If something looks a little off when you turn into your local Major League Soccer match this weekend, don’t check your television settings. The off-white and dark-charcoal colored uniforms sported by each of the league’s teams are by design — and serve a larger purpose.
The jerseys are made, in part, of marine plastic dredged from the ocean and repurposed as fabric. Timed in conjunction with Earth Day on Sunday, they are a result of the league’s partnership with Adidas and that brand’s connection with Parley, an organization that raises awareness of marine plastic and its associated environmental costs.
This is actually the second year running that MLS clubs have teamed up with Parley. Last season, New York City FC, Orlando City, the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders wore similar get-ups against one another. And although the dark whites and light grays caused confusion to many tuning in from afar — Ernesto Bruce, the senior director of Adidas soccer, promises this season’s color schemes are more distinctive — the protagonists themselves embraced the concept.
“We got really positive feedback from the players,” Bruce said, “and now we’re really confident moving forward.”
Interest was so high around the league, in fact, that a decision to loop in every one of its 23 clubs was close to “unanimous,” according to Maribeth Towers, MLS’ senior vice president of consumer products. For everyone but those who struggle to differentiate soft hues, it seems, the initiative is a positive.
“I’ve been to World Cups, I’ve been to Champions League finals and been fortunate to have been around the world,” Bruce said. “I’ve been very fortunate, but I would say that, by far, when I reflect, the two things I get most excited and most motivated about is our partnership with Major League Soccer … and No. 2 is our Parley partnership.
“A lot of people just don’t know about the plastic in the ocean, and about what all it affects. This is going to be able to inform people around the world.”
Parley’s backstory is genuinely compelling. Cyrill Gutsch, its founder and CEO, previously worked as a designer before a fateful meeting with well-known environmentalist Paul Watson in 2012. What Watson told Gutsch shocked him into action: the ocean is dying, and humans are at fault. Plastic floating on the seas is not the only issue, but it was one easiest to get the general public to latch onto.
“We are entering a phase known as the material revolution,” Gutsch said in a phone interview, meaning there will be more pollution than there are means to repurpose it. “There is no fish or sea creature that is now completely free of plastic materials. We cannot ignore that anymore.”
And so his company’s focus is twofold. The first is to raise awareness of the problem. The second is to help solve it by repurposing said materials into something useful.
Parley’s first collaboration with Adidas involved turning pollution into sneakers, trash into, if not treasure, something people were willing to drop upward of $100 on. The soccer jersey partnership takes an additional step, because it touches upon each part of Parley’s mission, utility and raised awareness.
“Football, soccer has a strong power to unite people,” Gutsch said. “We feel that, in a lot of areas where we operate, in trying to communicate our message about the sea, sport is a beautiful way of communicating our message and bringing people together.”
MLS was a natural fit because its fan base skews younger, a group typically more open to campaigns such as this, that Gutsch hopes can actually affect meaningful change.
“It is a very young demographic,” Gutsch said. “It’s exactly the people we’ve built our movement for the ocean around.
“It can be the legacy of my generation to leave behind a bad sea. It’s not about a protest, or being controversial. It’s such a graphic cause, and it’s so obvious. We can communicate this to the masses.”
At the very least, to the folks who channel surf onto one of this weekend’s MLS matches, doing a double take at the coloring on their screens before the message sinks in.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.