One of the most innovative sportswear companies in recent times as been the Italy-based Erreà. Through technical sponsorship deals around Europe with football teams and other sporting associations, the brand continues to build its reputation as a respected manufacturer of high performance clothing and equipment. We spoke to Michael Craddock, their UK Customer Services Controller.
Michael, thanks so much for speaking to us. Firstly, could you just let us know what your particular role at Erreà entails?
I look after the day-to-day affairs of Erreà's UK retail outlets and I act as liaison between our UK professional clubs and our in-house Design and Production departments. So, basically, I get paid to talk about football all day. It's tough.
That does sound like Hell. So what qualifications, skills and experience is required for your job?
Other than the usual secondary school exams, I do not have any specific qualifications for my work here at Erreà. I obtained my original position within the company as a result of my previous 20 years of experience of the UK marketplace, including 10 years working directly with amateur, semi-professional and professional sports clubs and associations, prior to moving to Italy.
So you're saying that not only did your work revolve around football for a decade in the UK but then you got to move to a Mediterranean country as well? Ok, moving on, what about the designers? What does it take to go and design football kits in the sun?
All the staff in our Graphic Design department have specific qualifications from the Italian Institute of Art.
Riiiiiight. I'm on it. Regarding the work you do, primarily in the UK, Grimsby Town have recently featured on FootballShirtCulture.com due to there being a fan vote to choose next season's home shirt. You supply their kit so how does that decision affect you as a company and are you involved in that said decision to put the shirt to a vote?
Grimsby Town are a club that still retains a local feel and has a very close connection to the club's fans. The club had reached a point in the selection process where they were faced with a direct choice between a shirt with a 'classic' look and one with a more modern innovative design and they decided that the fans should be the ones to make the final choice. We were not involved in the decision to put it to a vote, but it certainly does not create a problem for us and, from a production point of view, it does not affect us in any way.
So do you create prototypes or even finished examples of the two shirts or are these still drawing board designs that go to the vote?
This really depends on the requirements of the club involved. Most like to see a shirt made up, but in many cases - such as with Grimsby - when the public vote took place it was based purely on the technical designs.
The fan vote approach is obviously something you have previous in, most notably in the case of Middlesbrough -who you have enjoyed a long partnership with. Why is it that Erreà has seemingly been so closely involved in the pioneering of this approach?
The original Middlesbrough vote last year was to ask the fans if they wanted to re-instate the white chest band, on their home shirts, for the 2008/09 season, following which they asked us if we could provide 3 designs to be put to the public vote. This was not a problem for us because we are the only European company that still manufactures our own products, so we have a lot more flexibility than other brands. However, this was by no means the first time, as we had been helping the club to involve the fans in choosing the new shirt for several seasons prior to this one. I do not know for sure, but I believe we were the first company to do this.
But is this simply a marketing ploy to build up interest irrespective of which shirt design is eventually chosen or is there another objective?
I cannot speak for other companies, but the initial motive behind the Middlesbrough vote and, subsequently, Grimsby Town was to genuinely involve the fans of the club in choosing the Home Kit for the following season. Of course, there is a possibility that if fans feel more involved in the decision process then they may be more inclined to buy the products, but there is no guarantee of this and, as far as I know, no evidence that there has been any effect on replica sales.
Well it's still early days. Do you feel this approach will be adopted by other clubs/manufacturers and is a indication of the future in football kit design? Can you imagine a time where fans will be almost creating the kit themselves by picking collar type A, crest type B, Manufacturer logo position D and so on?
Some other manufactures have offered similar, more limited, options but I think it will only ever be a case of fans being able to choose between finished designs, rather than individual aspects of the design due to the technical aspects of production. For example, if you change a collar from one type to another it is not as simple as it seems, because to do so means that the cutting pattern around the area of the collar has to be changed, which in turn means the cut of the shoulder changes, followed by the sleeve hole and so on.
Aha, so knock-on effects of changes need to be considered. That said, is this progress towards greater influence from the fans something designers fear or embrace?
For us, neither is true. All our design work is done in house and we have always worked very closely with clubs when designing their new products, which means that this is just another innovation to the design process.
Going back to marketing, is the waterproof shirt approach that you used on Boro's shirt this season just a gimmick? How does sweat get out if the material is water-resistant, sorry, waterproof (!)?
That particular material is produced using nanotechnology techniques, where nano-particles of Titanium and Silver are present in the fabric itself. As a result, the fabric is breathable, helps to control both body temperature and metabolic rate, it also helps to prevent muscle injury and aid recuperation. The fact that the material is also water-repellent and stain-repellent are purely side-effects of the material's technical properties and not what it was designed for. This year the technology will also be used for rugby shirts, tracksuits and polo shirts. It is a truly incredible material.
Seems it. Do you still have that enormous PES football shirt you made? If that's got the waterproof technology perhaps it could be used to cover football pitches and stop waterlogging?
Yes, we still have that shirt in our warehouse here in Parma. No, it is not made from the nanotechnology fabric, but that's not a bad idea, so maybe the next time.
Ok, but don't forget it was my idea. I'll give you a good price. Does that kind of shirt technology change depending on the team's geographical location? ie. You made Boro a waterproof kit but would a team in Italy need that?
No, shirt technology does not depend on location. We create garments depending on clubs requirements rather than when they are based, although our UK teams do buy a lot more rain jackets than those based in Italy and Spain.
Yes, very good. Thanks for reminding me. Do the other sport shirts have differing technology? The rugby teams for example?
Yes, the technical fabrics do change depending on the sport. Rugby clubs need kits from fabrics that are much stronger than football kits, while volleyball and basketball teams, mainly because they play indoors, have completely different requirements.
So, next season, I take it all the kits done and dusted and ready to go?
Everything has been chosen for the respective pro clubs and we are now in full production at our factory, as some have already decided to launch their new kits at the last home game of this season.
How long does the research and development take from beginnings of the ideas for the kits right through to the finished article? By what point are they generally all ready and tested and set for mass production?
This varies greatly depending on whether we are talking about a new one-off design, a new range or a completely new fabric. So, for instance, we have been working on the new kits for our pro clubs since October of last year, while our new core-brochure range which runs for 3 years has been under development for approximately 15 months, but the new nanotechnology fabric took several years from concept to the first production of actual material.
Is there ever tighter schedules? Perhaps for the Bristol Rovers 125th Anniversary kit?
Schedules are always very tight, but not for shirts such as the Bristol Rovers one, which we produced for them last year, as the clubs plan these events well in advance. There are limits to what anyone can produce in a short space of time, but because we design and manufacture our own products we have the possibility to be more flexible when required to do something at short notice. Such as when Middlesbrough reached the final of the UEFA Cup and we managed to pull off a near miracle by producing 3500 commemorative shirts in just 10 days.
That's pretty impressive. Aside from kits, you also make footballs. This StrikeRite ball looks interesting. I'm about to go back into amateur football so maybe I can finally learn how to make a football do what I want it to with one of those. The question we all want answering, however, is: Does it move in the air like it's got a big ball-bearing rattling around inside?
No, I can assure you that there are absolutely no ball-bearings involved in the StrikeRite. From a technical aspect it is just like any other high quality training ball. It is the external graphics and accompanying training techniques which make it so special.
Well, it's been a pleasure. Thank you again, Michael and keep up the good work. We look forward to your next technological advancements and await next season's kits with relish.