Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon character once famously peppered Michael Jordan with the question “Is it the shoes?”, attempting to find out the secret to His Airness’s success. When you look at the most stylish athletes in the world, however, a better question to ask would be “Is it the helmets?” Or lack thereof? The debate over which sport has the most swag is really a one-on-one competition between basketball and soccer. It is not a coincidence that those two sports don’t require helmets, placing players and their faces front and center instead of hidden behind layers of plastic and foam like their counterparts in football, baseball, and hockey.
But if forced to choose between the two, soccer edges out hoops because of the international flavor. When you have Italian players on French clubs touring American cities, you get a melting pot of influences, both in style of play and style of dress. Because soccer is truly a global game, players are exposed to so many different cultures and are able to synthesize all of that into what they choose to wear. It results in great diversity. There isn’t one “soccer look.” No one would look at Cristiano Ronaldo or Paul Pogba or Andrea Pirlo and think that they all shop at the same stores.
“Soccer is a very expressive sport. Every player has their own signature, and I think that carries with the player off the field. Soccer players know how to embrace their style expressions,” says MLS senior vice president of consumer products Maribeth Towers.
That style expression comes through in a new capsule collection from streetwear brand Publish and the Portland Timbers. Launched last week as part of the Major League Soccer’s Rivalry Week, in which the Timbers defeated the Seattle Sounders 4–2, the collection includes a cap, a coaches jacket, a T-shirt, and jogger pants.
The move is a welcome signal not just for fans of the Timbers, but for fans of all sports. Let’s face it, most sports apparel lacks a “cool factor.” Outside of a few brands like Mitchell & Ness, most of the gear is cookie cutter. Slap a huge logo on the front of a team-colored T-shirt, sweatshirt, or hat and call it a day. That results in clothes you barely want to wear to the game, let alone anywhere afterward.
The “Timbers by Publish” collection is the opposite of that garish gear. “We wanted to create a collection that was inspired by on and off field minimalism…pieces that anyone could wear and feel like they weren’t wearing generic team merchandise ” says Publish brand director Alex James.
In keeping with the Timbers’ name and aesthetic, the clothes feature a wood grain print that is subtle and draws you into the garment. The team name on the sleeves of the extended hem coaches jacket and the logo on the track pants is tonal, another stark departure from traditional loud team apparel. It’s a recognition of the kind of clothes fans want, not the ones that are forced on them.
“A major demographic of our fans are young, diverse, and tech-savvy consumers,” says MLS’s Towers. “This demographic aligns well with that of streetwear. Through these capsule collections, we’re looking to enable fans to continue to celebrate the soccer culture through their personal lives.”
The mood board for the project featured black and white photos of Pelé and Bob Marley as well as vintage images from iconic soccer brands like Adidas and Umbro. The fact that the collection was for the Portland Timbers, who have one of the most passionate fan bases in American sports, not just MLS, heightened the intensity of the project.
“We knew we had to come correct,” says James. “We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into our work and it shows.”
This isn’t the first time that a streetwear brand has collaborated with an MLS team. Southern California sneaker boutique Undefeated worked on a collection with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2014. But hopefully it is a trend that continues, not just in soccer but in all sports. Publish, for one, can’t wait.
Says James, “Timbers by Publish is just the tip of the iceberg for hybrid team clothing.”