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B.C. pro soccer squad blossoms with new pink kits

Vancouver FC unveils new ‘Cherry Blossom’ uniforms to boost anti-bullying efforts
Vancouver FC players Zach Verhoven (left) and Wero Díaz model the Canadian Premier League team’s new alternate kit dubbed the Cherry Blossom Kit in an undated handout photo. A portion of the proceeds from each jersey will be donated to the Pink Shirt Day campaign which raises awareness about bullying.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Beau Chevalier/Vancouver FC

Vancouver FC is thinking pink this year, thanks to its new “Cherry Blossom Kit.” And hoping to look good while helping make a difference.

The away uniform, inspired by the blossoming of the approximately 40,000 cherry trees found in the Vancouver area, is the brainchild of Stephanie Wood, the Canadian Premier League club’s vice-president of marketing and business development.

A portion of the jersey sales this season will be donated to the Pink Shirt Day campaign, which raises awareness of bullying as well as supporting programs that “foster children’s healthy self-esteem.”

Pink Shirt Day originated in Berwick, N.S., in 2007, when high schoolers David Shepherd and Travis Price organized a protest to wear pink in sympathy with a Grade 9 student bullied for wearing a pink shirt.

“Having kids, that really resonated with me,” said Wood, who has a two- and five-year-old.

“But also I thought ‘Hang on, we’re a men’s soccer team. If 28 grown men can wear pink, little boys can wear pink,’” she added. “Anyone can wear pink. It doesn’t matter who you are. And I think that’s a really strong message from us to help with that inclusivity and everything happening in the world right now.”

The last Wednesday in February marks Pink Shirt Day in Canada.

It’s a worthy cause. And for Wood, the colour ties in with cherry blossoms, which signify the start of spring — and the CPL season.

Wood’s goal is to combine football with fashion, coming up with a look that you can wear out to more than a soccer game.

That led her to this year’s Eagle Kit, the club’s primary jersey introduced last month — a black strip that features a feathered cape design that drapes down the back of jerseys.

Vancouver, whose official mascot is Sp’óq’es the Bald Eagle, is known as the Eagles. The club motto, “Something in the air,” is inscribed in red on the back of the kit.

Wood got the idea after seeing one fashion show after another feature capes. She wasn’t sure about how it might translate to a jersey but is an unabashed fan now.

“It just has this menacing look to it and I’m in love with it now,” she said.

While Wood and husband Joe are from Sheffield, England — she supports Sheffield Wednesday F.C. while Joe follows Sheffield United — her background is in marketing and branding. L’Oréal Professionnel hair products and Breitling watches were two of the brands she worked on.

Her husband played tennis on a scholarship at the University of New Mexico. When he returned home, the couple decided to travel across Canada and ended up falling in love with Vancouver and making it home.

Joe Wood is now director of player development at Tennis B.C.

The Woods became friends of former Canadian international Rob Friend, co-owner of Vancouver FC and Pacific FC, and his wife Mari.

Wood’s branding background interested Friend, who offered her a job first as Pacific’s director of marketing and merchandise and then in 2022 her current role with Vancouver.

While initially skeptical at the move, Wood now calls it “the best thing I ever did. I absolutely love it.”

Taking care of the team kit became one of her many projects.

“I wanted to do something that was different but was Canadian,” she said.

Witness Pacific’s indigenous jersey, designed by Coast Salish artist Maynard Johnny Jr., which was used in 2022 and ‘23. And other kits inspired by the Douglas fir, ocean and beaches.

Wood works with Macron, the Italian sportswear company that clothes CPL teams, with each kit essentially completed a year in advance of its launch. That means Vancouver’s inaugural 2023 kit was completed before the team had a brand, logo or name.

They opted for black as a primary colour, with names of local communities embossed on the jersey. The secondary jersey was black and red hoops — a homage to Brazil’s Flamengo kit and a more retro look that was the league’s first to feature a hoops design.

Wood has been waiting for Wednesday’s launch of the new away kit since signing off on it in February 2023.

Soon after Major League Soccer’s D.C. United launched its own “Cherry Blossom” away kit for 2023 and ‘24, citing the trees gifted to the U.S. capital by Japan as a sign of friendship and unity. Inter Miami’s pink shirts have been seen worldwide thanks to Argentina star Lionel Messi. And the film “Barbie” has also given pink a new lease on life.

The fashionista in Wood enjoys the fact that CPL teams introduce two new jerseys a year. But knowing money is tight these days, her preference would be one new one each season.

The club is doing its bit by offering season-ticket holders a 40 percent discount on the 2024 home jersey.

Vancouver opens CPL play April 14 against Winnipeg’s Valour FC at Willoughby Park in suburban Langley.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island’s Pacific FC unveils ‘Resilience’ jersey benefiting Indigenous groups