Back on Monday, I wrote about the irksome trend of Big Uni referring to a new jersey template as a “chassis” in order to make the uniform sound more like an engineered product of industrial technology instead of, you know, a few pieces of cloth. The piece generated a fair amount of discussion, and I was frankly surprised by how many people agreed with my take.
On Wednesday I received an email from a reader who works as part of Big Uni and prefers to remain anonymous. The email, which I’m reproducing in full, is a rebuttal to Monday’s post. Here it is:
I understand your annoyance over the use of “chassis,” but I can assure you it isn’t marketing jargon. It is actually product design jargon and is in common everyday use where these jerseys are being made.
The chassis is a combination of the silhouette, fit, and technical details that are shared between multiple sizes, teams, shapes, and product lines.
You may think that other words could be swapped in. But:
- You can’t use pattern, as garment patterns are unique to size, cut, and trim styles. Different sleeve styles will still be the same chassis but have different patterns depending on the size and fit.
- You can’t use template, as that term is used for the layout of names and numbers and other details.
- You can’t use design, as it is too generic. The development of a chassis can also go through many designs.
The different details all need to be transferable from the old chassis to the new chassis with team-specific variations. It is valuable to have language to be able to say, “The team’s home name/number template won’t fit on the new chassis after the pattern was reduced to accommodate the sublimated design.”
Things are further complicated because the replica and fanwear versions are still considered obliquely by the chassis, even though they may have different materials and non-technical fits. For example, the art for a player name/number screen-printed T-shirt will change with the release of the new chassis, even though the same T-shirt blank is used. So there are multiple product lines related to the new chassis.
As far as I know, this use of chassis originated with Nike. I don’t know why that term was chosen, but I believe it makes a lot of sense for jerseys, which are unique in the garment industry for having a standardized but varied structure that a wide variety of fabrics, names, numbers, patches, logos, and trim are then attached to.
The term’s use in marketing is a whole different issue. I don’t believe it is really part of the “storytelling” nonsense; I just think the marketing people are likely steeped in the product development jargon.
I always appreciate your insight. Your site is one of the few highlights of the promise of the free and open internet. Thanks.
Faaaascinating. I love these insights and greatly appreciate this thoughtful note from our anonymous correspondent.
But while “chassis” may not have been intended as marketing douche-speak, as I originally thought, it certainly functions as marketing douche-speak. It may be be helpful for product designers juggling all the different aspects of the production process, but there’s no need for us to parrot it.
So what term should we use instead, especially if template and pattern are off the table? As I mentioned in the Monday post, the use of chassis in Big Uni’s marketing dates back at least to 2017, so I asked my anonymous correspondent what term was used by product development people before chassis came into vogue. He said he didn’t know because he wasn’t working for Big Uni back then.
Here are some possibilities:
- Undercarriage, fuselage, armature, architecture: These are no better than chassis — too industrial-sounding, too tech-y.
- Frame or framework: Better, but they seem awkward in an apparel setting.
- System: Reebok used this term when they took over the NHL’s uniform contract in 2007 — the “Reebok Edge system,” they called it. Eh, feels too much like an integrated high-tech thingamajig.
- Foundation: Not terrible. A little more construction-y than I’d like, but I could probably live with it.
After thinking about it, I’ve decided to stick with template. Unlike my anonymous correspondent, none of us will ever have occasion to use chassis, template, pattern, and design all in the same sentence, so I think template works fine for the purposes of our discussions, even if it isn’t what a Big Uni product designer would say.
But wait, there’s more! On Friday morning, just as I was getting ready to publish this post, I looked at last night’s comments on the site and saw that reader Joe Foglietti had posted this:
Late comment, but I had a very different reaction to “chassis,” having spent my career in fashion.
One of the first things I learned with brands is the power of leveraging new language to shift how people think about a problem. Brands and individuals in fashion (Nike included, when I was briefly there before moving out of sports) all have different synonyms and metaphors they like to instill with teams in order to promote a certain mindset, and once you use it internally with its specific contextual definition, it just becomes part of your everyday language.
Each time I shift brands, I have to learn where certain words have been given new meaning, and it’s often a valuable tool. Yes, from a consumer-facing side it can be read as pure jargon BS, but I think that comes with a really nice impact on the work internally. Viewing what I’d call a block/pattern (what people here may call a template) as a “chassis” innately pushes you to think more about structure and performance than simply how puzzle pieces of fabric are stitched together (what is connoted by template or pattern, or block coming closer to signifying fit).
It probably sounds goofy as hell, but I’ve had great success with designers coming up with new lingo we want to use in describing product because it will shift how we and others think about the product and what problem we’re solving for the wearer.
So that pretty much confirms that chassis originated as internal jargon, not as marketing douche-speak. But again, there’s no reason for us to parrot it. I’m sticking with template.
I’m open to other suggestions, though. Anyone..?