Meet Nerea Palacios, a designer from Cordoba, Spain, and a big fashion and sports enthusiast, especially football. Ever since she started to study fashion design, she had a clear and sole objective: to work for Nike, her favourite brand. This is how the idea for her Tumblr and later on Instagram accounts – both titled "I want to work for Nike"– was born.
Nerea is absolutely convinced of it, she will end up working for Nike in the long run, even though it may be only thanks to her persistence. Well, not only. The girl is good. You only need to look at the design of her jerseys, football obviously, that she uploads every day. She started with FC Barcelona, the team of her dreams/her all-time favourite, then took up different teams upon petition by her followers, and lately she has even dared to propose her own versions of the different teams participating in the last Super Bowl. She even designed one for us! With the live transmission of the Ballon d'Or gala ceremony running in the back, Nerea and I talk about football, fashion, and, above all, Nike.
When did you start the project “I want to work for Nike”?
I decided to take it up when I left my former job last October. Even though I have to say that this project was not only set up by me, it’s like a little iceberg. My partner and various friends have helped me with it. When I only had my Tumblr account set up, one of them convinced me to add Instagram, another one showed me how to use hashtags, and yet another one told me I had to take on more risks with my jerseys if I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I am very lucky to be surrounded by people that are very skilled at graphic design, which is one of the great things about Barcelona.
You have decided for one specific brand – what makes Nike so interesting to you?
I have always been a huge fan of this brand, especially with regards to their marketing. If you look at it, I think there is no other brand as coherent as Nike. All the different sports they work with, as well as all the areas they touch upon, there is always a feeling of coherence, and you can move around between these different fields without the brand ever loosing its own and singular identity. Another point that draws me a lot towards Nike is the fact that they are currently the number one in innovation, they are almost overtaking Apple. What’s more, I think Apple is starting to hire people that worked at Nike. It’s always best to work for the number one.
How did you come up with the idea of this project?
When I decided I wanted to work for Nike, I started to investigate the things you needed to get hired by them. The first thing I realized was that I didn’t have the right age, I am 27. They usually hire people at a very young age, taking them on as interns and then training them from the very beginning. The other option is that they take people that are extremely good at what they are doing. And I wasn’t very good, at least not at that moment. So I had to create an identity, and that’s where the internet comes in very handy. I love football, I love fashion, and football jerseys are fashion, even though a lot of people don’t believe that. So I decided that I could do it, and I could make a fairly decent job of it.
Ok, I can see that. But how did that all end up in a blog?
It all started out as some sort of joke, the blog was not meant to be something serious at all in the beginning. Some friends told me about these projects that are all about ‘creating something beautiful’ every day. There are two or three of them that really manage to stand out from the rest. One of them is by a typographer and illustrator who is now collaborating with the New York Times and other publications; there is also a couple of graphic designers doing something similar and they got great results. Some got hired by the companies they wanted, others keep on working as freelancers, but have widened their list of clients. The internet is a fantastic channel in that sense, you can get out there, show your work and get the necessary (public) support by people.
What kind of feedback are you receiving? Lots of hearts in Instagram, and a lot of reblogs in Tumblr?
Yes, but there is not so much reblogging, since football is a pretty fundamentalist issue. You support your team, at the very most, your national selection, but generally, it’s you and your team, especially if they don’t play in an international competition. For example, I have 400 followers, but each jersey I upload won’t receive more than 50 likes. Of these 50 likes, there are probably 5 people that are my followers, and the rest are random people that support their team, and that’s it. Except for the cases of FC Bayern Munich or Barça, which both have an exorbitant amount of fans.
You started out with the blog, uploading jerseys of teams that you liked, and then the petitions by your followers started to roll in.
