Launched in May, Sacramento Republic FC's 'City Kit' was one of a number in the Championship this season that aimed to celebrate their home city. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
This week’s unveiling of the USL Championship’s “Culture Collection” has given teams across the league a new spin on jersey designs aimed to tie into the history and culture of the cities that make up the league.
But the concept kits produced by USL Digital’s team also serve as an extension of a broader trend that has been highly visible across the Championship this season. Whether through special edition pregame or game jerseys, or fully-fledged third kits, more and more clubs have expanded their horizons to create designs that they believe will resonate with fans and reflect their communities.
Among the visible examples of this is Sacramento Republic FC’s “City Kit”, officially launched in May and worn regularly by the club throughout the season. One of the major projects undertaken by the club’s Vice President of Marketing, Allison Yee-Garcia, when she joined the club last August, creating the right concept for the kit was the starting point of the creative process.
“For this season where we landed was, let’s use this as an opportunity to really celebrate the city and what Sacramento represents,” said Yee-Garcia. “How can we most effectively tell that story? We had a few concepts right off the top and then we start to refine them. We landed in a place where the inspiration from the city flag was what we felt like was the strongest, and we had some fresh and cool designs we could explore from there.”
Sacramento Republic FC's 'City Kit' drew inspiration from the city's flag, which was included as a sleeve patch in the final design.
Featuring two blue tones separated by a band of white, Sacramento’s city flag represents the confluence of the American River and Sacramento River in the middle of the city. Taking the darker of the two blues as the base for the kit, incorporating small emblems that represent the city in the lighter shade on the front, the final design includes the City Flag on one sleeve and gave Republic FC a look that was a major departure from its traditional Old Glory Red home uniforms.
“I think that we really wanted to do this alternate or third kit this season as an opportunity to branch out and try something new, while still staying true to the roots of the club,” said Yee-Garcia. “I think we did that in the color palette that we used, but the color has a real meaning and story to it, so it still feels authentic to the city and the club.”
As Sacramento looked to its city for inspiration, at El Paso Locomotive FC the inspiration for the club’s special edition Noche de Locos uniforms came to Graphic Designer Itzel Zambrano from her own Mexican heritage that can also be found throughout the Borderplex and during her travels in Mexico. A native of Juarez – which sits directly across the border from El Paso – Zambrano used a trip to the Guanajuato region in Mexico to find ideas that could be incorporated into the jersey being worn twice this month, with September the month of Mexico’s Independence Day.
“I looked for inspiration around the city and the country and just looked at different textures and what other cultures are doing,” said Zambrano. “We took a little bit of the Day of the Dead, and also because the skull, it’s an icon for a Mexican, and we wanted to grab an icon that’s internationally known, and that also that people around the club who are Americans, Mexicans, everyone can identify with. We wanted to blend a little bit with the skull, the colors, our colors, and a little bit of Papel Picardo that’s also very common to Mexicans.”
El Paso Locomotive FC's special edition 'Noche de Locos' jerseys is set to be worn twice in September, with a limited run of jerseys being made available to fans. | Photo courtesy Jorge Salgado / El Paso Locomotive FC
The result – worn for the first time in Locomotive FC’s game on September 4 against Tulsa Roughnecks FC – was an unforgettable visual that embraced the rich iconography found throughout the region.
“It’s just a piece of clothing, but it can say a lot, it can represent people, it can unite people, and it has a lot of power,” said Zambrano. “When people wear it they can feel proud of the culture, they feel represented, so I think a jersey can do a lot, and I’m glad that it’s transitioning to more than just a jersey that identifies a team, but in this case it’s identifying more than a team, it’s identifying a culture.”
That idea of representing a region or a culture has been visible elsewhere. From San Antonio FC’s pregame jerseys celebrating the city’s 2019 Fiesta, Louisville City FC’s pregame jerseys the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby, or the special edition Meow Wolf jerseys worn recently by New Mexico United, local color is finding a place in the designs conceptualized by the Championship’s clubs.
Being able to push the envelope in that manner is also giving the clubs a chance to reach a new audience, with the crossover between soccer culture and fashion seemingly finding more common ground on a yearly basis.
“I think probably for any club a third or alternate kit is always a little bit of a risk depending on how far you push it,” said Yee-Garcia. “I think it’s always an opportunity for us to do something that feels right for our long-term fans and most dedicated fans, but something that also helps open doors for the club to new fans and for people to engage with our club and our brand that maybe we weren’t top of mind for initially. Now this is something they feel they can connect to and they feel like represents their style and something that they’d be excited to wear.”
That was reflected in the fashion shoot that accompanied the release of Republic FC’s “City Kits”, which showcased the jerseys in casual settings in addition to being modeled by the club’s players at Papa Murphy’s Park.
“The design itself pushed the envelope a little bit for us on the fashion end, and because of where we landed with the kits it felt like the campaign and the imagery we put around it really needed to push that narrative even further and go down a path that is a little more in line with where you see a lot of global soccer culture, and the fashion culture around soccer going,” said Yee-Garcia. “We wanted to dip our toes in that a little bit and try it on and I think we’ve seen a really positive response to it.”
As more teams in the Championship, USL League One and elsewhere in the North American soccer community look to push the envelope with their on-field style, unique designs seem set to become more commonplace as fans get the chance to represent their club and communities.
For the people tasked with dreaming up the ideas that will eventually come to represent their clubs, that’s nothing but good news.
“I mean, for me I love seeing it on people, more than having it in my hands,” said Zambrano of the Noche de Locos design. “I love seeing people walking around, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s not something I did, it’s something that’s part of this team, this city and that is a huge, huge thing.”