Cutting Through The Competitive Market of Sports Prints: Good Team On Paper
‘Classic Kits, Quality Prints’ is the headline of online sporting gift shop, Good Team On Paper. What started as a personal project exploring the history of their own hometown’s football club and rediscovering the kits of their team’s past, soon grew into illustrating the classic kits of hundreds of different football clubs. Fascinated by the colours and patterns of timeless football kits, founders of GTOP, Ian and Shaun, wanted to create artwork that represents and celebrates the rich history of teams all over the world. Here, they tell us about the creative process behind their beautiful prints, why they decided to keep it as their ‘side-hustle’ alongside their day jobs, and how they’ve broadened out to a wider array of sports, which now include rugby and cricket.
Hey Good Team! So first things first - who do you support?
Shaun does the right thing and follows our hometown team Middlesbrough through thick and thin and Ian has betrayed his roots and considers Manchester United his club.
Can you tell us about Good Team On Paper and how it all began?
We both met around seven years ago when Shaun joined the same design team Ian worked in. Like many creatives we both spent a lot of time speaking about ideas and potential sidelines to work on, and roughly four years ago we finally decided to dip our toes in the water. The first concept involved developing a product based on our local area, and to give us the best chance of reaching the right people we started building social pages focusing on promoting Teesside. Amongst other avenues a lot of the content was based around Middlesbrough FC and, to be honest, we were lucky with the team enjoying a couple of their best seasons in recent years. Off the back of this we ran a feature on Instagram encouraging our followers to pick Boro's greatest ever XI and at the end of that we produced a graphic showcasing the final side. To our surprise people starting asking us if they could buy this and we thought... why not! We quickly built an Etsy shop, people started picking their best Middlesbrough teams, and we started printing them. Although we do still have the original profiles, we quickly pivoted when the sales started coming in and Good Team on Paper was born.
You say you’re ‘designers by day’ - is GTOP a sideline passion project for you both or has it manifested itself into a full time job? If so, what was the turning point?
We just let things evolve at their own pace and developed two further ranges to complement our personalised option, ‘Classic Kits’ which showcased sixteen iconic strips from Boro’s history and also a ‘Moments’ print, celebrating the teams biggest game - the 2004 League Cup win. We really enjoyed the process and decided to run with the idea so began creating designs for as many clubs as we could - which grew to encompass all ninety-two professional English clubs, an extensive non-league section, European and International teams. We took a conscious decision to take our time, enjoy the project and run it alongside our ‘normal’ jobs and (although it doesn’t need to be) it still remains a ‘sideline’ to this day. We want to keep the process fun and not introduce the unnecessary pressures financially relying on the business would bring. Instead we decided to bring onboard a small team who now help us with some design aspects we don’t have time to complete and the also dispatch process.
"We want to keep the process fun and not introduce the unnecessary pressures financially relying on the business would bring."
Is there a print of yours that holds particular significance for you?
There was a moment last year when we were contacted by the agent of Peter Čech who commissioned us to design a print featuring a history of kits from his playing career. It was presented to him on his retirement. That was a very surreal but very proud moment.
Can you talk us through the research and design stage? How long does this usually take and what are some of the biggest rewards / challenges in the process?
The process really varies depending on the club we are focussing on and they all bring their own challenges. We select the kits for each print based on a number of criteria - honours, great design and cult favourites and also sometimes find, especially for the bigger teams, there are far too many to choose from. Cutting these down is an agonising process and the source of the odd friendly debate. On the flip side of the coin, we sometimes find it hard to locate reliable reference material - especially at non-league level. Obviously we rely heavily on online sources but we also watch archived video, read some of the excellent books and magazines available, and just talk to the many knowledgeable people out there.
GTOP operates in a very competitive market. How did you cut through and make yourselves stand out amongst the rest?
We can’t be one hundred per cent sure but when we started we don’t believe anyone else was doing this. There were some great artists and designers creating football inspired prints but nothing focussing on the actual kits. There was definitely a gap in the market. Over the years we have seen a lot talented people join the scene and in all honestly we think it’s great. We love seeing how others showcase the strips and we are always interested to see which kits they hold significance for. Having this longevity is one of the main reasons we feel we stand out. We have an established brand, strong social proof, and a real depth in our offering. We have said from day one that it doesn’t matter who you support. Everyone deserves to celebrate their team and we try to cater for everyone. We also pay a lot of attention to the quality of not only the materials we use for the print itself but the packaging as well. We try making the whole experience from the moment someone lands on our site to hanging our prints on the wall as great as it can possibly be. Our customer service has to reflect this as well and we always try to help with any requests that come our way.
"We can’t be one hundred per cent sure but when we started we don’t believe anyone else was doing this. There were some great artists and designers creating football inspired prints but nothing focussing on the actual kits."
How did you decide on a price point for your prints and which selling platform to use?
The price point has been a real balancing act over the years. As previously mentioned, we care deeply about the whole experience and that ultimately results in never using the cheapest or most readily available materials. I guess it goes back to what we said earlier regarding not introducing unnecessary financial pressures - we can afford to take lower profits in order to make the product as premium as possible. In regards to the platforms we use, although we still have the original Etsy shops, our online store hosted by Shopify is our main focus and where our full range is located.
What's next for GTOP? Do you wish to expand / explore new products in the future?
It was inevitable that we would look to include other sports and late last year we started adding Rugby prints to our site, which has since grown into a comprehensive range. We are also a few weeks away from introducing Cricket and plans for some other one off projects. However our main development this year is the launch of our ‘Giving Back To Grass Roots’ campaign. As well as servicing professional clubs we also specialise in the design of custom prints for Junior and Amateur teams and through this we are committed to donating a percentage of each sale back to every registered club. We are hoping to raise as much money as possible for any team who wants to be involved and we are genuinely excited we have found a way to make a positive contribution to the game at grass roots level.
Finally, as our name suggests, here at Mantra we’re curious about what keeps our favourite creatives driven and pushing forward. What’s your personal mantra, Ian and Shaun?
At the end of the day, the people who buy our prints are choosing to spend their hard earned money on something we have created and it's our responsibility to deliver every single time. Quality above all else.