Is it an armor that the players wear when going to battle or is it a reflection of the identity of the team or does it represent the people the team represents? There are so many different meanings behind a jersey and that’s what makes the wait for a new kit worthwhile.
Fashion has always been a form of expression, storytelling, identity and association. India has seen the emergence of various fashion trends in the last decade or so, and one of them has been street fashion. Similarly, the last decade has also seen a different kind of sporting transformation in India. Over the last two years, A homegrown brand has been blending Sports-Street fashion in an unseen avatar. We interviewed Avni and Ambar Aneja, the siblings who co-founded the Gurugram based sport-street brand ‘Six5Six’. The brand has been associated with sports like Table Tennis and Football but they made the headlines when they replaced Nike as the official kit sponsors for the Indian National Football team in 2018. Here is what they had to say about how far they have come, and how they overcome the COVID-19 block, and what next.
How was Six5Six converted from an idea to reality, and what is the etymology behind choosing the name ‘Six5Six’?
For both of us sport has been something we have been associated with all our lives. We used to play cricket(Ambar) and basketball(Avni) respectively. We learned more in the fields than in the classroom, we also had a family background in the apparel industry. So the jerseys we got in school or college were of really bad quality, and for athletes, a jersey is a matter of pride and that did not reflect in the jerseys. After a lot of thinking, tinkering, and figuring out what we wanted to do, this is what we narrowed down to.
We shortlisted more than 400 names in multiple languages to select one name, but it is so difficult to get the trademark of the names. It became more difficult to get us a conventional name, so we thought how do we think out of the box of a name that is open to multiple interpretations. The actual name ‘Six5six’ is a flight number that we were on and decided to go ahead with it.
The former English football team captain and a sport-fashion icon David Beckham once said “It’s not about the name on the back of the jersey, it’s about the badge in the front”. The quote perfectly sums up the value a jersey holds for a sports team, its culmination of a lot of things, its armor for the players, an identity for the fans, and a representation of what the team stands for. Six5six has been associated with football clubs like FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters, and now FC Goa, and they have always delivered a kit that reflects what the club stands for. The stakes became higher when they became the official kit sponsors for the Blue Tigers, the Indian National Football Team. We asked them what they felt about Indian Football, and what plans do they have to help Indian football grow through them.
First, it was Kerala Blasters, then FC Pune City, and now FC Goa, is football a sport that excites Six5Six?
Football is a sport that is growing in leaps and bounds in India. The government and all the various organizations are doing well to help the sport grow in India. And we as a brand feel really happy to have been associated with multiple ISL clubs. We want this to grow and work with as many clubs as possible. The way football fans love their clubs is different from other fans, and it allows us to surprise them with different merchandise, accessories, and jerseys.
The collaboration with the Indian National Football team comes with a lot of expectations because Football in India is on the rise, how do you feel about that, and what are the plans to help the Indian Football Team and the growth of the sport in India?
First of all, we are very grateful for the opportunity that we got to represent 1.3 billion people through the Indian National Football Team. The Indian national team has been doing well over the last 5 years, and it will only go upwards from here. The opportunity we have is to create a unique identity through the jerseys that we make. Even though what matters the most is what happens on the field, and this is secondary but we will try that our products capture the emotion, hard work, and passion of the team when it’s going through its ups and downs.
Six5six has taken responsibility from Nike, and the expectations are huge, how do you plan to please the Indian Football fans with your products?
The expectations are huge but have accepted this challenge. One thing we are sure of is that we will give the fans something that they connect with and would want to make it a part of their daily lives. The designs will be simplistic yet unique, very different from what they are used to seeing from before. We plan to create a lot of products that will be of value to the fans.
In March there are the Asia Cup and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, and at that time you will be seeing most of the outreach from us There will be a monthly feature, where we will unveil something new that will blow your mind and make you want to buy it. We do not want to spill some secrets here, but would just recommend you all to wait and watch for what’s coming. Last month Six5six launched the new Indian Football Team kit in a very unique way. The buzz for the kit was created through a video with the theme ‘Take the Leap’. The new kit is called ‘Panthera Tigris’ has been a positive response by the Indian football fans. It resonates with the pillars of sport and streetwear. The home and away jerseys stand out in front of the previous jerseys and have leaped from the previous one.
What is the idea behind the new jersey, and how did you select this design?
The idea behind the jersey is to make people wear it beyond the field. The jersey focuses on the foundations of Six5six, it’s a blend between sports and street fashion. The design in a way shows the fighting spirit of the Blue Tigers, and it’s also named after the national animal of India. The jersey is also different from other football jerseys because it goes beyond minimalistic designs. The jerseys made by other brands have a minimalistic theme to them, and hence we wanted to step up and change the game.
