CHICAGO (April 27, 2019) —
At the beginning of the NWSL season, a professional soccer team in Chicago unveiled a new home kit. It took less than 24 hours for the Chicago Red Stars to sell out of every single size of this 2019 home shirt, known as the “Elevated kit” It has been an instant success. The club’s video launching the jersey already has over 100,000 views on Twitter within the first two weeks.
The finished product was the result of eight months of work from the team’s designer, support from the entire front office, over 50 versions of the design, and as Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler puts it, “the internal passion to get it right.”
This article discusses the design, process, meaning and reactions to the Red Stars’ Elevated kit.
The goal was to design a kit that was visually appealing to both soccer fans and non-fans alike. The team was thinking of the design as being more of a “lifestyle brand.” They wanted someone who was not familiar with the Red Stars to see the shirt and learn more about the team.
“The battle we have as a town with eight pro sports teams is awareness and differentiation,” Whisler said. “We’re constantly looking for angles to get noticed.”
The team wanted something that would get noticed. A shirt so cool it could be sold in Michigan Avenue tourist shops and at O’Hare International Airport. Something maybe even Chance The Rapper would wear while performing.
The designer of the shirt is Anthony Guagliardo, a Chicago native. He had the good fortune of getting a job with the Red Stars about a year ago right out of college. He says he went through at least fifty different iterations and ideas over a period of several months. After narrowing it down to one or two, neither was selected by the team.
It was now October of 2018 and he was running up against a production deadline to be ready for the 2019 season. Guagliardo started again from scratch, and took inspiration from the city’s public transportation system.
“I really wanted to do something with the L,” he said, referring to Chicago’s inner-city elevated train system, also commonly called the “El” in reference to the elevated tracks on which many of the lines run. “I thought, why not go a little crazy here and do something completely new? And that’s how I landed on this Elevated design.”
His design is a maze-like design of the city of Chicago itself. The L runs through the entire pattern on the front of the shirt with the city’s Inner Loop clearly visible. Whisler compared the design to every map of Chicago he’s ever seen, with Lake Michigan clearly featured on the right.
Guagliardo ruled out a more minimalist version of the L first.
“That felt too incomplete to me,” he said. “It would look too weird, even if people would understand what it was.”
The easy way was out. The pattern was in. The inspiration came from how the streets and transportation system of Chicago interlock and interweave.. Guagliardo spent an entire week (“nine to five,” he said) building the pattern. Then he spent the next week tweaking it.
“He spent I don’t know how many days hand-connecting all those little streets,” Whisler said. “He was just dazed. He had been staring at that pattern, hand-connecting to make sure there are no weird dead ends, and his head had just been living that for days.”
With the pattern done, the distinctive stars from the flag of Chicago placed on the front of the kit, and the Nike and team logos put in their standard spots, one thing remained—the back of the jersey. Guagliardo didn’t want the back to feel like it was from a different kit.
“We thought of the phrase, ‘put the city on our back.’” He said. “That sort of hit me. We should put the skyline there.”
He had thought the skyline had been done by too many people, but the Red Stars had their own spin on it now thanks to the pattern.
“That was the differentiator,” Guagliardo said.
The production phase presented its own challenge. Nike is the kit supplier to the NWSL. Similar to what adidas does with Major League Soccer, Nike provides each NWSL team with stock kits, onto which a small level of customisation is available. In this case, the elevated kit was a lot more complex, given that it wraps around the shirt and the pattern must interlock.
By mid-November 2018, Guagliardo and the Red Stars had pushed the new design concept over to Nike for approval. The team’s director of communication and marketing, Justyne Freud, was in charge of the proofing process. It took six or seven rounds with Nike, just to make sure everything—especially the pattern—was right.
The final element was the actual launch. With the mindset being that this is far more than a women’s soccer team kit, a bigger idea was needed. The kit’s launch video adopted the bigger way of thinking. It was produced along with creative agency The Times Chicago and features defender Sarah Gorden along with defender Casey Short and midfielder Julie Ertz.
“Justyne (Freud) said that she wanted to make a statement,” Gorden said. “And that’s the kind of person and group that we are. We want to make a statement. We’re not here to be average. We want to be in your face. We want to be loud. And the video was a great representation of that.”
Chicago’s new shirt is proving that custom kits can result in significant sales numbers.
Whisler said the kit puts the Red Stars on the stage. “We’re just doing everything we can to insinuate ourselves in the heads of Chicagoans.”
The players also like the new vibe.
“To me, a lot of the equality stuff is played out,” Defender Sarah Gorden said. “It’s a business. People are saying equality because they want to make money; they don’t actually believe in it! It is that F you attitude. I’m here to play soccer, and I’m here to kick ass on the field. If you want to come and watch badass women come together, then come to it! And if you have a problem with it, then stay at home.”
Reaction to the Red Stars’ new kit has been phenomenal.
The pattern came out so well that the team has incorporated into their design elements, too. For example, it appears on the season ticket holder package sent out prior to this season, and it is used on in the team’s social graphics as well.
Whisler believes this could not have happened if the Red Stars had outsourced the design to an outside agency. “At the end of the day, you can’t outsource passion. I think what you see in this jersey, there’s a lot of love. There’s a love by people who have put an awful lot of work into this team and this brand.”
Gorden said she was “blown away” by the design. Even just imagining the finished product had her excited: “I was like, wow, these jerseys would be sick.” She also added that having the city embedded in the kit serves as a constant a reminder that “this game is bigger than just you,” she said. “You’re playing for a city, you’re representing a bigger group of people. I think it’s a great reminder of that, and it’s the culture of Chicago right on our jersey.
The Inside Story Of How The Red Stars’ Elevated Jersey Came To Be. The Athletic, Megan Linehan, April 16, 2019.