Ernest Stobbs is just one man, but he makes a serious shirt. From Tuvalu’s evocative, traditional national shirt sported at the almost-international CONIFA 2018 tournament in London, to the current international rugby shirts of Serbia, Uganda and Kazakhstan, Stobbs and his newly-constructed Stingz Sportswear brand have gone global since he started out making shirts for his local club team in Devon.
“I have links to manufacturing, so I could do it quite easily. I came up with a design for my team, got it professionally rendered, and as soon as it came through I fell in love with it,” Stobbs says of his first design. “It was for my team Farway United. I thought, I wonder how far I can push it.”
“I’m connected with a global fashion brand called Giordano, who I do brand ambassador and consulting work for, and they decided the best way to market a product was probably sports sponsorship. So we sat down and came up with a two pronged attack, approaching teams with a combination of a sponsorship package and a shirt manufacturer.”
“We got involved with CONIFA and the 2018 World Football Cup, after I heard Paul Watson [former CONIFA executive member] talking on TalkSport. I was so disillusioned with FIFA and the world governing bodies and all the money, and they stood for so much more, for community and for football for people in countries that aren’t recognised.”
“If you look at the shirts,” Stobbs says, “you’ll see our unique selling point is really in the detail. They all really reference the culture and the landmarks of where they come from, and I put a lot of time into making sure we get that right. It sounds cheesy, but it’s for the people. The shirts represent history, heritage and people.”
It is clear that the detail is at the heart of what Stobbs does, and it really shines through. From the aforementioned Tuvalu shirts – which manage to simultaneously look like smart and unique football tops and references to a tropical island paradise – to limited-time NHS tribute shirts produced at the start of the corona lockdown, his shirts are crammed with soul.
A couple that stand out include Beer Albion, a light blue vertically striped effort with drawstrings designed into the neckline, and The Kernow ‘national’ kit, for the Cornish CONIFA team, which uses Cornish colours of black, white and a hint of gold together with a faded outline of local landmark St Micheal’s Mount. The experience connects Stobbs with all kinds of places culturally. He’s originally from Newcastle (and a big Newcastle United fan), but clearly thinks globally.
“I needed to make myself stand out,” Stobbs said. “I work with teams where I think it can be exciting and add value. That can be quite difficult, especially for local clubs.”
“I want people to buy into what it’s about, not just buy a football shirt to wear on the terrace. I spend a lot of time researching on the internet, looking at tribal patterns from Uganda and things like that. My research needs to be bang on. I always ask about landmarks, and so on. But nine times out of ten, it’s not used because it’s too cliched. There needs to be thought to it. You can’t put Guinness or a Shamrock on an Irish shirt, for example, and expect to stand out.”
“Tamil Eelam are coming on board very soon, and the designs are fantastic. Each one I do is my new favourite, really, until we do something else. I hope it will sell in Sri Lanka and London and so on, as it really connects the team to the region and the place.”
Sales remain something of an interesting area, especially with increasing interest from collectors. “We’ve put a lot of our stuff on Classic Football Shirts, but not all of it. Some of our teams want all the sales themselves, understandably, as it’s their only revenue driver. Teams like Kernow. I work with them on that. Going forward things might change, but at the moment it’s easier to sell rugby shirts ourselves, as there’s no equivalent to Classic Football Shirts.”
“The online shop launched now, on a pre-order basis (so it’s bespoke, made to measure stuff). That does mean a bit of a wait, all the orders are made at the end of each month, not when they come in. But it does mean we can put names, numbers and things like that. I want to be approachable, personable, and to be able to do things at high quality and a little bit differently. Eventually, for football shirts, the online shop will come.”