There are few things that bring the UK together in the way that football does. Whether you’re a casual player for your local grassroots team, a diehard fan of a big four premier league club — or neither — there’s no denying the infectious camaraderie and spirit that takes over the entire nation when a tournament like the World Cup or European Championship is on. It unites us all, regardless of whether you can name even five players on the pitch or not. It proves that for many, football is much more than just a game.
Fittingly, “Just A Game?!“ is the tongue-in-cheek mantra adopted by Sports Direct for their Euro 2020 campaign, for which they tapped Rav Matharu and his signature “sportswear meets Savile Row” design ethos. Better known by the moniker clothsurgeon, Rav launched his label over a decade ago, and it’s since become synonymous with the notion of modern streetwear’s utilitarian aesthetic and premium upcycled garments. He has a knack for merging premium fabrics with repurposed offcuts cut from backpacks, sweatpants, scarves — and anything else he can get his hands on. What he’s left with is a lineup of apparel and accessories that completely redefine the meaning of both streetwear and luxury fashion.
The Euro 2020 tournament is something that’s close to Rav’s heart; as a teenager he played professionally for Leeds United. So naturally, producing a capsule collection that blends football with high fashion is a convergence of the designer’s deepest passions. Taking inspiration directly from the ‘90s, Rav’s self-professed favourite era of football, the collection centers around four core pieces: a track jacket, track pants, a vest and a bucket hat. Each is a tailored fusion of premium wool and vintage football jerseys, plucked straight from Sports Direct’s archives. We caught up with Rav to find out more about his inspiration for the collab and how he’s doing his own bit to tackle representation within football — read on for more.
Under clothsurgeon, you work with a lot of premium fabrics. What did you find most challenging about working with football jerseys?
The biggest task was working with the wool suit fabrication and the technical performance jersey of the kit. It wasn’t too far from the fabrics we have used before, but it’s quite a stretchy fabric. So we had to make sure when patchworking that it sat correctly, and fit well together. Any slight curve within the fabric would have made it more bulbous and would have stretched it in a different way, so we had to be really careful with the cutting in particular.
You had free reign over Sports Direct’s extensive archives to pick out the kits you wanted to use in this collection. What stood out to you most about the ones you chose?
From the outset, I wanted to use kits that were from the Euros. I didn’t really want to use any club shirts, I wanted to choose teams from the actual competition. Sports Direct has an incredible archive so I was kind of spoilt for choice, but I wanted to limit the kind of colours. Each piece is unique, but I wanted it to look like the same collection. We wanted to use the England shirt, and to use a men’s and women’s shirt at the same time. Our brand is very exclusive in the sense we do a lot of bespoke work — which is one-off — but it’s very inclusive in the sense that there’s no particular customer. Our demographic is huge. We could have a 65-year-old man come in and then next week, it could be an 18-year-old girl who wants to make a tracksuit. We wanted to continue that message about our brand and what we do.
Our brand is very exclusive in the sense we do a lot of bespoke work — which is one-off — but it’s very inclusive in the sense that there’s no particular customer. Our demographic is huge.
Where did the inspiration come from in terms of the four pieces you chose to focus on in the collection, and how did you ensure they worked for all genders?
The direction that we chose was to reference kits from the ‘90s. The 1990 World Cup started my obsession with football. That was the era of oversized fits; a medium would fit like a double or triple XL. It was quite favorable in terms of girls looking amazing in the oversized products as well as the guys with a bit more fitted. Our customer seems to be heading towards an anti-fit kind of product.
It directly referenced the ‘90s and the England tracksuit. We simplified that tracksuit and made it our own. Our own brand is quite minimal in its approach and we focus on craftsmanship, quality, and cloth. So we minimized that and added the “broken but better” element with the patchwork shirts, which nods to the merging of a broken past and a brighter future. The vest was almost a reference to [training] bibs. It’s a signature piece within our collection; we do utility vests every season. It’s almost like a streetwear three-piece suit. You have your vest, your suit jacket and suit pants — and then the bucket hat was a must-have item within terrace culture and football in general.
What details on the garments are the most special to you?
We embroidered the garments with the “Just a Game?!” motif which is symbolic of the whole campaign. The beauty of the garments is that each one is different; each one is unique. So there will be no one piece the same due to the way it’s constructed. The patchwork falls in different places. For me, the shapes and the silhouettes are perfect: the oversized fit, and the way it comes together with a slightly more fitted vest. When we shot the campaign it really looked like a team was going to play a game but it could also be worn as a lifestyle item or as separates.
Why was it important for you to incorporate elements of accessibility and sustainability into this collection?
Our product is at quite an aspirational price point. It’s quite expensive due to the fabrication and construction. So to work on this [collaboration] and be able to have that accessible price point was amazing. This is cleverly priced at £90 GBP and £45 GBP as a nod to the game.
In terms of sustainability, that’s just something that we always do. I wouldn’t say we’re a sustainable brand, but it’s something that we always try to practice within the brand in our very own way. That’s always been our reconstruction process; taking something that exists and making it completely new. In this case, there was an amazing array of archive kits from Sports Direct [to choose from].
A part of what clothsurgeon does is fully bespoke; you can come in and create whatever you wish, and that is the most inclusive way to be.
The campaign visuals do a good job of spotlighting representation within football, both at a fan and player level. Why did you choose to include those who are often overlooked within the sport, like women and people of South Asian heritage, within the campaign?
Football brings people together from all walks of life. When I was playing, I was in a documentary by the BBC saying “Why aren’t there British South Asians in the professional game?” There were just no professional [British South Asian] players in the game and that hasn’t really changed to this day. This was an opportunity to say “this game is for everyone.” Everyone plays it. It’s accessible to anyone at any age or level. We wanted to reflect that within our campaign.
A part of what clothsurgeon does is fully bespoke; you can come in and create whatever you wish, and that is the most inclusive way to be. This is not meant for one kind of demographic or one customer, it’s meant for everyone to express themselves in their very own way. Right from the outset we wanted to create a campaign that appeals to everyone. It’s not just our brand that’s for everyone, but football too. It’s a beautiful game that brings people together.
Rav Matharu is Creative Director of clothsurgeon and designer of Sports Direct’s capsule collection for the Euros. The collection is inspired by the brand’s ‘Just A Game?!’ platform, which encourages a celebration of the wider culture surrounding football. Available at SportsDirect.com from 11th June.
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