Yes, a good and a bad idea (laughs). I am a FC Barcelona fan, so I said to myself: ’Which team do you know most about?’ Thus I started with a very simple system: I looked up Nike’s website, I downloaded the jersey in high resolution and I tuned them on a scale from 1 to 10. I would start out with a 3, then a 4, and in the end a 5. After working on 20 Barça jerseys, I decided it was time to leave my comfort zone. My partner started to recommend me teams that she thought had followers and could be interesting, and soon someone sent the first petition. So I told people on Tumblr that they could make requests. Everything went pretty smoothly until an Instagram user with a lot of followers of Ajax Amsterdam shared one of my jerseys on his account. That was the point when everything got out of control. From that moment on I had to tell people that I didn’t accept more petitions, since I had a list of more than 40 pending, and I simply don’t have enough hours in the day. Apart from that, I want Nike to hire me and stop making jerseys for the blog.
Well, you know that there are people that are a bit paranoid about showing their stuff on internet, fearing that somebody will copy them. What is your opinion on that? You are already showing your work, but are you aware of that danger or do you simply not care?
In my case, I come from the world of fashion and there is never ever anything new there. You keep on reinventing time and again, you change the colour, make a slightly higher or lower cut, but in the end it will always be a white shirt or pair of trousers. I am not inventing anything that doesn’t exist yet, what’s more, if somebody copies my designs, a great part of the project is that I am lucky enough to be able to make a new jersey every day without getting bored. I think so far I haven’t repeated any of the designs, and I have already done almost 200 jerseys. What I want to say is that if they copy me, I should be able to make a new one, if not, Nike should not hire me. But I’m sure I am able to do that (laughs).
What kind of investigation do you carry out before designing a jersey, which references do you use? How do you get to a specific design?
I like football very much, and I know quite a lot about some of the teams, or at least I remember a few things if I have seen them play a match. But if I don’t have any idea, of just a very faint one, then google is my best friend. Their image search function is wonderful, I think without it my project would be pretty bad. Basically it’s all about looking up the team, checking the social media for more information on it. The thing people like most is then their team has won something. All of a sudden, that jersey is super popular and people want to keep it forever. At the same time, it’s all a lie, the moment they see it again, they say it’s boring and doesn’t have anything special. The other thing fans are crazy about is the coat of arms of their team, so if you use that you usually get a nice reaction. It also helps a lot to learn something about the geographical area the team comes from. The second jersey for Bavaria Munich for example worked really well, because it had the flag of Bavaria on it. The same thing happened with Spartak Moscow, because it was all red, the illustration was very subtle and, then there is the other great truth: if you have any doubts, make the jersey a black one. Black has got an incredible power, everybody likes it.
Which jersey has been the most successful so far?
For me there are two jerseys that are milestones in the evolution of the project. On the one hand, there is this classical jersey for Ajax Amsterdam, because it doubled the number of my followers in only one week and because that’s when they started challenging me. On the other hand, I love the jersey of Mexico, because they have a tradition of interesting jersey designs that are a lot more daring than in any other country. There is a time line regarding jersey design, especially if you look at the Mexican national team or teams like America or Los Pumas, that has nothing to do with other countries. They have been working with geometric forms ever since the beginning, I suppose it’s a very long-standing tradition in Mexican fashion design in general. It’s a country full of colours and textures, with a great tradition of manual labour, apart from a huge historical tradition, so it’s no wonder I became inspired by the Mayan calendar, which I had used twice before, albeit in a different way. This time my starting point was a tattoo. There is this guy I took the arm of as an inspiration, and my thanks go out to him.
I wanted to ask you whether you were open to the possibility of designing jerseys for other sports, such as basketball, American football or baseball, but I realized that even though they come from a country with a huge media and marketing machinery, and even though they move a lot of money, for example the NFL, their designs have hardly changed at all over the course of time.
Well I have this theory about why in the NFL the jersey design is a lot more linear. Surely enough about 15 percent of Nike’s sales is generated by the jerseys, the rest is due to fan merchandise, like replicas of jerseys adapted to street style, and a series of sheer infinite variations. At the end of the day, they sell the brand, taking it out of its context on the field and taking it to other areas. You won’t buy as many American football shorts as normal football ones, because the latter you can use for running, or some people even go to the swimming pool with it. It’s more complicated to take American football to the field of fashion design. The most interesting example I have seen so far was by Nike, who created monochrome jerseys, an exquisite idea. But in the end, it boils down to what you were saying, if you extract the pattern/model of the jersey, the rest is pretty much the same that has been used for the past years. The material evolves, but the jersey design itself is nearly always the same.
