They’re something every footballer has used countless times, they’re not allowed to play without them and yet it seems sports brands have overlooked an important part of the sports market while the rest of it has moved on.
Sean Person and Roland Benedict set up Legend Soccer. The aim? To give shin pads a design overhaul, something they believe the product has needed for decades.
There’s been no innovation or change in the product,” says Benedict. “We looked at them and asked ‘Is there a better material and a natural material that we can use? Over a long period of time we came to bamboo – it’s lightweight, it’s incredibly strong, it’s slim profile and it fights bacteria.”
The end result are small, sleek bamboo shin pads that “will last longer than your football career”.
Having both played football their entire lives, Person and Benedict decided to design a product that has become stagnant and ignored, despite huge technological advances across the industry. While football boots have consistently developed over time, shin pads have essentially stayed the same for the past 20 or so years.
What’s more, major sports companies have applied zero thought to the environmental impact and so the same low quality, synthetic-based shin pads have been churned out repeatedly.
Benedict says: “We’re from Montana, we tried local wood and we got prototypes made but they didn’t check all the boxes. The technology behind making wood curve and fit to size didn’t work too well, but bamboo is incredibly resilient. It’s also sustainable, it’ll grow back in two to four years to full size after it’s cut down.”
The use of bamboo brings with it three main advantages – strength, sustainability and smell. According to Legend, gone are the days of kits bags that stink out the rest of your house as soon as you zip them open.
“Bamboo naturally resists bacteria so these are odourless and will stay so,” says Person, but he’s key to point out that this isn’t a fad. “Yes, the material is sustainable, yes it’s lightweight, but it works. It’s not a gimmick, it’ll perform at the highest level. It has to do its primary function – protect.”
Unsurprisingly, one of the football clubs that have aligned with Legend is Forest Green Rovers. The Gloucestershire club is carbon-neutral and the only fully vegan professional football club in the world.
The club’s chairman, Dale Vince, is the owner of the electricity company Ecotricity and became a major shareholder of Forest Green in 2010. Over the last decade the club have adopted a number of different initiatives, all with the environment at their core.
They are U.N. certified carbon-neutral, their stadium, The New Lawn, is powered by 100% green energy, the turf on the pitch is organic and is watered using collected rain water.
“Forest Green contacted us a long time ago,” says Benedict. “It’s taken a while to get over and talk to them – they’re at the forefront of what our shin pads are doing. Not only with how progressive they are off the field matches what they do on the field.”
“The US can be a little behind with eco-friendly mindsets, but Forest Green is a small club and yet their messaging goes all over the world. They’ve changed little things and made a significant impact with the message that they convey.”
According to Person, there have been over 200 million plastic shin pads made in the world. All various forms of plastic, with no environmental consideration at any point.
“That’s a big pile, says Person. “We manufacture them in the United States, we wanted to do it locally as opposed to outsourcing somewhere else, which compounds the sustainability.”
Instead of adding films or stickers to personalise the pads, any logos, names or pictures that people want are scorched directly on, permanently burned on before any varnish or treatment is applied. The end result is a personalised shin pad that helps protect the environment as much as your own legs.
From the outside looking in, it’s an exciting project that has the potential to disrupt a market that has been dominated by a select few large brands.
Key to its success will be whether they can appeal to clubs beyond Forest Green, something the founders are well aware of. They know that that’s “low-hanging fruit” and while fantastic is a an easy thread to piece together. It’ll require some bigger boys to play to really shake things up.
If the company is anything like the shin pads themselves, they’ll be around for a long time coming.
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