adidas launched its new Copa 19 football boot in Milan last week, presenting its design through an immersive experience, with Juventus forward Paulo Dybala the face of the new model.
The Copa 19 is adidas’ latest and most significant update to the legendary Copa Mundial boot. Developed in the late ’70s and released for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the Copa Mundial is the world’s bestselling series of football boots, worn by icons such as Zinedine Zidane and Zico. The Copa line is made with kangaroo leather and offers unrivaled touch. For the new boot, adidas' designers focused on balancing the boot’s rich heritage with the demands and technologies of the modern game.
But what exactly goes into launching a new football boot? Robert Ashcroft, category director of adidas Football, Gaétan Saint-André, global senior product manager, and Arnau Sanjuan Roman, creative footwear designer, shared their insights into the process.
According to Ashcroft, before anything, adidas conducts market and consumer research to ensure any new product will be exactly what players want and need in terms of performance and aesthetics. “We do various consumer profiling groups and we don't just limit that to Europe," says Ashcroft. "We do that globally, so we have consumer groups going on in Western Europe, North America, in Asian markets, Asia-Pacific, everywhere, to understand what the needs and necessities of these consumers and player types are.”
Football has undergone an incredible evolution in recent years, which has had an effect on the type of consumer buying football boots. “Gone are the days where football boots are just purely performance-driven,” says Ashcroft. “That consumer is basically the minority now. What we know now is that consumers are driven by newness, and it's now a blurring of lines between what is performance and what is street- and trend-relevant.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Saint-André: “We always start with an exploration phase where we meet professional players and amateur players. Because these boots are designed for all levels of players in mind, it’s important to know what every type of consumer’s needs and wants are.”
Technological innovation and design
Whereas the research phase can take up to six months, the design and launch of a boot takes around 24 months and involves a large interdepartmental team. “You’re probably talking a team of six, seven designers and then creative directors on top of that as well," says Ashcroft. "And then you have a team of maybe five, six developers and there’s a product manager and assistant project manager, along with myself.”
The design process involves a lot of back and forth, as Sanjuan Roman explains: “At the beginning, we start with a design idea, right? Then we start with the first prototype that looks like our sketch. Step by step, we work with the anatomical makeup of the foot, with the actual athletes, and then every time the design changes a little bit.”
Although not the boot's first update, the Copa 19 signifies a major overhaul. “If you speak to the majority of consumers now, [the Copa] is something that their dad wore or their uncle wore," says Ashcroft. "It's no longer relevant in a sense if it doesn't deliver anything new.”
That means the Copa 19 had to offer innovation on the same level as the younger ACE or X models. “We spent a huge amount of time developing the new upper to ensure it delivers unparalleled touch,” says senior design director Dave Surace. “That includes the use of our new Fuse Skin, which is an evolution of the existing [kangaroo] leather technology. It is a reimagining of the Copa’s classic leather treatment.”
Prototyping and testing
A prototype is created to test whether the initial design can actually become a functioning product. “We generally go through three or four rounds of prototypes,” says Ashcroft. “I'd say that the first round that we go through is exploration around design aesthetic. The second round then becomes testing.”
“We often first test the boot with amateur players playing in local regional leagues in Asia, the US, and in Europe,” says Saint-André. “They give us feedback but purely on the performance side of the product.”
Any aesthetic decisions have largely been made already, meaning the most important thing is to see if the boot works in the way it's supposed to. As well as select amateurs worldwide, adidas brings in professional players very early in the testing process. “It's really important for us to get feedback from the guys who are experts because, at the end of the day, the boot is their working tool,” says Saint-André.
The next part of the testing phase typically involves several rounds. Saint-André explains, “You have feet tests, where you just try on the boot to see if it's comfortable. You have wear tests during training sessions. Each component of the boot is also tested in the lab to make sure we're in accordance with the high-quality standards of adidas.” These stress tests are conducted in the lab, with everything from the knitted collar and kangaroo leather vamp to the sole plate put to the test.
Storytelling and launch
As the face of the Copa 19, Argentine star Dybala is helping adidas usher in the boot to a new generation of athletes.
“I think the biggest challenge with this was trying to figure out what a modern day leather boot looks like, and how you tell a new story that gives you performance benefits but is also street relevant,” says Ashcroft. “Copas are about leather, but then when you talk about progression, how do you revolutionize that leather boot story?”
It seems for the Copa 19 at least, revolutionizing the leather story involved rethinking the application of leather to a performance design, and finding a fresher and — most importantly — popular face to front the franchise: Dybala. The Copa 19 was first worn by Dybala in a Champions League game against Manchester United and was released on November 13 for $275 at adidas and select specialty retailers.
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