Designer M. Willis Launches ‘Clean Sheet’, A T-Shirt Line Invested In Clean Lines And Vivid Colors

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

Designer Mark Willis—best known around these parts as the man behind the baseball/soccer crossover lark “Soccer Out of Context“—has launched a line of t-shirts playing off of soccer’s tendency towards bold design and eye-catching color. The line’s first effort, a bright yellow number based on the famous “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden Flag (a staple of American soccer iconography long before it was co-opted for modern political use), launched this week. There’s plenty more to come, and Mark was good enough to field some questions from KCKRS while also giving us a sneak peek of the shirts to come.

KCKRS: What as the inspiration for Clean Sheet, and what are some of the underlying design themes?

M. Willis: I’ve been mulling over the ideas behind Clean Sheet for a while. I’ve spent a few years designing and writing about soccer themes, first with the New England Revolution “Reboot” project, later a USA Kit project, and most recently the series I just completed that merged baseball and soccer identities, Soccer Out of Context.

During that time I’ve really discovered what I love in soccer design culture: ultra-clean lines, vivid colors, and the power of straightforward symbols and forms. I also enjoy taking messy, complex concepts, like national identity, or one’s passion for their club, and trying to represent them with strong, minimal design techniques. You can see some of these concepts in my ongoing Seasons project, a visual representation of international club soccer tables. Seasons uses colors, lines, and a spare design to evoke the identities of different clubs.

I’ve also learned a bit about selling shirts – I’ve been doing that for a bit too. With the World Cup coming up and a bunch of interesting design ideas ready, I decided it was the right time to give Clean Sheet a shot.

KCKRS: We see you’ve launched with one shirt, the Gadsden Flag shirt – can you talk about that shirt and the ideas behind it?

M. Willis: Sure, yes, the Gadsden is Clean Sheet’s first design. Seeing the actual Gadsden flag hoisted proudly at US Mens National team games – and I’m a huge, huge, supporter of the USMNT – has always seemed really inspiring to me. It stands out in a sea of red, white and blue, and just demands attention. During times when the world hasn’t given US Soccer too much credit, the Gadsden’s message has always been the perfect rejoinder. It’s all about the feisty, bring it on, we’re-not-backing-down side of the US game. And the colors and imagery are beautiful.

This is what we live for. Watching our guys walk out of the tunnel and onto the field at Estadio Azteca – the toughest 105-by–68-meter patch of soccer territory to conquer in North America – with everything at stake. Absorbing the vibration surging off the capacity crowd. Drawing in deep breaths as the anthems are played. Fighting through waves of emotion as the match bends back and forth. Screaming together, singing together, rooting together. Living and dying with our team. – From the introduction to The Gadsden, MWillis.com

So yes, we’re launching with just one shirt to start – we want to get each and every shirt exactly right, so we’ll start slow and introduce new items as we go. One fun way to do that is by having folks vote on which identities we should introduce next – and anybody can do just that at http://cleansheet.co/next.

In fact, if you don’t mind, I’d love to show KCKRS a few upcoming designs – this is a premiere of sorts. One of these will be our next featured shirt.

Anybody can vote! So far I believe The Deutschland is in the lead to be the next Clean Sheet design.

KCKRS: What is the future of the line? What’s next?

M. Willis: I have a bunch of ideas ready to go, and if folks like where I’m headed, you’ll see a shirt (or something else cool) every few weeks. Right now I just want to get a few Gadsdens into peoples’ hands before the big summer World Cup qualifying season – my dream would be to be watching on TV come June, and pick out a Gadsden here and there in the stands in between all the red, white and blue. And to continue to make some cool, interesting designs for soccer fans around the world.

I love feedback – it really helps me shape projects like this one – so feel free to find me and tell me how I’m doing! I’m @cleansheetco on Twitter, on Facebook if that’s how you roll, and of course info@cleansheet.co always works too.

And thank you and KCKRS for having me, Jason.

The Gadsden shirt is in presale at Willis’s website for a reasonable price of $22.50 – but be quick, because the first run closes on April 19th. Even if you’re not ready to pull the trigger on the shirt, be sure to check out Mark’s website anyway; in addition to the awesome visuals, Willis provides in-depth explanation behind the inspirations and processes of each of his very unique design projects.

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