Football with jerseys

Do Football Clubs Design Their Own Kits?

Sometimes it feels like a football club releases a new kit every single week. On the international scene, a nation will generally unveil a new playing strip in time for a major tournament – as England did prior to Euro 2024 and that was a design that did not go down well with fans.

Although it’s a classic England kit in most regards, there’s one anomaly that has drawn the ire: the St George’s Cross was given a ‘playful update’ by manufacturers Nike, who recoloured the graphic with navy, pink and purple instead of the traditional white and red.

It’s an update that hasn’t been welcomed particularly playfully by England supporters, with the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, even throwing out a hot take. “When it comes to our national flags, we shouldn’t mess with them because they’re a source of pride, identity, who we are, and they’re perfect as they are,” he said.

The Football Association attempted to defend Nike’s offering, claiming that the colour change was a homage to the victorious World Cup winning squad of 1966 – without offering much in the way of context as to how the kit achieved exactly that.

Even the players wearing the strip appeared to be less than enamoured with it – Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott chose to play with his collar up, a la Eric Cantona, in a bid to hide the flag on the back. Releasing a new kit is supposed to be an unfettered cash grab, not a PR own goal, which makes you wonder why football clubs and nations don’t handle the design work themselves. Or, do they?

Who Was the First Football Club to Sell Replica Kits?

1973 FA Cup Final: Leeds vs Sunderland
1973 FA Cup Final: Leeds vs Sunderland (Sunderland Echo /

Back in the early days of football in the 1800s, football kits were rather different. They were typically plain jerseys, made of cheap material that had little more than a club badge or insignia on them. There was no need for big sponsorship logos or manufacturer emblems back then. Most football clubs around the world have a colour attached to them, traditionally, or a specific design – Glasgow Celtic, whose white-and-green hoops are infamous, first wore such a pattern back in 1903, and it would be impossible for them to deviate away from it.

For decades, the kit design of a football club almost took care of itself – traditional colours and patterns went largely unchanged for years. But in the 1970s, that attitude began to change – clubs began to cotton on to the idea that their fans would want to dress as their heroes. The first replica shirts were put on sale courtesy of an unlikely source. Representatives from Admiral, a company that specialised in hosiery with a side-line in sportswear, stumbled upon a meeting with Leeds United boss, Don Revie, in 1973 – more by luck than judgement, it has to be said.

They showed Revie some samples of what Admiral had done in the sports sector previously, and the manager was suitably impressed – as Division One champions at the time, he wanted his Leeds United side to look the part. A deal was struck, with Admiral paying Leeds to manufacture their kit before patenting the design – thus, they were the only firm that could sell them on to the public. The idea was a goldmine: the kit sold well, and Admiral would later design the playing shirt for England, again while Reavie was in charge. Other manufacturers began to take note, and soon a multi-million pound niche was up and running.

Do Football Clubs Make Their Own Kit?

Generally speaking, a manufacturer like Nike, Adidas – or Admiral, even – pays a football club an amount that could be described as a ‘licensing fee’. They go off, design a kit, hope to get the green light from club officials and then manufacture and distribute the new shirt at scale – taking the lion’s share of each sale, save for a ‘royalties’ payment to the club. It’s a nice little earner – worldwide sales of Liverpool replica shirts during the 2022/23 season reached 1.8 million. At around £70 a pop to buy at retail… well, you do the math.

With so much money to be made, it’s perhaps not a huge surprise that many clubs over the years have set up their own in-house design, manufacture and retail operation – cutting out the big brands and scooping up the cash for themselves. Barcelona, for example, are thought to be ending their 25-year association with Nike to manage their own kit production via their Barca Licensing & Merchandising brand.

Southampton have had more than one stint designing and making their own kits, including one as recently as 2014/15 when their deal with Adidas fell through – as a result, it’s believed, of the German manufacturer’s previous design, which saw the Saints shorn of their traditional vertical stripes.

That wasn’t the first time either, with Southampton launching their own firm – Saints – to design the club’s kit for the best part of a decade between 1999 and 2008. It was a business decision that was all the rage in the 1990s. Leicester City created their own sportswear brand, Fox Leisure, to manufacture their playing kit and related items like tracksuits, loungewear and footwear. But it all came to an end in 2001, when French outfit Le Coq Sportif were brought in.

Ipswich Town utilised their ‘Punch’ subsidiary as their kit manufacturer, while legendary 90’s side Wimbledon made their own kit for a time – the normal maker’s emblem replaced with their nickname, the ‘Crazy Gang’. Bristol City have also had a couple of stints making their own wares – during the 1993/94 season, they wore a logo for ‘Nibor’, not an overseas manufacturer, but their nickname (Robin) spelt backwards.

Lastly, how about Sheffield Wednesday? They set up their own in-house production team, Elev8, to make their kit – which also happened to be the name of an energy drinks company that the club’s owner, Dejphon Chansiri, was attempting to set up.