Does it have to be black? Not the best question to ask adidas Rugby when it comes to collaborating on a new design for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to be worn at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The answer to the adidas Statement team was of course a resounding “Yes, it has to be black”, but not just any black, here’s a substantial set of guidelines on the dos and don’ts of creating a jersey for the mighty All Blacks.
This was the start of an unlikely collaboration between the Rugby and Y-3 teams at adidas to create the fastest-selling adidas rugby jersey of all time.
More than just a jersey: Respecting culture and honoring heritage
Product Director Matthew Fielding took the jersey mantra of the New Zealand players to heart when he thought about how adidas could support the All Blacks in their bid for a fourth world rugby title.
“I joined our rugby business in 2014 and I’ve seen the jersey go through so many different iterations of technology – from the fit, the pattern, the fabrics, the response to the players’ body movements. When you ask a player, they’ll tell you if a jersey is good or bad. There’s not much more to their feedback. They just want to go out and concentrate on the game. They don’t want to have to be pulling a jersey up or down, moving it, adjusting the collar.”
“We’ve been innovating in apparel for many years having launched our strongest jerseys in 2015, the most fitted in 2016. Now it was time to find something extra to mark this brilliant sporting occasion in 2019, to make an impact not only for the people of New Zealand, who see the All Blacks as their national treasure, but also the new fans that would develop in Japan.”
All Blacks and Y-3: Fusing tough sport and high fashion
With the basics clear, a black jersey, that must perform, it was time for Matthew to find that something extra in the fashion side of adidas and, in particular, the Statement team who supports the partnership with Yohji Yamamoto and Y-3.
Lukas Ruprecht was the link. “As a creator sport brand we have strength in both sport and fashion. We had the Y-3 team create a Real Madrid jersey back in 2014 and also a tennis collection for Roland Garros. But this was different. This was all about creating a collection for an event happening in Y-3’s backyard.”
The most successful rugby team in the world, with one of the most renowned designers in the world and a design brief to be black, Yohji’s favorite color – it just made perfect sense.
The fern flourishes: Creativity brings performance and art together
The guidelines were a challenge for Lukas and the Y-3 team. “I wondered how much creative space we could still give the Yohjis…but they took it all on board and came up with a beautiful concept combining both Japanese and New Zealand culture.”
The emblematic fern remained untouched on the crest but moved onto the body of the jersey in the form of an impressive fern graphic.
Matthew explains, “It’s the first time we did such an intricate graphic and I worried it would change the structure of the jersey and create weak points, but it had the opposite effect. Putting such structure into the yarn made it stronger. I did have moments of panic and worried we couldn’t do Yohji’s beautiful design justice.”
When it came to D-Day with New Zealand Rugby, Matthew could stop holding his breath. “I can honestly say it was the easiest jersey sign-off we’ve ever had with the All Blacks given the level of complexity that was involved and the number of different teams.”
Confidence and collaboration deliver the dream
Matthew and Lukas are both clear about what made such a difficult collaboration on paper so successful in reality.
Matthew explains, “We were trusted by seniors to drive this project. This took out a lot of complexity. I would pick up the phone to Lukas and say, ‘We’ve got a sample to show,’ and Lukas would come running up the stairs to take a look at the product. We were like school kids. The excitement was infectious.”
“Although he has no rugby background, Lukas really wanted to make it work. If you have that passion, even if it’s something on top of your daily work, you really want to make it a success and take pride in the outcome.”
It’s all about relevance
When the All Blacks stepped onto the pitch in Yokohama for their opening Haka of the Rugby World Cup, they did so with 15 players wearing the fastest-selling jersey in their 20-year history with adidas.
This collaboration with Y-3 is clearly a hit and Matthew explains why:
“It’s all about relevance. We see lots of collaborations where you can’t see the link; people ask why are you working with them? Just because of their name, they do a good voice-over, etc.”
“This wasn’t the case for us. We have the World Cup in Japan, a Japanese designer, the best team in the world and a governing body in New Zealand that’s prepared to look at something a little bit differently. All parties involved were able to see this.”
“It has to make sense. Once you can make that connection and show that relevance, then all parties will sit up and listen. It certainly helps that it’s the All Blacks that we are creating for – as Lukas says ‘Why wouldn’t you want to work with the All Blacks? They are the best after all.’”