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Mark Willis Interview - FIFA 17 Ultimate Team™ Kit Designer

Posted August 26th at 3:00pm.

BIO

Clean Sheet Co. produces uniquely stylish apparel inspired by the beautiful game.  Founded by designer and strategist Mark Willis in 2013, the company has grown into one of the most interesting indie soccer brands in the United States. With dozens of designs – including many for fans of American soccer – and a robust fanbase, Clean Sheet Co. is looking forward to helping soccer and soccer culture continue to grow Stateside.  While operating Clean Sheet Co., founder Mark also works as an artist, an independent consultant, and a digital strategist at Harvard University.  After more than 15 years in Boston, he (and Clean Sheet Co.) are relocating to Philadelphia this fall. 

Q&A

Who are you? Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

My name is Mark Willis, and I'm an artist, designer, digital strategist and entrepreneur based in Boston (soon to be Philadelphia). I founded and run Clean Sheet Co., an apparel start-up breaking into the soccer-inspired casual athletic apparel market. I love soccer, and EA SPORTS FIFA is a big part of that love. Clean Sheet Co. has been producing unique apparel for soccer fans since 2013, so when EA Sports approached us to contribute a few uniform designs to the 2017 edition of the game, we were ecstatic. My background is in digital work - I also direct digital and web strategy at Harvard University - and I'm a self-taught designer. Add that to a love of soccer and the FIFA series is basically the nexus of everything I enjoy.  

How long have you been playing FIFA? What is your fondest EASPORTS FIFA memory?  

I've been playing ff an on, since it debuted in the 90s. I vividly remember playing the '98 World Cup edition on Nintendo 64 and thinking that the gameplay couldn't get much more fun than that.  Now, of course, it's not only worlds more sophisticated,  visually and technically, but it's gained a cinematic quality with season and managerial modes (and it looks like FIFA 17 takes that sense of story even further).  Every edition seems to encourage more and more customization, which has unlocked so much more fun - and we're thrilled to be a part of that. The uniform reproductions in FIFA have always been very faithful to reality, which is great - but the fact that the game is taking a new step into fantasy and "what if" kits is flat-out awesome.  At Clean Sheet Co., we like to think of design angles that the typical jersey manufacturers don't - so to say we were excited about the challenge of designing some unique kit ideas for FIFA 17 would be an understatement. It's exactly what we love to do. 

What is your favourite club and/or player?

Favorite club, in FIFA and on the field, is Brighton and Hove Albion FC. They're currently in the English Championship and mark my words, they're getting promoted to the Premier League this year! (No, really!). I love pitting BHAFC against Barca or Bayern - while I wait patiently for those matches to happen in real life, it's great that I can live out my fantasy matchups in the game.  Favorite player - I've always enjoyed players with a chip on their shoulder.  Cantona, Gattuso, and as an American, Clint Dempsey.  And of course, it's impossible to do anything but enjoy the phenomenon that is Zlatan. 

What is the inspiration behind your FIFA 17 Ultimate Team kit design(s)?

Several of our FIFA 17 kits are inspired by U.S. soccer and our national teams. As I mentioned, I'm an American, and as a soccer culture, Americans are establishing a unique place in the global soccer landscape. On the field we're decent, but not yet elite; we work harder than many but we yearn to play the unconsciously brilliant, beautiful football that other nations seem to take for granted.  We have flashes of achievement and regression. We have a soccer history unlike any other place. We have extremely passionate fans that combine dozens of international influences. Like our country, our soccer culture is a mashup of colors, philosophies, styles and tastes.  We're all over the place – and I love it.  

One thing we've never really had, though, is a compelling visual identity. (Maybe that's not too surprising, given the above). Our uniforms have never been very consistent; nor have they been that interesting or uniquely American. Working with Clean Sheet Co., a large goal of mine is to help contribute some ideas about what a set of classic, intriguing looks for the US national soccer teams could be.  

With luck, a few of these visual ideas may lay the groundwork for real-world apparel. 

What is your favourite aspect/element of your kit design(s)?  

We did a collection - kits for a so-called "World XI" side.  I mean, how do you create a look for a global all-star team?  We're really excited with the way the designs came out and can't wait to see the virtual likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Zlatan, Neymar etc. wearing them. 

Where can people see more of your work? 

Clean Sheet Co. sells amazing apparel at cleansheet.co - stop by and visit! We're also @cleansheetco on every social platform you can imagine, so add us if you like. I write about design and soccer (amongst other things) at mwillis.com and @m_willis on Twitter 

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