Wild-card Westcott

The lucrative industry of football uniforms has long been dominated by giants like adidas and Nike. Meet the Australian entrepreneur who is disrupting it

July 13, 2018 03:12 pm | Updated 04:07 pm IST

 The South Sudan national football team

The South Sudan national football team

In 2016, Luke Westcott, an Australian entrepreneur and then student at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, was having trouble finding a ride to the Juba International Airport in South Sudan. The country was facing severe petrol shortage and Westcott was worried he would miss his flight home. He eventually found a motorbike with enough fuel, strapped on his luggage and climbed on. “I fell off a few times, but got there in the end,” he laughs. “And I kept thinking, ‘If I had a corporate job, there would have been a driver waiting’.”

Remarkably, that was the only time the founder of AMS Clothing remembers feeling bitter about his unusual career choice. It was his first time in the African country, where he was meeting with football federation officials to discuss how his company, which stands for African Manufacturing Solutions, could provide uniforms to local teams. Today, AMS jerseys are worn by six national teams including South Sudan, Rwanda, and even the contested region of Western Sahara, and many more local clubs. In return, 24-year-old Westcott has local and international distribution rights for the jerseys.

Eye on the prize

Tomorrow, millions of viewers will turn their attention to Russia to watch the FIFA World Cup championship finals. Interestingly, the entire season belonged to the underdogs (like finalist Croatia) who disproved predictions and defeated popular favourites. But when it comes to uniforms for the players, it is the giants that won. Both France and Croatia will be wearing Nike (22 of the 32 teams wore either Nike or adidas), while none of the teams outfitted by Westcott qualified for the championship. However, the Australian entrepreneur’s creations did get a showing at the qualifying matches. More importantly, as he is quick to point out, AMS is not competing with the big names (not yet at least); this is what makes his business model a clever one.

“Our focus is on the teams that Nike or adidas wouldn’t want to supply, or don’t have a reason to supply, but who have a huge fan base within the country and internationally,” he reveals. “My main competition in Africa are replicas — you can see them in the markets, these fake branded jerseys of the national teams.”.

In order to compete, Westcott sells his jerseys within Africa for a lower cost than he does online. “We sell everywhere, including in our new store in Juba, South Sudan, at the local market rate,” and within the continent, the market rate is determined by how much a fake T-shirt costs, (around $10 per T-shirt).

Not for the faint of heart

Westcott admits that even though South Sudan was not an easy country to break into as an outsider (“not unless you’re looking for oil or doing NGO work”), it proved to be the perfect test market. “Almost every challenge we could find, we found there,” he says, only half-joking. “It helped us learn about all the possible challenges” — useful for his plans to expand to other markets, including the Pacific Islands.

Over the past four years, the AMS team has learned some valuable lessons that Westcott was likely never taught in his international business course at university. This includes sending more than the required number of jerseys to account for any pilferage (which has happened in almost every country the company has supplied to), and winning the favour of local customs officials by sponsoring the uniforms for the South Sudanese Customs FC league team.

The salesman

Westcott turned entrepreneur quite young. At 15, he visited China on a school trip and saw “all the incredible, cheap things I could buy and sell back home”. Soon after, he started an online retail business that specialised in sourcing and selling football jerseys because there was great demand for them. “The most requested ones were for obscure national teams, mostly in Africa,” he reveals. “No one supplied these teams that were constantly being requested, or they were impossible to get. That’s when I got the idea for AMS.”

Today, his company proposes T-shirt designs to national football federation officials, often incorporating imagery and detailing that is specific to the country. The Zanzibar away jersey, for instance, features a neckline inspired by the popular dashiki shirt that is worn locally. While he realises that an AMS-outfitted team making it to the FIFA World Cup in 2022 is a stretch, the mere possibility of it is what Westcott loves about the game. “Every single country anywhere can compete. That’s really what made me a big fan,” he says.

National jerseys retail for approximately $44.99 (they ship worldwide) on ams-clothing.com.

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