In launching a fresh SoccerBible collaboration, we sat down with Global Head of Hummel Hive to discuss the position from which Hummel are exploring innovative ideas. A thought piece part of the brand that looks to invest in creative thinking, it's an enlightening approach from quarters that are championing a strong game.
So as an introduction, talk to us about Hummel hive, how would you define it?
"With HUMMEL HIVE we intend to explore the intersection between past and present, sport and style culture. It’s not only about making compelling products, but create projects that challenge status quo together with likeminded teams, players and brands. That’s why we named it HIVE – we invite friends to collaborate in shared desire to inspire and push boundaries in the worlds and cultures we take part of."
It's unique to have a part of the business that embraces creative thinking in such a way. What are the core values of Hummel Hive?
"The power of sport to bring people together are key for us – as the hummel brand in general. We focus on the social dimensions of sport. The passion and love of the game, the great experiences people share when doing or watching sport, the rituals, the fan culture and nostalgia. For us, sport is not only about winning but the whole culture and everything around it. We use this as a source of inspiration and enabler in our creative processes."
How important is collaboration to Hummel as a brand and ultimately for the lifestyle industry as a whole would you say?
"It is a unique vehicle to reach people who not are familiar with the hummel brand, our history and values. We really value the processes – creative as commercial – we have with our partners, because we always are challenged and pushed in new and bold directions. The silver lining for us are, however, that collaborations shouldn’t be a marketing gimmick. We always strive to root our collaborations in the culture our partner and we take part of. Our collaboration with 424 on Fairfax and Storm nodded to 80’s football nostalgia and our collaboration with Par5 (Milan-based Sneaker store) and Dal Negro (Italian Card game manufacture) offered a custom made deck of cards together with a shoe box you could turn into a card game table. For us, this is a way of adding an extra level of storytelling and relevancy to the project that hopefully ensure that the passion we have for the project also is passed on and shared by the end-consumer."
"Looking broadly, I begin to see more and more fatigue around releases of collaborations. Collaborations have and will in the future continue to play a big role in injecting new creative energy into the lifestyle industry, but the market seems currently to be in a limbo and I see a paradigm shift approaching. As one of the smaller sports brands, this is a unique opportunity for us to challenge and help formulate an new alternative path."
How much free reign do you have in coming up with ideas, is there a number of collabs or projects you're looking to launch each year?
"I think the notion of relevancy is essential here. We don’t want to flood the market with a half-baked concept or a project that doesn’t resonate with the people we share our passion with. We have restrictions in terms of production and budget, however, we haven’t defined a fixed number of releases per year. We aim for 12-16, but it all comes down to the strength of the ideas, concepts and products. Naturally the creative process together with feedback from our peers are essential to ensure the quality, story and detailing are spot on and long-lasting."
Can you tell me about the day to day in a creative department like that, what does it look like for you and the team?
"Our team is quite small and scattered around the world, so even though we are an autonomous unit we need structure to foster the proper creative output. We work in sprints and our creative processes are divided into specific timings around the year. I use a lot of my time travelling and talking with internal and external partners, retailers, players, clubs, media and friends of the HIVE program. The program success is very dependent on the feedback and creative knowledge and insights we get from our peers in the target culture."
The delivery is of a seriously strong standard for the Hummel Hive projects, from the products themselves to the associated imagery. Did this give you a chance to create a new benchmark for the output of Hummel?
"Thanks! There is a clear expectation from hummel that the HUMMEL HIVE program reformulate and set new standards in our ways of making products, imagery and campaigns. Internally, we are seen as an innovation and fast-track unit that help foster new processes and ideas for the benefit of the whole hummel brand. We put a lot of effort into our visual work. From finding new tendencies in communities and cultures we can use, scouting gifted talents to do photography to researching the right locations. For a program like this, the devil is in the detail and you simply need a very high level of quality to be relevant and offer something compelling and attractive.."
There's so much contemporary attitude in the releases you guys have put out there to date. Would you say there's a general feeling that needs to be rooted in each release?
