Football merchandise is undoubted big business. Fans are loyal and passionate about their team, as echoed by the 3.25 million Bayern Munich shirts sold in 2021. National football teams have a captive audience, typically any football fan supports the country they’re born in, and if the team happens to do particularly well then even non-football fans tend to buy in to the hysteria.
Cambodia has a population of 16.72 million, and considers football the nations favourite sport. With this in mind, it felt bizarre that four years have passed since the last national football kit was released in 2018 by FBT.
However, 2022 marked a new era for the team as an ambitious new Khmer sportswear brand named Varaman appeared—and celebrated their brand launch with the unveiling of a new under-23s football kit for the Cambodian National Team. The new shirts were worn at the Morodok Techo National Stadium on Monday 14th February in a 6-0 thriller as the hosts triumphed over Brunei’s under 23 squad. Notably, this was the first time a Cambodian National Football squad had played at the new stadium.
Typically, a single shirt design is used for both the senior and various younger national squads but FFT and Varaman proudly announced that the senior squad would also be launching a new kit on May 27th ahead of the AFC Asian Cup 3rd round qualifiers.
Whilst the Varaman brand delights in being a Cambodian company, in Cambodia, ran by Cambodians, for Cambodia, there’s one interesting twist with these kit launches—a Scottish designer named Frazer MacRobert was tasked with bringing Varaman’s concepts to life.
Breaking into the industry
I was known for turning up to 5-aside football in the most eclectic collection of football shirts that Phnom Penh had probably ever seen. From Sassoulo away, to Palestino, to retro Yugoslavia, or even Caledonian Braves—I quickly built a reputation as loving kit designs and the fashion that went alongside the teamwear.
After playing casual football with a hodgepodge of expats and locals, Frazer quickly became the unofficial kitman for his various teams. His creation of ‘Clan United’ as a football based HCD project led to some notable early work with Berwick Rangers Football Club, launching their community foundation identity. After designing and printing some bespoke team kits, his work caught the eye of a senior manager at Dewhirst Co. LTD, a garment factory that has been responsible for many top tier football shirts in the premier league, la liga, and beyond.
I was originally asked to help Dewhirst prepare visual mock-ups for potential clients, but instead my first meeting at the factory was for something completely unexpected. The Varaman representative was sat waiting for me in the board room, the factory and him had been discussing his vision for the national kits but they needed someone that could take the concept and bring it to life with a tangible output.
Frazer was commissioned in February 2021 to create the home shirt for the team. He was briefed with a clear concept—the shirt was to be a blue digital camouflage design. There was some deeper thinking behind the concept, such as the team wanting to represent a ‘togetherness’ and also mimic both defending and fighting for their country on their pitch—like an army might also do for their country. The digital camouflage concept was quirky and fairly novel, with not many high profile examples existing from other club and country teams at that time.
It was a huge opportunity for me. I knew that the Varaman team were fully married to their concept, but I also wanted to find a way to breathe my own creativity into the design process. I believe that great shirt design isn’t based solely on aesthetic outcome, but also on an understanding of the team, their fans, and the history behind a club (or country). This is why following a HCD process was so important to me.
To inspire other passionate football designers with a penchant for design, Frazer has began writing a short book on how HCD can be applied to the football industry. His aim is to help other professionals have an easy route into various design roles or projects, while hopefully inspiring more designers to consider how they can help the sport continue to flourish.
After experimenting with various concepts, and testing some early prototypes of his designs, Frazer presented a fully bespoke digital camouflage pattern made entirely from the Angkor Wat image seen on the Cambodian flag. He pixelated the image, and used various shades of blue along with a vast array of image sizes, to create a unique pattern.
I had presented multiple camouflage patterns, including one made from the shape of Cambodia, and ultimately the Angkor camouflage proved to be so popular that it inspired the rest of the collection. Over the following months, the brief for the rest of the shirts was to incorporate the flag (and Angkor Wat image), keeping to the blue, red, and white colour scheme—but notably aiming to be highly conceptual with each design. Typically I advocate for at least one ‘classic’ shirt design but it was certainly exciting to create a range that embraced the conceptual shirt styles that have became increasingly popular in recent years.
Frazer explains that the home shirt uses the Angkor Wat shape in a ‘micro’ fashion, with thousands of blended Angkor Wat shapes working harmoniously to build the digital camouflage effect. Meanwhile, the away shirt took the opposite direction and is ‘macro’, highlighting a specific section of the Angkor Wat image (one of the towers) and overlaying it with more intricate markings from the image.
When asked about the under 23 shirt design process, Frazer remarked:
Ironically that was one of my first designs for this project. I like to start my design process by creating a wide array of low-fidelity prototypes, almost like a giant mood board. Having lots of ideas is a great way to rule out what a client (and the target audience) DON’T want—leaving you with an extremely focused path forward of ideas likely to solve the project goal. The u23 design was simple, and tested in multiple colours… it was instantly rejected but then brought back to the table much later in the design process. The first national team match in the new stadium deserved new uniforms, and I loved the idea that the u23 team would get their own bespoke kit as it still preserved the excitement of the main kit launch in May.
About the Designer
Frazer MacRobert is a human-centred design (HCD) specialist that has been living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, since 2019. Despite working with HCD agencies and currently spending the majority of his time working with 17 Triggers (a behaviour change innovation lab focused on bringing positive impact to those at the bottom of the pyramid), he has build up a football-based design project called ‘Clan United’ with the aim of ‘keeping beauty in the beautiful game’.
Remarking on the creation of his Clan United project, Frazer stated:
The beautiful game is more than a ‘game’ to most. To fans, it is part of their identity, their passion, their tribe. To the club, it is a professional business, and as such deserves the highest quality decision-making to protect and enhance their purpose.
Clan United seeks to keep the beauty in the beautiful game—reflecting club aspirations and the important cultural aspects behind teams and organisations. We want to establish corporate identities that embody the heart and soul, that have purpose and vision.
The name is inspired by the Scottish Clans, due to the heritage of the project founder, whilst light-heartedly playing on one of the world’s most popular football brands: Man Utd. Frazer remarked that he’d stumbled across the clanutd.com url at an incredibly low price, and embraced the similarity to the Manchester-based stalwart’s own domain.