SOUTHSOUTHWEST BRANDS THE OLYMPICS

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By Quincy Malesovas

 

You have surely followed some of the 2016 Olympics so far, if not at least seen an ad or two. You know the sports, you recognise the athletes, you may be waging bets or stifling your jealousy of those far more athletic than yourself.

 

But how much thought have you put into the athletes’ attire? Chances are, probably not much. You’re most likely aware that tight, wind-resistant material is superior, and that colours reflective of one’s home nation are choice. What you may not know is just how much concerted time and effort goes into Olympic uniform design.

 

Or that one of the 2016 Olympic games’ primary designers is based right in Fitzroy.

 

The designers are SouthSouthWest. Despite their name’s polar opposition to the area in which they reside, the small team is doing wonders for the reputation of the northern suburbs (and Australia as a whole). The company website describes their work as a holistic brand and identity development, meaning they use various creative channels to support their clients.

 

Since 2014 they have been liaising with Portland-based Nike correspondents to create the American, Brazilian and Spanish 2016 Olympic basketball uniforms, each of which required specific calculation.

 

Jonathan Price, SouthSouthWest’s director of strategy, described the American design as ‘chiselled and robust’. They are the ‘Dream Team’, with an almost celebrity status to uphold. Spain’s uniforms include an eminent Latin flavour in both colour and typography, while the Brazilian uniforms are flamboyant yet classical.

 

Nike’s ‘sophisticated appreciation of design’ and the two companies’ longstanding relationship are what Price believes led them to this moment.

 

SouthSouthWest is indeed sophisticated, with each letter of uniform typography crafted with intention, each pattern perforated meticulously.  The thought process behind each country’s design varied slightly, with the nations’ culture, team style and playing history taken into consideration. The results are designs that are subtle, yet accurately depict each nation’s unique identity.

 

Of course, functionality is also crucial when designing athletic gear. “You can’t do anything to compromise utility of uniform,” Price says. “Functionality includes not just the way the clothing moves but also how it translates on screen. It must be legible and neat; it shouldn’t be too boisterous nor distracting.”

 

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Elena Delle Donne modelling the USA Olympic women’s basketball uniform.

 

Although there are obvious stressors in this line of work, SouthSouthWest seems to be taking the heat quite well. In fact, the company reports having even larger projects in progress with Google and similar innovation-based businesses.

 

It may seem like a miracle that such a small company could achieve such sizable feats, but Price has assured it was not without steady determination. He calls the company, “an overnight sensation that took nine years to come to fruition.” He and Creative Director Andy Sargent met when studying together, and from there the duo’s partnership flourished.

 

Their first five years of business were primarily spent building a solid brand identity within Australia. Now, about 50% of SouthSouthWest’s business is based globally. The international demand for the company’s design and typography is so great that the company is planning a possible expansion to San Francisco.

 

Even without an international office, however, United States-based clients are very well taken care of. SouthSouthWest offers west coast customers the very unique service of 24-hour delivery from time of order. That means that Nike World Headquarters in Oregon could place an order at 9am and have the package sitting on their doorstep at 9am the following morning, given the 14-hour time difference between there and here.

 

SouthSouthWest seem to have mastered the delicate balance of efficiency and quality, which may be the secret behind their success.

 

While the team will inevitably grow, they are conscious of maintaining a homegrown ethos. SouthSouthWest strives to focus most of their energy on the Fitzroy office, where all of their products are produced.

 

“Our strategy is to stay true to who we are and [be] authentic to where we come from,” said Price. He explained that Melbourne design is highly regarded overseas, and that this limits pressure to stray from the company values. Price and Sargent are, however, more than willing to borrow concepts and techniques from their partners.

 

As Price puts it, “we’re trying to learn from them.” From daily check-ins to design sprints to maintaining a flexible office environment, SouthSouthWest strives to embody the innovative workforce that San Francisco is known for.

 

They are the tech side and SouthSouthWest is, at a glance, the design side; but in reality they are bringing the two forces together.

 

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Spain’s Olympic basketball uniforms.

 

“There is no comparable example of a business like ours,” Price explained. “We’re not a traditional ad agency. We consolidate brand and digital [identity] in an interesting way… to create meaningful change.”

 

SouthSouthWest is excited for what’s ahead, and hopefully fellow Melburnians are just as excited.

 

If you have yet to see the company’s uniforms on the court, it is not too late. The Olympic games continue until the 21 August, so tune in to catch the designs in action. You can also check out all of SouthSouthWest’s current and former projects at their website.

 

 

 

Quincy is a self-identified writer/explorer with a penchant for all things culture sub, pop, alt, you name it. You can read her musings at shugurcan.net.

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