"Energy from the pitch and the passionate attitude from the fans mixed with Scandinavian minimalism. We see ourselves as an Scandinavian sportswear brand with deep roots in football. We invented the first cleated football boot in 1923 and were among the pioneers that defined football jersey design in the 70s and 80s. Obviously, we don’t want to dwell in the past but we want to merge the football culture and language, we are a big part of, with our Danish affinity for design, function and form."
How much do you enjoy being able to explore fresh ground with projects like this? Do you find that you're getting the results you want but an unexpected journey so to speak?
"The whole team really thrive working with innovation and so many gifted and talented collaboration partners. We have an idea of where we are heading with the program, but we are still very early in the process and in some areas unexperienced. I see this as a strength because it keeps us agile, humble and on our toes. Our external peers and partners are super important here to help push us in the right directions. They have all been important for the impressive results we have received the last few months."
Would you say the products are still heavily ingrained in sport or do they come from more and fashion focused places?
"Today, the fashion world is so closely tied to the street and sportswear scene. However, we define ourselves as a sportswear brand with a lifestyle relevancy. Not all our products are designed for the pitch but they clearly derives from performance in terms of material, features and technology."
What has the response been like and what would you say have been the biggest successes to date?
"We are only a few months old so we are still digesting the early results, but the reaction so far have been amazing. Honestly, we have been surprised by the attention and success we have received the first half year. Our first project under the HIVE banner was with 424 on Fairfax & Storm and it was an true eye opener - we really hit something people could relate to. Our sneaker-based project with Marc and Thomas from Overkill in Berlin was sold out immediately due the guys amazing creative skills and knowledge of the sneaker culture and history."
The Hummel archives are obviously a blossoming visual celebration of a creative game, do they play a big part in influencing where you go next and how you style projects?
"Yes. We have a saying in the team that we go to the past to create the future. We honor the idea of changing one thing only when we design. Our archive and brand DNA is so distinct, so when evolving we don’t want to go to far away from our core."
Hummel seems to have a creative edge where it's kits on pitch wears are concerned. How important would you say it is for the brand to keep challenging the norms and conventions in the game?
"It is essential. This is a responsibility every brand shouldn’t underestimate. For us, kits are integral part of the football culture and the item that unite players and fans in one club identity. We believe we can offer something unique here. Especially now where more and more people are turning away from the big teams. Football is big money today and in some cases it pushes the fans away instead of integrating them more into the club. Through our creativity and knowledge of kit design we want to support the misfits and mavericks who search for new paths and establish non-league clubs, make a crowd-funded club or teams who value the social side of the game both on and off the pitch. As a brand we can help strengthen the focus on the social and cultural aspect of football. I think we have proven this in the past through some of our kits and sponsorships and we will definitely aim to challenge the norms even more in the near future."
Sometimes football can be a little serious, do you think the shirt is a place clubs should have the freedom to get a little creative?
"Yes. Very much. I would love to see more creativity, storytelling and playfulness in kit design worldwide. Compared to 80s, 90s and the beginning of the 00s the last 5-7 years have rather dull. The jersey is the symbol the players and fans share and I think it is a pity that opportunities for creative kit designs increasingly are fenced in by regulations and restrictions. In my opinion the restrictions should be much more liberal, so football kits can be a celebration of the game, the fans and clubs and be festive, crazy and beautiful element that give all of us something to talk about."
Has there been any talk of the hive working on some of the licences clubs you have?
"We have already helped launch a very limited all-white jersey for the Danish national team in the autumn of 2016. I can’t reveal too much about the future, but we are brewing on something together with some of our teams. Time will tell."
What's on the horizon for the hive, are you busy working on a range of releases?
"2017 will be a decisive year for us. I think we were a surprise for many in 2016. Now we need to live up to the hype and keep pushing the boundaries, broaden the program and find roots in new cultures. Luckily I feel very comfortable with the projects we have in the pipeline for this year and judged on the creative meetings we have for 2018 we will have a serious chance to really rock the boat in the future."
Take a look at the SoccerBible x Hummel Hive collection here.
Photography by Rich Maciver for SoccerBible.