The standout star of the World Cup isn’t a player—it’s a jersey. Maybe you’ve seen it: lime green and black with chevron patterns running up and down the front? For the last few weeks, Nigeria’s home kit has been everywhere. Hypebeast fashion nerds swooned over the launch. GQ called it a “street wear grail.” The line reportedly sold out (that’s more than 3 million jerseys, mind you) in just an hour after its launch.
That a World Cup jersey became an international phenomenon isn’t weird—the tournament is designed to sell swag and market allegiance. What is weird is how wonderfully graphical the jersey is to begin with. Soccer kits aren’t known for their exceptional graphical qualities. Mostly, they’re designed for old-school fans who want to wear a crest and a color. With a few exceptions, namely Australia’s animal-striped sleeves and Spain’s geometric decal, this year is no different. Clever graphics are an afterthought, if a thought of at all, which is what makes the Nigeria kit so interesting.
We were curious about the process of designing the World Cup’s flashiest kit, so we spoke to Dan Farron, the lead designer of Nike’s soccer division, who gave us a little insight into the process. Farron says designing Nigeria’s jerseys began a couple of years ago in anticipation for the 2018 World Cup. Like any branding exercise, the design process starts with figuring out what the jersey needs to communicate. In the case of Nigeria, it was about the fusion of art, fashion, and sport.
To develop the design, Nike’s team traveled to Nigeria to talk to local soccer fans and immerse themselves in the country’s music and art scenes. They quickly realized that in Nigeria, sports and art were intricately intertwined. “The more research we undertook, the more we saw the links between athlete and artists,” Farron says. “They are all connected in some way and inspired by each other.”
This presented the designers with a unique opportunity. Unlike many European countries with storied soccer traditions, Nigeria’s team is relatively young (the country participated in its first World Cup in 1994). The designers wanted to take advantage of the team’s youthfulness and push the boundaries of what they’re usually allowed to do with teams that are steeped in decades of expectation.
In years past, Nigeria’s team sported jerseys in a more classic style. In 2014, the team wore a leafy green shirt with dark green stripes. In 2012, the kit was an even tamer green with a simple white piping. When Matthew Wolff, the main graphic designer on Nike’s team, came across the jerseys for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S., he knew that was the ticket. The 1994 kit centered around the sleeves, which bore a black-and-white wing pattern—an homage to the team’s name, the Super Eagles.
Wolff and his fellow graphic designers started to think about how they could make the wing pattern from the 1994 kit feel more contemporary. They decided to abstract the shape of a wing into a feathery chevron pattern that runs down the front in stripes. The main body of the jersey is a glowing lime hue, while the sleeves sport the same pattern in black. It’s a perfectly Instagrammable contrast, which certainly didn’t hurt the jersey’s popularity.
In a conversation with the website, The Athletic, Pete Hoppins, another design director at Nike, explained that the team started out with a more traditional design. “When our designer Matthew Wolff was designing the kit, we said, ‘Okay, keep it traditional on one of the kits and on the other one, just go all out,’” Hoppins said. “I’ve been looking back at some of the original designs and they were definitely not as full-on as where we landed.”
Where they landed is just outside the bounds of where the design of typical jerseys go. The kit might be a win for graphic design, but good graphic doesn’t doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win, of course. Nigeria is already out of the World Cup tournament, but its lime green kit will live on through the more than 3 million people who bought it.