When it comes to superstar talent, adidas Football’s lineup reads like an all-star team sheet that includes names such as Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, and David Beckham. For a long time, these players and their performance was the brand’s primary focus; however, most people don’t play football on the big stage, by the majority it’s played on the streets at a grassroots level and, as a result, has long been a part of street culture all over the world.
In the past few years, the Three Stripes has embraced and celebrated this aspect of the sport with projects spanning streetwear, music, and youth development programs. We discussed this new direction with adidas Football's Creative Director Sam Handy who explained, “Football goes beyond playing on a grass pitch. adidas’ ‘stadium to street’ mantra bridges the gap between traditional football product and streetwear culture.”
The switch has recently manifest in coveted collaborations with it-designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy and streetwear OGs like KITH. Fusing the very latest fashion-forward aesthetics into performance wear, these collaborations bridge two similar worlds and merge the lifestyle aspect of the sport with the game side. As evidence of its boundary-breaking success, the collections have been spotted on the likes of Post Malone, Justin Bieber, Migos, Jonah Hill, Kanye West, ASAP Rocky, and Kendall Jenner. Typically, however, it’s been the cultural melting pot that is streetwear that’s appropriated football garments, rather than the other way around. Handy sees this as a mistake, “Sports apparel can break barriers in streetwear, it doesn’t always need to be the other way around.” He continues, “The streetwear culture is all about trying new things and not sticking to the norm. Sports labels can learn a lot from this.”
adidas Football’s work with Rubchinskiy is perhaps the greatest embodiment of this ethos as the Three Stripes champions a sought-after contemporary designer en route to the biggest footballing stage of them all, the FIFA World Cup. Spanning three seasons, the partnership was revealed at the beginning of 2017 in Kaliningrad, Russia (home to one of many stadiums used during this year’s World Cup). For each collection, Rubchinskiy looked to Russian youth culture in the ‘80s and ‘90s and regularly alluded to iconic football looks. The resulting contemporary interpretations look equally at home on the pitch, in the stand, or on the streets.
In discussing the collaboration, Rubchinskiy echoes Sam Handy’s earlier sentiment, “By teaming up with adidas Football it’s enabled me to celebrate the youth of Russia in the eyes of the world by creating garments which combine my vision of fashion with the best sportswear brand on the market.” Through such collaborations, adidas Football is enabling and empowering young talent, helping to push the culture forward rather than simply riding on the back of it. Handy believes other sportswear labels can do a better job by “Recognising what streetwear culture is about, putting a part of that in the design process, and not adding it in as an extra thing at the end.”
This is a breath of fresh air at a time when everyone and their mother is jumping aboard the streetwear bandwagon. Handy articulates the entire brand's genuine understanding and appreciation of the culture — he, in fact, spent many years as a designer at maharisihi — and, of course, this is nothing new to adidas who's other branches (such as Originals) have been an important part of it for some time.
For adidas Football, projects like this are a testing ground and learning opportunity. “Our aim is to continue pushing ourselves in trying new things in design and performance to ultimately give the players on the pitch the best performance shirt possible and give the street culture a jersey which they would want to wear,” explains Handy. “We want to bring the stadium to the street but then some of the street culture to the stadium as well.” And the brand isn't just taking these risks as part of collaborations, adidas Football’s 2018 World Cup jerseys are as much about fashion as they are football and an embodiment of the ways it's embracing contemporary lifestyle trends.
The brand first saw success with fashion-forward jerseys in 2016 when hip-hop superstar Drake took to Instagram in a pink Juventus away jersey; the image received over 600,000 likes and the bold shirt quickly became a street style favorite. Fast forward to 2018 and adidas Football reveals the all-new adidas Federations’ kits for the likes of Germany, Spain, Japan, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Russia, all undeniably designed for the street as well as the stadium.
The kits are inspired by ones from each nation’s past, meaning they fit directly into the current fashion zeitgeist for nostalgic ‘80s and ‘90s-inspired design. Russia’s home kit, for example, is a modern interpretation of the jersey worn by the Soviet Union during the 1988 Olympic Games while Germany’s is inspired by their iconic shirt from 1990 when they defeated Argentina in the tournament final. Then there are the bold, Instagram-worthy colors worn by Mexico, Colombia, and Spain, and Japan’s jerseys that take inspiration directly from both classic Japanese design and contemporary Japanese streetwear. Again, these aren't last minute add-ons, they're ideas literally woven into the fabric of each design to make equal part fashion- and performance-focused.
For some brands, their devotion to a cause stops at product, but adidas Football has committed to launching two tangible initiatives in the last year aimed at helping young talent develop their skills on and off the pitch. Last September, the brand launched the “Tango Squad,” a team of socially-savvy and creative teenagers from 15 cities worldwide. This year, it opened Creator Bases in locations like London and Moscow that feature World Cup screening spaces, Panna cages, creative workshops, street football tournaments, and live music performances from the likes of Stormzy, AJ Tracey, and Russian rapper Pharaoh. Reaching out and allowing the entire community to play a part, the brand demonstrates once again that it understands the two closely aligned worlds that it's connecting.
Whether for good or bad reasons, football has and always will be an important part of street culture. Many of the world’s best players started out playing in their local community, anywhere they could and with whatever they could find; the game offers young, lesser privileged individuals what seems like a tangible career and a ladder up. Then, of course, there’s streetwear’s adoption of terrecewear and the football casual aesthetic that’s led to the reemergence of brands like Stone Island — but generally ignores the subcultures muddied history. All in all, the relationship is complicated and steeped in cultural history.
Going forward, however, adidas Football wants to lead the charge in a positive direction. “Street culture and football are very similar, they’re both about togetherness, being a team, supporting each other, and trying to succeed,” explains Handy. “There is no reason why sport and streetwear can’t mix, we’ve seen it done for years and right now, with streetwear having such a big influence on culture in general, it’s time for sport-specific labels to continue pushing it and taking it in different directions.” And anything or anyone that champions such progression is something that we should all get behind because as much as nostalgia is important for appreciating the past, it's essential that we celebrate and support the future too.
Find out more about adidas Football’s ongoing projects at adidas.com/football. Check out the federation jerseys and collaborations via the link below and keep up to date with all the latest on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.