Army and Navy meet on the gridiron Saturday for the 116th time. When they do, Navy will be in some special uniforms. The Midshipmen will wear jerseys honoring naval history and hand-painted helmets celebrating ships of the fleet. Under Armour senior director of On Field Design Adam Clement and his team are responsible for the unique gear. He talked with SI Kids reporter Lauren Shute about creating Navy’s memorable gear and how he got into uniform design.
We partnered with Navy [for their rivalry game]. It’s Army-Navy; it’s the game. The Navy is our fleet. They patrol our waters and keep us free. We thought it would be really special to celebrate the Navy fleet and show the power that takes our forces around the world.
All of the helmets are hand painted by a local artist who I met back in 1999. I play ice hockey. I met him and he painted my goalie mask. We stayed in touch and decided that we can take the art of painting hockey masks to the football field. He’s done some amazing things for us.
The Navy designs are some of the most detailed we have worked on. The helmets are specific by position and correlate to what the actual position/player does. They are all hand painted so the process takes much, much longer. There has to be room for the artist’s interpretation because there’s no way to paint everything to scale, and the helmet process follows different patterns. The aircraft carrier is the most detailed helmet and will be worn by the QB. The navy ships specifically were very time sensitive. The submarine was a lot faster to paint than the aircraft carrier.
We went through a rigorous testing process, from the type of paint that goes onto the helmet to the layers of paint. It’s down to the millimeter. [Once it’s painted,] an all over graphic goes on the helmet. The wrap is actually more delicate than the paint.
[Generally,] the uniform process takes about 18 months. We already know what our team’s uniforms will look like in 2016 and we’re just about to start on 2017 designs. We don’t just do something because it’s cool or it’s a trend. If you do that, you look back on it in three years or 10 years and wonder why the team wore what they wore. Everything we do has a story built around it – whether it’s a story about the university, something historic, for a special cause or game. It relates to something more important than us just creating artwork. It’s hard because when you create art it’s entirely subjective. Our goal isn’t to make people love the art. Our job is to help people appreciate the story.
Most of the time players aren’t involved in the process because it’s supposed to feel special for them. A lot of schools use it as an extra bit of motivation. We’ll work with players to get feedback on fit and performance – the fabric, things that make the uniform function and work better – but in terms of the actual visual, often times we keep it as a surprise for the players.
We also don’t work with that many schools because we want to add a lot of flavor and personal touches. Before we ever put pen to paper, we have conversations with the schools to see what story they want to tell. It allows our design team to come up with different concepts, sketches, and storytelling. We present that to the school and they have the chance to give us their feedback. We make changes based on their feedback because ultimately it’s up to the school.
Growing up, I always used to draw uniforms for fun. I would sketch a baseball stadium and then create an imaginary team that would play in my designs. I had a whole book of teams and uniforms for every possible sport.
After I graduated from college I was working for a company doing graphic design when we started working on a logo project for a university. The project ultimately fell through, but something important happened: I started drawing uniforms again – this time on a computer. I applied for a job at Under Armour, and during my interview I realized I was a little underqualified for the job. Fortunately, the people interviewing me saw that I was passionate and hired me. The plan was to eventually find me a role in their uniform process.
On my third day, we signed an all-school contract with Auburn University. My dream came true way earlier than anyone expected and the rest, as they say, is history.
Photos: Under Armour