Now that you mention that, I think the Yankees sell more of, and have also innovated more in the field of baseball caps than with their jerseys...
I think this is all due the merchandising of the different universities. You extract the brand and then project it onto other items to generate exponential profit. With American football and baseball for example, it’s a lot more complicated to merchandise the clothing the players wear than to extract the brand image and apply it to other items.
I suppose you benefit from the need of the football industry to change their equipment every year.
Yes, well, this year Arsenal hasn’t done it, but it’s because they have signed up with Puma and that hurts me. What the football industry is doing, and Nike as well, is trying to copy that system we talked about. They have already done it with Manchester United, FC Barcelona and some others. They design a line of street clothing, so the fans can wear the colours of their team in their everyday life.
Let’s assume for a moment that you are already working for Nike, what do you think is the first thing they will make you do?
The first thing they should do with me, and I hope that’s what they are going to do, is to use me as a reserve, you know, have me ’sit on the bench and watch a lot of games’. I know stuff about fashion, I have worked a fair bit, I have a certain age and work experience, but I know very little of their world. What I hope they will be doing is leave me some time to adapt so I can be as profitable as possible in the long run.
One of the things you would like about getting the job is working at one of their campus’, either in Portland or in Amsterdam...
A few days ago I got some sort of anxiety attack, asking myself  "what would happen if it really happened?". I would have to leave my life here behind, and it's one I like a lot here in Barcelona. Also the idea of going to some place where you don't know anyone... And well, I have kind of fantasized about working for Nike as being something incredible, but the question is: what if it’s not? You know, it could be a huge disappointment as well. Without any doubts, it would at least be an incredible experience, and I would be very proud of myself and of the people that helped me along the way. It’s like a diamond, you don’t know what it looks like on the inside until you haven’t polished it. In Futurama there is something called "killed by snu snu".
You studied fashion design, with sports always at the back of your mind. What was your objective while you were studying?
My objective was to work for Nike. I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. My objective was to work as a designer for menswear, and, if possible, sportswear. I love jerseys, I could work entirely in that field and would be extremely happy about it. But if I could choose... So far, I have been at the beginning of the chain, where the raw material comes from that helps to make any design come real, I have been at fashion fairs, with fashion people, I love fashion, but I think it doesn’t move as fast as it seems. I think it doesn’t generate as much money as sports do. And where there is more money, you have to move faster if you don’t want to lose it again, and I think that’s something fascinating, to work for somebody who is permanently innovating.
I suppose part of the appeal is that you are able to experiment, since the sports industry is one that dares to take risks, and that also takes design to the streets.
I am going to show you an example: Hermès has their bag, the Kelly bag, while Nike, if we talk about football, has their Mercurial shoes. How often has Hermès changed the design of their bag, and how often has Nike reinvented their Mercurials? For me, changing a colour is not as interesting as having to reinvent yourself constantly. If Hermès were to redesign their bag, they wouldn’t dare to call it the same, normally they would only change the fabric or the colour. But if you compare a Nike football shoe from ’98 with a current one, there will be obviously some things they have in common, but probably no one in the fashion industry would call them the same name. In the sports industry they do, because it’s natural evolution, it’s a question of survival.
Well, this is also due to the fact that in the world of sports, you are always looking for improvement, you strive to be the fastest, the highest, the strongest, and you need the help of technology to achieve it...
Yes, that’s true, in fact one of the most recurring questions I get is the one about the best football player in history, and I think this question should not be asked. You should ask for the best currently active one, or one from the 1970s or 80s, because it is impossible to draw a fair comparison: neither technology was the same, nor the diet or the field. You can’t compare a Pelé with Messi.
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