits. And so you get a sense for like, Oh, here's what they said. And here's what they interpreted. And here's how they didn't quite meet in the middle.”
Once The Collective came to an understanding of just how difficult the process of taking a kit from initial creation to final product is, they sat down to go through the initial creation process themselves. Which isn’t the concrete process you may think. The most difficult part appears to be conveying an abstract idea that will be transformed into something palatable when it’s tangible. Essentially, you end up with a kit mood board and hope for the best.
That meant that, initially, it felt easier for The Collective to rule things out than bring them in.
“We knew we didn't want a white shirt. A lot of people want it to bring the bib back, But I think we realized as we got through the process that if the Union were going to be a team with a bib, it was probably going to be for the home jersey and that we had this really clean blank slate to make whatever we wanted,” Gibbons said. “So, from there, Doug Vosik did a really good job of instructing us saying like, 'here's what we can give adidas and here's what we can not.' And so what we're picking are themes, ideas, feelings, moods, all of this sort of like corny design stuff.”
At the end of that brainstorming session, The Collective had settled on some combination of flag colors, textured patterns, lightning bolts and Ben Franklin. They sent their one-page brief to adidas. From there all you can do is wait. Once a brief gets sent in, it normally takes about 60-90 days to get designs back. So, a couple of months later, The Collective got their first look at what their kit could look like.
There were four kits to choose from. The current kit, the current kit with inverted colors, and two more kits with those same colors but a large, singular lightning bolt design instead of the current kit’s pattern. It apparently looked pretty good. The current kit won by no more than a couple of votes. But everyone agreed that the designers had taken their ideas and done them justice.
At that point, there were just a few things left to do. Wait for adidas to create the kit. Show The Collective. Then show the world.
Almost two years after they’d first met, The Collective met again. And waited. They sat in a conference room eating pizza and talking and waiting. Suddenly, Union homegrown Anthony Fontana came into the room wearing the full kit. And everyone, including Fontana, got their first full look at the completed project.
Philadelphia Union striker Kacper Przybylko models the club's 2021 secondary jersey | Courtesy of the Philadelphia Union
“We were in a room where you can get reflection a lot off the glass between the windows and the doors,” Vosik said. “And Fontana was, I think, so excited to get dressed and run into the room that he didn't have the time to take a clean look at himself in the kit. He caught his reflection when he walks into the room and he just pauses. And he's like, “This looks awesome.” Seeing that moment of realization was fascinating.”
The group agreed with Fontana. And people like Gibbons, who have been critical of kits in the past, think this might be the best Philly has ever produced. At least until the next kit is released. The Union included an even larger Collective in on that process as well. And the plan is to keep including them on each kit going forward.
But now, all that’s left for the first Collective created kit is today’s reveal to the world and the folks honoring one of soccer’s newest time-honored traditions. Maybe they’ll win them over. Maybe not. But the process mattered here. And no one can say the kit didn’t come from something special.
“When I go back to that first meeting, all of us are very well aware that the shirt that a soccer team wears is more than the shirt, right? It's a representation of a lot of people and a lot of their emotions and frankly, you know, a bunch of people that have nothing to do with the club,” Gibbons said.
”So we took that responsibility and we did not take that lightly when we started the process. And I think because we had all sorts of different people with different backgrounds whose only real connection was that we liked the Union. We got to a place where we got a crowdsource answer and we got consensus and we think the kit's going to be received really well.”
Pre-order and Bimbo donation
The 2021 “By|U” kit is now available to purchase at MLSStore.com. For every jersey pre-ordered in the exclusive window or purchased at the kit launch experience on February 5, 6, 8, and February 12-14, official jersey sponsor Bimbo will donate five loaves of Artesano bread, up to 2,500 loaves, to the food insecure population of Chester through CityTeam.
Kit Launch Event
The 2021 Kit Launch experiential event will take place Feb. 5, 6, and 8 and February 12-14 at Subaru Park. Subaru and the Union are collecting and donating soccer equipment for the love of our Philadelphia Area Communities. Fans can bring new or gently used soccer gear to the Kit Launch experience for local youth soccer programs.