Nike's Recycled Jerseys

By Aaron Britt / Published by Dwell
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As you may well have heard (that's what you pay PR people for, no?), Nike previewed the nine World Cup 2010 jerseys they're producing for the South African games this summer. In addition to the standard fanfare--handsome footballers, bulging calves, capital B Branding--the Oregon-based sportswear behemoth has also been making a lot of noise about how each jersey is made from just eight plastic bottles.

I got on the horn with Nike flack Kate Meyers earlier this week, and though she certainly sang from the Nike hymnal (she Just Did It), I learned a bit more about the process. She told me that each jersey is made from polyester yarn made from recycled plastic bottles. Any chance the lipsticked rim of that Evian bottle you so dutifully recycled is now clinging to the sweaty chest of some Portugese striker/model? Sorry, Charlie. These post-consumer bottles hail from Taiwan, where Nike has the factories that produce the jerseys. She claims that between the kits for the athletes actually taking the field, and those sold to consumers, Nike is keeping "13 million plastic bottles out of landfills." Admirable.

during the Mercurial Vapor Superfly II Boot Launch at Battersea Power Station on February 25, 2010 in London, England.

during the Mercurial Vapor Superfly II Boot Launch at Battersea Power Station on February 25, 2010 in London, England.

So what will average Joes like you and me pay for our fan gear? "Around 50 pounds," says Meyers. That's somewhere in the ballpark of $75 for we Yankees. That strikes me as a bit steep considering the damned things are made from trash. I'm also assured that the Dri-Fit fabric is higher performance, wicks sweat away better, and is lighter than anything on the market. Just the kind of elite technical garment one needs at the corner bar.

A design element that I rather liked, however, is what Meyers called "a cultural design element." Beyond the crest stitched on the chest? Seems that each jersey has some bit of national character printed on the inside of the shirt, "close to the players hearts," says Meyers. Examples: the Australians have "Never Say Never" printed in there (wonder if they considered "Stick to Rugby") and the Americans have "Don't Tread on Me." A rousing political cry or an exhortation not to get fouled?

Followers of the expanding design lexicon might also be curious to note that Nike wants us to know that this green gear is not limited to just the World Cup. It's an example of what the company (read: dozens of focus groups) are calling "Considered Design." "We're embedding sustainability into products as part of a broader company-wide philosophy," Meyers told me. "Nike designers are now expected to make smart, sustainable design choices at the start of their creative process which has led to Nike’s most extensive Considered Design range of product to date," goes the 2008 press release.

Aaron Britt


Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.

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