Words: Josh Millar
Images: Avery Dennison
I’m standing in a car park on the top of a mountain, staring at the biggest, most beautiful chunk of ice I’ve ever seen. The Jostedal Glacier, the largest in Europe, sits in the clouds above Gaupne, a tiny town in the Sogndal region. As I stare, Tom Dyrdal, Unit Director of Avery Dennison’s Norway site, tells me about the area’s history, and Jostedal’s significance. It’s the whole reason I’m in Norway.
We jump back onto the bus that’s taken us all the way to the top of this impossibly beautiful part of the world and tank it back down to town.
After an incredible lunch of local dishes—Norwegian caviar is more expensive than its Russian counterpart, apparently—we’re taken into the factory that houses the AX Lab, home of kit badge giants Avery Dennison and some of the most advanced printing technology in the world.
Avery Dennison recently won the contract to print all the names, numbers, and sleeve sponsors in next season’s Premier League, but their brand’s focus is on innovation, including using water-based ink, which is ace for the environment. Plus, the factory in Gaupne has completely changed the way the numbers are printed by using laser-cutting technology, thereby utilising the most efficient way to produce the 15 million pieces they’ll need by next season. But what’s most incredible is that the factory never gets overheated thanks to that glorious glacier at the top of the mountain. Using hydroelectric technology, the temperature is always a constant 23 degrees Celsius. That’s nice, isn’t it?
Excitingly, next year, AR technology will be implanted into each shirt so, as of next season, fans of all twenty clubs will be able to scan their shirts to access club-specific content on their phones. For example, a Liverpool fan could have Mo Salah thanking them for buying his shirt or a Spurs fan could be transported into their stadium to look around it. You know, when it’s built. It’s all very exciting, like in Back to the Future.
Having already provided Barcelona with their names and numbers this season, we sat down with Michael Colarossi, the Avery Dennison Vice President of Innovation, Product Line Management, and Sustainability, to find out how good this is for all Premier League fans.
MUNDIAL: Your role is largely on sustainability, creating new products, and innovation.
Michael Colarossi: I have three key elements to my role. First is around innovation. Identifying the trends in the industry, disruptions, and how we want to disrupt ourselves before we are disrupted.
The second is more traditional product management, managing all the portfolios of the solutions that we offer to the market. The third is sustainability. And we look at sustainability through two lenses; the first is internal, so we have some ambitious goals we have set for 2025 around greenhouse gasses, waste reduction, what percentage of our revenue is going to come from sustainable solutions, and on and on. The other is looking at sustainability through the lens of the market, and what we are seeing very much in the marketplace is sustainability is becoming a more important deciding factor in purchasing decisions with consumers as well as the brands we support.
Was that key in part of the Premier League deal?
Absolutely. The feedback that we’ve received from the Premier League about our technology has been very positive, along with the fact we bring sustainability. This is both in terms of our solutions; the digital technology is more sustainable because we deploy less waste, and also that we have a programme where we take the plastics that are used in our production and find ways to repurpose them. As you may have heard, our Nora facility is “green”, receiving most of its power from hydroelectricity as Norway is obviously a leader in renewable energy.
How does your waste for each production compare to other suppliers?
I don’t want to wager a guess, but we believe that our technology is the leading technology. Frankly depends on order intake, how we can batch things—that has a major impact. But our facilities, given Avery Dennison’s scale and size, are able to bring a number of orders together and print them simultaneously on a sheet with the laser cutting technology. That combination immediately reduces our waste compared to any of our competitors that don’t have that facility.
So the waste is recycled as well?
We have a programme that takes the plastic waste back and recycles it: we work on whether it’s into different uses or back into our supply chain. We are very much focused on circularity, given the challenges with single-use plastics and in the world in general, so we are looking at how we create a full circular leap, something that’s very difficult considering some of the plastics we use. Obviously, chemistry is involved, so it makes my role far more difficult, but it’s a space we are actively involving time and effort to see if we can reuse the waste. The other area that we are actively investigating is could we use something other than plastic? We have some technologies that allow us to print on different substrates. It’s not fully scalable quite yet, but it’s a space we are getting into.
Tell me about the technology: you can scan the shirt with your mobile, how are you going to make that bespoke to each club?
So, the technology itself is a trigger. With our digital printing tech, we are able to create a unique trigger that is embedded into the product we create, which ultimately ends up on the garment. Then we work with the clubs so that once a fan triggers that technology, it points you to any experience you want to create. We’re working right now to identify multiple use cases internally but also with the clubs. It could be as simple as sending you to a club’s web address or as complex as a fan engagement where you could have [some sort of] a fan experience when they walk into a stadium. It really is a very flexible platform we’ve created, and we’ll work with our technology and the clubs to determine the way they want to use it.
Do you see this as the future of football shirts?
I think it is the future of fan engagement—whether football, American football, or cricket—and a unique an opportunity to engage as clubs will have. I think there are also other benefits to the technology and things that we’re looking to pursue, like brand protection. People want to know what they are purchasing is authentic, and the clubs themselves want to ensure that. That could be interesting. Transparency, too: how was this product created, what was the energy that went into it, what labour went into it, how was it manufactured? This tech allows us to do that; it allows us to create whatever content we want to with a simple trigger; we can point to any data source.
You’ve already seen some success with Barcelona, with the new breathable technology—which you’d normally attribute to shirts—applied to the numbers on the back.
We partnered up with the club in two elements. Aesthetic, how it will look on the garment, and performance. When we look at pinholing or microholing, that’s for breathability or drape. We’re always looking at a process perspective but also a chemistry and technology perspective to change how it feels or how it drapes or appears on a garment.
Part of the renovation process is to advance the technology. It’s always a challenge. We look through market means and try to find a solution that the market will require. With the microholing, the club might want it because they are looking for breathability in a garment for the players’ comfort. The digital watermark we talked about could be driven from a fan perspective. The technology that we deploy is often dependent on the performance that the club require and also that we’ve broadly seen in the industry. What we are seeing in football is a phenomenon called ‘dyed migration’. When you wash a garment that is dyed, there is a tendency for the dyes to come out of the garment and get into the water. Well if it does that, the number could change colour. We’ve deployed a technology that prevents that from occurring, which people don’t think about unless they wash their reds and whites together and suddenly have a lot of pinks. The club may not necessarily think about it, the consumer may not necessarily think about it, but we are thinking about it to ensure it doesn’t happen.
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