adidas Football and the Rise of the Fourth Kit
The home and away kits are pretty self-explanatory. And third kits have firmly established themselves as an important part of football these days – even if some of their late-season releases are questionable – but fourth kits are a relatively new phenomenon.
In recent years, arguably starting in the 2020-21 season, clubs have unveiled fourth kits at an alarming rate. Most of these strips have no official role and will never be worn on professional pitch, although some associations allow odd appearance in the league.
This naturally led to accusations of greed from some fans, with these fourth kits often seen as nothing more than just another thing for fans to shell out.
“The fourth kits are a space where we can explore with more creative freedom,” said Ingo Turner, design director at adidas Football. OBJECTIVE. “We saw it as an area to evolve the creative space in football shirt design and try things that we couldn’t do otherwise.
“We also consider them part of the matchwear collection, so we often create them as fully playable kits with the ambition to have them on the playing field.”
Making kits usable on the pitch brings its own challenges, with leagues all having certain rules about what a kit can and cannot look like. Caps on the number of colors and crests or placement of graphics are enforced worldwide, but there’s still more than enough wiggle room to take a different approach.
“Because it’s fairly new, it’s also undefined, so we can go any direction and explore,” Turner says of the fourth category of kits. “We can partner with artists and creatives/designers, we can work with communities, supporters, we can connect with them in a different way than we might be able to do elsewhere.”
As Turner says, the ability to work with external partners is a key draw of the fourth kits and helps explain the popularity of collaborations in this space.
Since fourth kits have become a major category, clubs and kit makers have often turned to fashion designers to co-create kits. Pharrell’s Human Made have designed kits for a number of adidas teams, while Napoli have worked with Marcelo Burlon, and London skate brand Palace have stepped in through a collaboration with Juventus.
“Collaborations in football are relatively new, so I think it brings something very progressive and creative where sometimes it’s not as easy to do on one of the first three kits,” Turner continued. “Collaborations in general are nothing new, if you compare them to the sneaker industry which has been in this territory for many years.
“I think it’s something that takes the kit into a new and interesting space, and the shirts are such huge symbols for fans and people that they get a lot of attention, so you can really bring partners together. unexpected or interesting with a very engaged community.”
The criticisms of the fourth kits and their role in football are understandable, but they also serve a purpose outside the game. A team’s fans may be more interested in wearing these kits as part of their daily lives, while using collaborators gives clubs a chance to reach people they might otherwise miss.
“Football and fashion have always been there and have a long authentic history, but in the last five years or so they’ve really intensified,” says Turner, pointing to some of the work adidas has done with Yohji Yamamoto. , most recently the range including the incredible black out away kit.
“We want to capture the excitement and diversity of the world and culture. Football shirts in particular are also very tribal but also diverse, they represent the diversity of people, of sport, of times, they are iconic and football is the sport of the world, so the rich tapestry of that identity, I think, lends itself to being fused with fashion and the unique way people like to present themselves and style their hair.
“Sport has influenced fashion, which in turn goes elsewhere and influences it back, it’s very creative and evolving.”
So far, most fourth kits have focused on fashion, but other clubs are taking it with different approaches.
At last season’s FA Cup, Arsenal came out in an all-white kit, helping to raise awareness about knife crime in London and shining a light on an important issue.
Whether in terms of new design directions or public statements, the fourth kits are beginning to establish their own role in the sport. Whatever you think of them, it’s clear they’re not going anywhere yet.