When the calendar turned to 2018, the world started to focus on the World Cup that would take flight in Russia that summer. It was also when fans of national teams sponsored by Nike started to prepare for the release of their team’s jerseys that they would wear for the next two years. For Nigeria, that launch turned into a cultural phenomenon.
There are always several directions teams and apparel companies can go when creating new kits to carry them into the next cycle. There’s better materials, new templates, and other cutting edge technology that help make our jerseys more comfortable and adapt to the players on the field.
However, the biggest quality is the design itself. Some teams opt for the traditional looks, with minimal design flair and opting for buzz words like “sleek,” “fresh,” and “clean” to describe them. Others go for the bold, designs that they hope will stand out on the world’s biggest stage. Nigeria wanted to go beyond that, and in 2018, they decided to go for the extraordinary while still remaining true to their culture. In collaboration with Nike designers, they spent 3 years leading to this point to develop something that not only defined their soccer culture, but brought an essence of swagger to it.
On February 7th, Nigeria decided that would be the day that the world needed to see their stunning look. The drop set the internet on fire.
The centerpiece was the Nigeria home jersey, based in part on their 1994 jersey and came with a green and white pattern coupled with white and black patterned sleeves. But, they didn’t stop there. The jerseys came complete with an apparel collection that only added to the swagger presented by the Nigerian people. The collection was an instant hit all around the world.
Nike had decided to “tap into the attitude” of Nigeria, which is defined by one word: Naija. That cultural spirit is filled with “healthy reserve and exuberance.” In the press release for the collection, Nike Football design director Dan Farron stated that the collection was “based on the players’ full identities...We started to see trends in attitude and energy connecting the athletes to music, fashion and more. They are part of a resoundingly cool culture.”
Nike thought they had something that would resonate with Nigerians all around the world, and that’s who they aimed to please, particularly the younger crowd.
“There’s a confidence in all these young players, they’re going to go for it and we were attracted to that,” design director Peter Hopkins said to Fader Magazine. “We’ve been following them from afar, and the players on social media...a lot of them are playing in some of the top clubs in Europe, and there’s that boldness that aligns in Nigeria and Lagos and in London. We thought that there’s something in here to do something different.”
They thought they could capture the hearts and minds of Nigerians everywhere. What they didn’t realize is that it captured the entire world. They knew it would be a hit in some places of the world, particularly those with a large Nigerian population. So, Nike set a June 1st release date for the jerseys. People could pre-order them, with a limited supply available on the release date.
On June 1st...fans all around the world logged onto the websites of Nike and other soccer retailers in search of jerseys, bucket hats, track suits, and everything else in the collection. When the jerseys went on sale, it was an all-out rush for fans to buy the jersey in their size.
This Nigeria shirt has people excited. Queue for Nike Town goes well around the block! pic.twitter.com/lKx1B8sfl8— Isaac Fanin (@isaac_fanin) June 1, 2018
In 3 minutes, 3 whole minutes, inventory was sold out worldwide. Nike had sold 3 million jerseys around the world, one of the largest sale numbers in soccer history. Some of the biggest club teams in the world don’t approach 3 million jerseys sold in a season. Nigeria did it in 3 minutes. It prompted fans who missed out to scour the earth in search of a jersey or training top or even a bucket hat to call their own.
Beyond the incredible design and the fashion statement, Nike learned something about the fans that covet jerseys: fans want bold designs. They want something with swagger. They want to make a statement. And the players want to look good while representing their country. They nailed it. And it’s ushered in a wave where several nations have followed Nigeria’s lead in opting for the dazzle over the clean.
Nigeria followed up their 2018 jerseys with a 2020 collection that was equally as exciting. Other teams have tried to mimic the Naija swagger, but none have even come close. It carries on into 2023, where the teams continue to show their style on the field and in the streets.
For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing stories throughout the month to highlight some of the biggest moments in Black American and world soccer history.