July 22 2020 – Mitchell Grimes
This week we caught up with Oliver Bechtel, director at Adidas Football to talk about working with Ronnie Fieg & David Beckham, the kit design process and the 2018 Los Angeles FC Home Shirt.
Hey Oliver! firstly could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Adidas?
My official title reads Director – Product Management Apparel - BU Football. In this role I am in general overseeing a group of Product Managers in charge of the range creation (Match, Training and Off-Pitch) of a wide variety of global football clubs such as Boca Juniors, Celtic Glasgow, Ajax Amsterdam, Leicester, Leeds and many more.
Additional to that my group is also in charge of the Jersey creation for each single club in the Major League Soccer. As a director I am specifically also in charge of driving the vision and the overall product strategy of adidas and respective clubs forward.
In Marketing we are steering, coordinating and driving the x-functional work between Marketing (Product Management), Design and Development forward in order to create the best possible product for our clubs. During this process we are also having direct contact with the club in order to ensure we address everyone’s interest.
Can you tell us about your background in football and how you became involved in the industry?
That's actually a very long story, considering that I am in this business since over 20 year which is reminding me again how old I am *lol*. I guess the business and the people around me keep me young. Ill try to cut it short. I started a trainee program with Puma in 1996 and have been lucky to get a position offered in football marketing in 1999.
This is actually where I learned my business. I was fortunate enough to have a great boss at that time, who has taught me and empowered me a lot. We pretty much have been a two men show and through this I was exposed and involved in some great projects. I was able to work on the Puma King x Jill Sander cross-over which was a huge success and started the trend of bringing football boots to the street. I want to believe that what we have created at that time has shaped a big portion of the football x streetwear culture that you still see today. I worked on the v1.06 as well as on the original Puma King SL.
In 2005 I made the move over to adidas, which is literally only across the street. That was the moment my career and the projects I worked on accelerated. Again, I was surrounded by a great team of designers and developers and over the years we created some true milestones in adidas football history. Over the course of the next years I was working on multiple Predators, e.g. Predator_X where people still call me out for killing the tongue on the Preds.
I have been working with David Beckham on some of his signature shoes and I was working on some of the original adi launches, such as the very first adiPure and the TUNIT, which some might still remember. In 2013 I made the switch from Footwear to Apparel which is where I am today. In the last years I have been driving the collaboration strategy in Licensed (football club business) forward which resulted in working with Ronnie Fieg on the Kith drops and with Gosha Rubchinskiy on the World Cup collections. Now I am focusing completely on the creation of the club business which is quite exciting.
Are you able to talk us through the kit design process? Is it similar for every kit or do different clubs require different processes?
The theory behind our creation process is rather simple and straight forward. Everything starts with a briefing which is being created between the respective club and ourselves. The brief basically lines out where we want to go from a concept, story and colour direction for the new season.
This brief will be the base for our design team to turn a basic idea into a visual reality. Here the specific challenge is not only to create a Jersey that represents the club, its identity and its community but also to create a Jersey that represents Adidas as a brand. The design phase normally spreads over several weeks and goes through several stages. During this phase we review designs as a team in so called gut-checks.
Once this process is finalised, we share the designs with the respective clubs and go through working sessions with them. As soon as we have agreed on a final design, we hand everything over to our development team to create real samples. Samples are being signed-off with the club again and we prepare for production. All of this is tied to a strict calendar and official milestones and will take between 15-18 month from briefing to actual launch of the product. Please understand that this is a very simplified summary, there is more complexity and granularity to it.
Since we deal with individuals (and often “real characters”) such as Club Owners or Presidents the practice is often different to the theory and we need to treat every club individually. Even though the basic process of brief-design-sample-production remains the same, in order to ensure in-time-delivery, everything in between needs often to be handled in a very flexible way, especially when it comes to timelines. Product Managers are called Product Managers for a reason (*lol*); a lot of expectation-, process-, timeline- and relationship management needs to happen to get things done within a given frame with the best possible outcome.
What can we expect from you and Adidas kits in future?
I guess “the best”. We aim to be the best sports brand in the world, and we believe that through sports we have the power to change the life’s. We want to contribute and help to change people’s life with what we are doing. Football is a very emotional sport and the Jersey is THE ultimate symbol of expression.
The Jerseys that we create should evoke emotions, should help to create a sense of belonging and should help to express one’s individuality. So, with this our ultimate vision is that with every Jersey that we create we create memories. The Jerseys we create should be part of each fans story. This is what drives us, this is what gets us out of bed every morning.
Did you have a favourite kit that you've worked on?
Over the course of the last years I have been able to work on some good kits but the one that stands out, and that might be a bit unusual, is the 2017 Kith Cobras Jersey. Id pick this kit not so much for how it looks (even though it is an unbelievable kit) but much more for what is personally represents for me.
You must understand, if you are “born” into this industry there is a certain way of working and a certain routine how you do things and working with Ronnie Fieg and his team has totally shook my world. The way he looks at things, the way he works was so different to what I have known until then. It certainly was very challenging at the beginning but the work with him and his team has given me a new point of view and certainly was a decisive moment in my career. So, I would pick this.
What kit have you chosen for MY KIT?
Very difficult one as many kits evoke good memories for me, 1990 Germany and 2014 Germany (obviously), also the 19981 Boca Jersey (I am a huge Maradona fan) come to mind BUT, and here I would go an unusual way again (and some might laugh), I would pick the 2018 Inaugural Los Angeles FC Jersey.
What is it about this kit that connects with you?
I have a rather “romantic” view on what football should be and I like the idea that the 1% of pros are very closely connected to the 99% of fans and amateurs. LAFC is a very good representation of that idea. The way the club has been “created” since his establishment in 2014 and the way the club is still connected to its community and how it drives change within the community through sport resonates very well with me.
Since MLS creation also falls under my responsibility, I have had multiple trips to LA and had multiple opportunities to meet different stakeholders of the club. Every meeting is inspirational and in every meeting the club emphasises how important their community is. In general, I have to say I feel very attracted by the story and the style of this club. I feel a lot of the so called “global” clubs in Europe have lost this connection to the fan and/or their community.
I think there is a general misconception about MLS outside the US but there are many cool clubs with great stories and if you are interested to learn more, LAFC is probably one to start with. Additional to that the club and the shirts have tons of “swag”.
Which players immediately comes to mind when you look at the kit?
Again, very unusual and very different but the first name that comes to mind when I see the shirt is Rich Orosco. He is the Executive Vice President of Brand & Community at LAFC, so no, not a player. He is the master mind behind the club and every conversation with him is eye opening. He was the driving force behind how the club has been set up.
How he drove this process, how the community has been actively involved since day one and how he managed the balance between LA local community and LA “high-society” all the way to how the Stadium is built is incredible. You gotta love this guy and the story behind the club.
Favourite footballing memory in this Kit?
This must have been the first time we have shown this kit to the club. There is a certain anticipation, excitement and stress before we show first designs to a club – as it could go in any direction - and the pressure on this one was quite high.
First ever kit for a completely new club that has put so much efforts in binding with their community, their fans and their base – you certainly don't want to f*** this up. Went great, they loved the shirt and they won their first game in it. All sorted ☺.
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