The Innovation 50: Umbro rebuilds its credibility by making football shirts a high street fashion

The Innovation 50: Umbro rebuilds its credibility by making football shirts a high street fashion

As a sports apparel and equipment company, Umbro has been through a rollercoaster in the last 20 years. Bought by Nike in 2012, the iconic British football brand only spent three years as part of the American behemoth.

Since then, it has clambered back to being street cool and rediscovered what originally made it a great brand in focusing only on football.

Will Holloway, Creative Director, Fever PR, nominated Umbro to The Innovation 50 for its recovery from what could possibly be described as its years in the marketing wilderness.

“In the 1990s, Umbro’s double diamonds were a quintessential wardrobe staple for millions of adolescents and football fans, but by the early noughties the brand completely lost its cool factor,” says Will.

“As a child of the 90s, when Umbro was an ever-present, it’s warming to see Umbro’s return to the fold as a bona fide lifestyle brand.”

Complications for the brand

The time under Nike had seen heavy investment in the brand and a broadening into lifestyle products. But things had become complicated for Umbro and it had felt, to some, as if the brand had lost its way.

Once it was sold to the Iconix Brand Group in 2012, based in New York, it was time for a relaunch and a more authentic refocus on football-only and making great products for athletes. But it also meant losing access to Nike’s extraordinary roster of creative agencies.

So, starting with a modest marketing war chest, the brand used a series of smart marketing strategies to revitalise itself. The key was to focus on the product and expressing its love for the sport it was involved in all along – football.

Will says, “It’s been impressive to see the way that the brand has rebuilt its credibility over the last 10 years through the use of smart and timely partnerships with other like-minded fashion brands and individuals.”

Strategically, the focus shifted from competing and towards expressing what Umbro was as a brand.

Streetwear through collaborations

“Umbro has reintroduced itself to a new generation of young Brits by collaborating with some of the coolest streetwear brands on the planet including Palace and Patta who both updated classic Umbro football shirt designs with their own modern twists,” adds Will.

This rebirth has involved truly understanding how football fans use its products but also spotting the potential to grow the brand into new areas and markets.

“Umbro were ahead of the curve at seeing the potential for football shirts to become must-have streetwear items and more recent collaborations with some of the UK’s most interesting artists like Loyle Carner and Barny Fletcher have further cemented Umbro as a thoroughly modern but classic British brand,” says Will.

Umbro is inaugurated, for these reasons, into The Innovation 50.