When considering new basketball uniforms for partner schools, Under Armour's Creative Director of Team Sports, Adam Clement, went straight to the source for design inspiration: the players.
On May 2, 2013, Clement sat around Welsh-Ryan Arena center court with a select group of Northwestern University athletes and their newly minted head coach, Chris Collins, to find out what makes the Wildcats tick. Armed with an initial set of 25 questions, Clement collected information about the school's traditions, the current squad's routine, and the connection to nearby Chicago. From there, Northwestern's new By the Players uniform was built.
"As a designer when you are tapping into exactly what the consumer wants, it is a home run," said Clement. "We wanted to find out what inspired the kids and attracted them to the school."
In an era awash with special edition uniforms, Under Armour has produced a team kit that connects directly with the wearer. The conversation on May 2nd translates to the Under Armour AmourLight uniforms through hand-drawn icons. Notable markings are the words family, brotherhood and trust—defining terms chosen by the coaches and players as embodiments of the team. These words surround the school's large "N" logo on the side of the short. Chicago landmarks feature as well, notably the John Hancock Center, referencing the Northwestern's designation as the Windy City's Big10 team and the role of the vibrant center in the lives of the players. Coach Collin's mantra, Pound the Rock, and his call to "love the game!" (formed by a heart-shaped basketball) are also incorporated.
Digging deeper, the uniforms also reveal some of the team's quirks.
"It's interesting," said Clement. "All the players have a pre-game ritual. They all like to treat themselves to a steak dinner once in a while."
As such, nods to headphones and video games appear. So too does an appetizing steak. All are part of giving voice to the team's interests.
In an era awash with special edition uniforms, Under Armour has produced a team kit that connects directly with the wearer.
Beyond the icons, the uniforms also draws from more traditional player-driven design cues. Those pinstripes? A tribute to the nearby Chicago Bulls iconic look. The grey color is a first for Northwestern, and one the players were especially excited to wear.
"Northwestern is as good of a partner as we can have," said Clement. "The school understands where we are in this day and age to attract recruits and open to change. But does so in a way that taps into all that history."
Under Armour and Northwestern relationship began in the summer of 2012 with the introduction of a new football uniform. At that time, Clement's design zeroed in on the school's sporting tradition—the pioneering of the jersey stripe—and coupled it with Gothic stonework echoing the university's famous buildings in the numbers. The stripe is the final piece and defining element of the By the Players uniform. Spectators will notice the strip first, it is what Clement notes as the "500 foot read," before zeroing in on the John Hancock Center at 50 feet away, and finally, those on court and watching on TV, will clock the 5-foot read—the unique icons that define the 2013/14 Wildcats.
A lucky few will also spot a tiny little outlier: a fly. An hour into his chat with team, Clement noticed a fly swirling around the group. One of the players became obsessed with catching it. With his bare hands. The inside joke now features just outside the "N" logo on the shorts, mirroring the fly's original position outside the center court circle. It's a small detail. But one that ties the experience together. A uniform for players, by players.
The Wildcats will debut their new kit against the Fighting Illini of Illinois on Sunday, January 12, in Evanston, Ill.