TEXT | Michael Antonovich
IMAGES | Octopi Media & Antonovich
Last week, Pete Fox teased an image that showed a red and blue jersey from Fox Racing's 1997 line with a caption that gave a small backstory on the design. Part of Fox Racing's SX jersey and 360 pant collection, the style was worn by Jeremy McGrath and was one of the many iconic pieces that have come from the company. Almost instantly, fans filled the comment section with memories of the kit and requests for a reproduction. Their wishes were sort of granted on Saturday at the Anaheim Two Supercross, as Chad Reed ran a complete replica of the yellow colorway in a nod to his childhood hero McGrath. During the downtime of the afternoon we spent a few minutes with Clay Williams, a gear rep turned designer for Fox Racing, about the setup and what it means for the company.
How did the idea come about? It started with a social media post that Fox made in November. "Pete made a post about McGrath's kit from 1997 and talked about how it was the first asymmetrical pattern that he made," said Williams. "It was right at the time that we were looking at the gear that Chad was going to wear for the season, even before JGR was a done deal, but we thought it was going to happen." (Here's some clarification on the planning process: during the offseason, every gear brand will come up with a calendar of gear that corresponds with events on the schedule and orders the appropriate pieces from their manufacturing plants, which allows for sublimated names, numbers, and other small details to be completed. What gear a rider wears on a race weekend is planned out weeks and months in advance, and is often tied to whatever line or product the company hopes to push at that time.) "We told Chad how it would be sick and we were going to try to do it for Anaheim One, but we didn't end up doing it," continued Williams. "With this being MC's hometown race, we knew it'd be something special."
Although McGrath is now a Thor MX ambassador, he still had a little bit of involvement in the process through the helmet. "We didn't know what we were going to do, because that year Jeremy had the Troy Lee bubble-lava lamp stuff, the one that Bell just came out with," stated Williams. "We talked with Chad to see what he would want to do and he actually hit up MC to see what he thought of everything. They started benching racing and MC said he wanted Chad to run the hibiscus helmet from 1997. It all came full-circle."
On the technical side, Reed's gear is much more advanced than what McGrath wore over two decades ago, as the designs of the thick cotton FX jersey and sturdy 360 pants were carried over to lightweight, stretchable TruDri and TruMotion fabrics of the modern Flexair line. Hidden throughout the pants and jersey were small details that we've come to expect from Williams (he's the one responsible for the butt patches on Fox's pro riders over the last few years), like "Reed" on the leg of the pant where the originals said "360" and "CR" instead of "FX" on the jersey. "That's second nature for me coming from the athlete side," said Williams. "I'm always adding custom things, like the CR instead of the FX that was on the original jersey."
How much of the gear was ordered? "I made five jerseys and three pants, but they all went to Chad. That's it and we're done," said Williams with a laugh.
Any longtime fan of the sport can see how the concept of putting a brand putting a marquee rider in a product that they have no intention to sell has fallen out of favor in the past few years. Custom painted helmets are practically a thing of the past, as helmet makers want professional riders to run a design on Saturday night that a consumer can purchase the moment they see it, and that same principle has spread to apparel. Putting Reed, one of the most identifiable riders of all-time, in something one-off can be viewed as a wasted opportunity to market one of the many products in Fox Racing's current catalog, but there's no denying that the MC-CR gear brought more attention to the brand as a whole than any stock offering could have. Before the Fox Racing board could sign off on the idea, Williams and others had to show them the importance of doing something special. "There's a very different belief right now in our industry. It used to be a lot of customized stuff and there was flair added to gear or helmets, and I loved that," he shared. "As the sport has gotten more commercial and sales driven, it's gone away from that. So for us, I come up with ideas and have to sell them to the internal marketing team. To them, it's a wasted marketing opportunity with a top rider. But in my mind, yeah we sell gear but we need to sell the brand and Fox has been so influential in the sport that we need to do stuff like this. It's beyond us selling 180 line jerseys. This is Fox because it's badass."
After such a popular one-off set and nonstop comments from fans voicing their love of the mid 90s Fox Racing designs, can we expect to see something similar to this pattern come to the public? That's still uncertain, as Fox Racing has archives of designs that they could grab, repackage, and put out to the masses. "A lot of that stuff is almost 'trademarked' to Fox, like the zebra, barbwire, and spider web stuff, patterns you don't really see anywhere else," said Williams. "There is stuff from that era that is what you think of when you think of Fox. For us, we don't feel like we are copying it, because it's our own stuff, but I do think there is a need to bring it back with a fresh twist. You don't want to rest on your laurels with the exact stuff that you already did. The progress needs to be there, you need something new and cool." As a designer, Williams can be one of the first to inject future products with inspiration from the past, but the young employee would like to make waves with a design that is completely his own. "For me, I love that Fox logo. Designing around that, when I design I like to start with the center chest placement and build around it."