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Interview: Admiral Sporting Goods Co.

Aloof aims to shine a light on the best brands and companies operating in the independent market right now, from all over the world. Those under the radar of the wider consciousness but with great stories to tell and a unique perspective on the nuts and bolts of building a brand.

Earlier this year we saw a new brand pop up, with a name that was familiar, but not quite someone we knew. Admiral Sporting Goods Co. are a brand years in the making, and with a heritage spanning over 100 years, it's only right that it took time to perfect their product. As the new lifestyle-focused arm of hallowed sportswear manufacturer Admiral, ASGco. have a lot to live up to. With one collection of sturdy essentials under their belt, they already look right on track to smash expectations.

When the opportunity came up to ping Theo a few questions over e-mail, we jumped at the chance.

Aloof Studio (AS): Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Theo (TH): I'm Theo and I run Sales and Marketing for the whole Admiral business. For those who don’t know, Admiral is a British sportswear brand with over 100 years of heritage. My family bought the brand back in 2008, bringing it back into British ownership again. Our family previously had the licence for Puma in the UK and Ireland as well, so I grew up around two major sportswear brands, learning and engaging with the world of clothing.

AS: What’s the Admiral archive looking like? Did you find much inspiration there?

TH: The Admiral archive is growing weekly, we have 100's of football shirts, hoodies and some very special sample pieces that never went into production. We also have an archive of well over 3000 images to take inspiration from. All our pieces are steeped in the history and heritage of Admiral's past, the blocks we use are all modern fits using older ideas and construction. For example, on our Braunstone Hoodie the Kangaroo pocket is raised 2 inches off the rib. This sort of detail was classic of 1940's sportswear, but changed over the years as it's cheaper to just sew with the overlock machine once rather than twice.

AS: As a South East Londoner, it’s impossible to ignore the connection Admiral and Crystal Palace have. Have you got any favourite Admiral kits that stand out?

TH: That Crystal Palace sash kit from the 1970’s is an iconic design that has been reinterpreted on multiple occasions by many brands. Admiral also made the Palace kit in their 2003 season when they were promoted to the Premier League as well.

There are a few kits that really stand out for me, I love the Luton Town kit from 1974 for two reasons. One, because the design is so unique, and Two, because of the story behind it. Eric Morcambe (from Morcambe and Wise) was a huge Luton town fan and actually came up with the design. This is a very early example of famous fans being involved in the creative process. I also love the Admiral England kit from the same year, the first ever brand deal done with an international football team. We actually have one in our archive that was worn by Viv Anderson and I think the historical significance of that moment is so important. These are just the ones off the top of my head, but there are definitely many more!

AS: The first collection focuses on the sturdy basics Admiral started out making, before all the football kits came along. What do you think it is about sportswear staples that resonate with a contemporary audience?

TH: I know a lot of people are saying COVID is the reason everyone is buying into premium heavyweight clothes as they're now working from home. However, we actually started planning this project well over two years ago, spotting a shift in the market with both a push from streetwear and also just the way people were working in our own office. They were already video calling clients rather than jumping on a plane every other week. People want comfort when they work and we are trying to create pieces that look premium, feel quality and become your favourite item of clothing. I also think sustainability is becoming more important to customers as they stop buying fast fashion in favour of staple pieces that last for years and years.

AS: Minimal branding is a key component of ASGco’s aesthetic. With a logo that was the first to don a commercially available England shirt, how difficult was it to move away from making something that would be instantly recognisable to the consumer?

TH: This was something we deliberated over for weeks and month. It's never easy to move away from a brand asset that resonates with so many people around the world. For us though, it came down to two main points. Firstly, the brand between 1914-1966 was not just a football brand, it was a Sporting Goods Company. The owners at the time didn’t just make football shirts, but after the win in the 1966 World Cup and Admiral having made Gordon Banks' shirt, football became the brands primary calling. We thought it was important to associate the brand with a range of sports, as was the case in the past.

The second reason was that we wanted to emphasise the word 'Admiral'. The brand name itself is connected to it's history in the military. Admiral was the exclusive partner of the Royal Navy throughout the First and Second World War and we hope to use some of our military past in future designs.

AS: How has the response been to the first collection? It must have been a tricky time to launch a clothing brand this year given the circumstances?

TH: It definitely has been tricky! We were actually due to launch the range for Spring Summer this year, however, that plan got thrown out the window. Luckily for us the brand has been received exceptionally well, with people looking for a long lasting product that isn’t just throw-away fashion. I think the simplicity of the design, mixed with the intricate detailed production, really comes through in the imagery.

AS: The first collection features only 3 colours, Grey, Green and Blue. Was the intention here to create a sort of uniform?

TH: We wanted to start with three basic colours to tell three different stories integral to the Admiral brand.

Green is the colour of the pitch.

Navy is the colour of the sea and the Admiralty.

Grey Marl evokes decades of sporting nostalgia.

These three elements- sports, military and heritage, are the three pillars that the brand is built on. We hope that everything we do going forward always has these core elements as its foundations.

AS: Your first collaboration with ACME Whistles landed alongside your AW20 offering. As a part of Admiral, do you find it much easier to connect with other brands or are you approaching it entirely as its own entity?

TH: Having an already established and well-known brand definitely makes the conversation easier. With ACME, the conversation instantly moved to football and the 1966 World Cup. Both brands realised they were on the pitch at the same time- ACME on the Referee and Admiral on Gordon Banks. It was from there that we knew we had a strong story to talk about. The fact that the production takes place in England is just an added bonus.

AS: Is the athletic performance of your clothes a focus during the design process?

TH: With the ASGco. range we are first and foremost about premium quality that embodies what sportswear once was. That's to say that in the 1930's, sportspeople would have probably loved to play in our gear, but nowadays, there's so much technology that goes into the performance side of the game. It would be moving too far away from our heritage focus to add that extra layer on top. We have a motto in the business regarding this range, 'Sportswear then, Leisurewear now'.

AS: Admiral has a history of manufacturing in the UK, originally starting out from Wigston, near Leicester. Can you see ASGco. producing in Britain in the future?

TH: UK manufacturing is integral to our brands history and where we are today. Whenever we work with collaborators, we try to find British manufacturers to help tell our combined stories. We would love to bring as much production back into the UK as possible and we're always looking for partners to help us on that journey.

AS: Was the Represent x Admiral collaboration from 2019 a turning point for Admiral in realising that they could move away from manufacturing kits towards a more contemporary, streetwear driven aesthetic?

TH: The Represent boys are so forwarding thinking. Their love for British heritage shows in every item of clothing in the collection. When they first approached us over three years ago now, we were already on a path to create some beautiful products. That said, they definitely helped us in seeing potential new markets and customers that we didn’t think would engage fully with the Admiral brand. They helped us really see the value people put into true heritage as there are so few brands out there right now that are truly authentic.

AS: What will we see from Admiral Sporting Goods co. in the near future? How is SS21 shaping up?

TH: SS21 is just having some final tweaks made to perfect the garments, but we are almost there. Once again, we've taken a dive into our archive, pulling out more integral pieces that will make up the basis of what our brand stands for. Some of the pieces were quietly introduced into the AW20 campaign and others will have to be a surprise! A couple of really exciting highlights to come are the reinterpretation of one of our favourite designs from history, as well as working with an amazing illustrator to help with some graphics. That is all I can say for now though!

Check out the full AW20 collection on the ASGco. website here. Stay tuned for the latest over on their instagram here, as well as the Admiral Sportswear account here.


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