Kitnerdery Inc.: The Growth of Online Soccer Giants, Classic Football Shirts.
From one kit sprung an empire of shirts – the founding of online soccer jersey giant, Classic Football Shirts.com is a love story of miraculous proportions. Initially set up in Fallowfield, a twenty-minute drive from the city center of Manchester in the UK, Classic Football Shirts was begun by Matthew Dale and Doug Bierton as a means to feed their appreciation for kits as well as to capitalize off their popularity. Now the collection of soccer kits, and other paraphernalia, is thought to be the largest of its nature in the world. Shortly after its founding, Doug’s brother Gary Bierton joined them and he took some time to answer our questions about how their massive business is doing in the United States and its appeal beyond nostalgia, and into the world of “kitnerdery.”
I first came across your website a few years ago while looking for a Newcastle United shirt - they're hard to find in our stores, and at the time, not readily available in places like eBay or Amazon. How long have you been in business? Why did you get started? and how many Americans, like me, have you shipped shirts to?
We started just over 13 years ago in 2006. We got started on the lookout for original Germany 1990 shirt, when we were unable to find one, we felt that this might be a problem that other football fans/shirt collectors may have and started buying from there. America is our second biggest market and it has been really interesting how it's developed over the last 8-9 years.
Clearly, to run a business like this, somewhere along the way you just fell in love with kit design and the nostalgia a good shirt can provide. What factors make a good kit? What are your favorite shirts of all time; club and international?
Yes, we were obsessed with jerseys from a young age. Watching the Champions League on TV and seeing the differences of features (patches, different styles of printing, in some cases teams having European only designs) fascinated us. I think success on the pitch definitely helps to elevate even jerseys that have a great design - for example Holland's jersey from the 1988 European Championships was worn by a victorious team (only ever at that tournament, and included one of the great goals of all time. On the other hand, Manchester United effectively handed Leeds the title in 1992 losing at Anfield in the famous blue away shirt, but fans nowadays love it, and Adidas has even re-issued and used elements of the design on recent kits. That being said our favorite shirts resonate around the 1990 World Cup - The Argentina away shirt that was worn in the final, and the Cameroon designs are special to us.
Detailing into your website, I can file through some pretty neat pieces of Americana, with throwbacks and originals from NASL and early MLS, but I started to run into more obscure pieces from current non-league sides - this is pretty exciting! Can you tell us what your relationship is with some of these American clubs or manufacturers? Are there more on the way? Any in particular you like?
In recent years we have built relationships with smaller clubs and brands across the World. To our fans it's a unique opportunity to own a jersey from a club that they might never be able to acquire unless they visited the place. I particularly like the NK Discoland away shirt that we've got in stock. We were lucky enough to do an exhibition in New York last year and play some pick-up in Chinatown. It was an experience I’ll certainly never forget. My perfect Saturday morning would include playing with the guys from Bowery FC.
“Kitnerdery” has been on the rise here in the US, but the designs from the top clubs here aren't taking the design risks that lower league sides are. Is this the same in Europe? Why are lower step sides more flash when it comes to design? What's the market trend; clean and simple or wild and eye-catching? Where in the world are the best designs coming from?
Until fairly recently the big brands were still playing it safe - but certainly in the last 18 months that has changed. The Nigeria shirt for the World Cup was a bit of a pioneer in that respect. The popularity of that jersey overwhelmed brands and has set the tone moving forward, and the current streetwear trends have helped to reinforce that. That being said there is always room for a clean and simple design, and some of the greatest jerseys ever produced are based on these principles (England 09' home).