Nike's sportswear designers were recently assigned a very specific task: Come up with the best performance wear possible to be worn by a highly select group of 1,600 men.
Those men are the professional players belonging to the 32 teams of America's National Football League, and today Nike presented their new uniforms, signalling their status as the League's new official apparel manufacturer both on and off the field. The Elite 51 uniforms combine Nike's manufacturing, materials and research prowess into "a completely integrated system of dress" that is lighter, stronger, and more flexible than previous iterations.
The baselayers have foam impact protection built into "hit zone" areas like the shoulder, hips and tailbone. The thighs are protected by lightweight carbon-fiber plates. The seams are strategically placed and designed to lie flat to avoid chafing the wearer. The fabric used is Nike's Dri-FIT mesh, designed to wick moisture away from the player.
The outer layer of the uniforms are constructed with Nike's Flywire technology, originally designed for footwear, which weaves fibers together in a particular way to add support where it's needed without creating bulk and weight. The jerseys achieve what's known as a "lockdown" fit, encompassing the bulge of the pads and shrinking back down to the wearer's body, eliminating any loose inch of clothing that a defender might get their fingers onto.
But this tightness does not come at the expense of flexibility: The fabric is designed with 4-way stretch—even the twill numbers sewn onto the jersey, lest they exert their own small influence—to maximize the players' full range of motion in every direction.
The fabric is also hydrophobic, to prevent the motion-limiting that occurs when uniforms are soaked through during games in the rain.
And in another example of the designers' no-stone-unturned approach, even the belt loops are made from aluminum rather than steel, to shave a couple grams off of the weight.
"Our brief was to provide players with everything they need and nothing more," said Todd Van Horne, Nike's Design Director for Football. "We blended cutting edge technology and fabrications with more than 40 years of knowledge, craft and insight into the game. We worked closely with the teams, listening to their needs and delivering the best options to serve those athletes." Take a look at some of the design considerations and tools used in the 2-year collaborative process of overhauling the uniforms for the Seattle Seahawks:
(If you're wondering about the "Elite 51" name, "51" was the number worn by ex-football player and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, the man who famously created early prototype soles with determination and a waffle iron.)
You can check out the new look of your specific team's uniforms here.