The U-17 Women’s world cup is coming soon, and it will be hosted in India. Is there something specific that you have in plan concerning women’s football and the event?
The U17 Men’s World Cup in 2017 was very successful. We hope that the U-17 Women’s world cup is bigger than the previous one. This is again an opportunity for us to help the sport grow in the country, and we are planning so many special things for the event. We plan not only to help the team with a new identity but also to send out a social message about gender equality. We would want to spread the word about Indian Women’s Football in each corner of the country. We would love to encourage more women to take up sports and lead the way in the sporting system. The only thing we are doing right now is that we have stopped differentiating, we are looking at both genders as equals. We don’t want to differentiate teams based on gender, we just want to help both the teams in the best way we can.
What are the other sports, Six5Six is planning to venture into?
We have been associated with Table Tennis through the Ultimate Table Tennis League, then it has been with football through the various clubs in the ISL, and now the Indian Football Team. We aim to help Indian sports grow so that it becomes a multisport nation and competes at the highest level in every sport. So Yes, we are looking forward to venturing with many other sports and events. Probably many of it would have happened in 2020 but then that year was something no one expected.
COVID 19 was a block for everyone, and it had been a difficult time for businesses in general. What did you learn in that phase, and how did you approach it?
The year 2020 was one of the most difficult years of our lives, and yet it was one of the most rewarding and prioritizing years of our lives. The year will be known for the chaos it created all around the world, and how difficult it was for people to sustain livelihoods. In 202- we had a lot of plans that could not be executed because of the pandemic, and that gave us the break to calm down and understand what is the way ahead for us. We kind of felt that we were in a race against time, and we’re sprinting in that race. We have planned to take 2021 as a marathon, and focus on the process, and the impact that we can create through Six5six. We have restructured, reprioritized, and now are charged up to deliver unique and different products in ways you would have not thought.
The way the government is talking about Atmanirbhar Bharat, and promoting Indian brands, do you see Six5Six becoming India’s first premium sports leisure brand?
Yes, that would be the longer goal and vision of the brand. We have always been in a way ‘Atmanirbhar’. India is home for us, and we want to move forward in a direction where other countries import more from India. India has always been known for its exports, but I think it’s time we thought about it and changed it. We want to push the boundaries in India and build our brand in a direction that is sustainable in the long term, and then take small steps towards the global market.
In the cloth apparel industry, and especially in sports there is a huge market for fake jerseys. There is a lot of difference between the prices and hence people buy a copy of the jersey. How do you plan to tackle that?
We don’t think about this a lot. We look at this as free marketing for us. Anyone who wants to buy a 100Rs or 200Rs jersey is not a target customer for us. Anyone who wants to spend something between Rs1200-1500 for a jersey, they understand what kind of product they are investing in. There will be elements in our designs that will be difficult for the fakes to replicate, but we cannot do much about it.
Nike sells more shoes than any other product. Even in street fashion, the shoe is a very important element. Are you guys planning to look at sports shoes as an element that can be a part of the Six5six wear?
We do not want to rush anything right now. Even though we have expertise in this section, we would not want to rush into this. It will happen in the future though, but we will have to take small steps towards that. We want to build up our capabilities first, and then expand to bridge the gaps.
Influencer Marketing has been chosen by so many brands to promote their product in the market. Is this something even Six5six is looking at to get a further reach?
We do not want to be associated with anyone who does not understand the vision and value of our organization. What matters to us is finding the right people who genuinely fit into the philosophy of what we are trying to build. I think you will see more of this in the latter part of February this year, we have something in store. We do not want a hundred thousand followers on our social media and not making any difference to their lives. We want to connect with people in a way that they associate themselves with us.
Do you have a platform for one-to-one customizations for teams? Give us a small brief about that idea, and how do you plan to take this forward?
The idea is called ASAP which stands for All Sports All Players and aligns with the millennial usage for as soon as possible. The platform is that if you have a team and need kits for it. You can then always connect to us. We are just being available to everyone, and want teams to play like a professional team with good and comfortable quality kits. This is something that you will be seeing very soon from us.
We often see many clothing brands and sports brands roping in movie stars from Bollywood and regional cinema to promote their products. Is this something we can expect from you as well?
We do not think that Bollywood is our aim. We know that many times sports and the entertainment industry go hand in hand but it’s not something we are looking forward to. We would love to collaborate with stars or events that would want to promote the sport or a social cause in India, but we are not looking at Bollywood as our aim.
A gender-neutral clothing brand, a brand that is looking at the sport as a tool for a social change, a brand that is made in India, and wants India to take baby steps towards global domination. Six5six represents the new India in more ways than one. The sibling duo Avni Aneja and Ambar Aneja have all the ingredients to go all the way to the top and make Six5six India’s first premier global sports brand
Interview by Siddharth Mishra