Co-founder of the sustainable sportswear brand and former footballer Michael Doughty urged players to be open to conversations about climate change advocacy.
The Doughty’s Hylo brand has signed Patrick Bamford as an ambassador and he is a proud voice in advocating for environmental issues. Indeed, the Leeds United striker’s flash goal celebration is dedicated to this fight.
However, few other Premier League stars have followed the England international’s lead in discussing the matter publicly.
Doughty, who played in the Premier League for Queens Park Rangers, believes footballers fear being put down unless they are near-perfect ambassadors like famed environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg.
“A difficult thing is how to create a movement against climate change, which is indeed a very slow and painful death?” Doughty says to GOAL.
“If I was going to say in 50 or 60 years you’re going to have problems, it’s hard to galvanize around that, but the reality is that climate change is already affecting football.
“We are seeing more rain cancellations than ever due to increased rainfall. One way to do that is to make it more relevant today.
“It can also sound so scientific and technical. It’s about how I explain it in a simple way that resonates. We all need to do a better job of explaining the fundamental issues.
“We also need to make it a less polarized conversation. We have Greta Thunberg, who is an incredible shining light to the world. But if you consider her the mainstay of the conversation, you may feel like you’re not good enough.
“You can fly a lot to games or sometimes use the wrong products. That’s the hardest part for footballers who get shot for putting their head above the parapet. They should be allowed to talk about it gradually.
“I am not perfect, no product is perfect, we cannot have unattainable standards.”
Footballers are increasingly willing to speak out on political or controversial issues and, like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Megan Rapinoe, Bamford falls into this category.
“I remember when I did my media training in football, it was about saying as little as possible,” Doughty said. “Since the pandemic, people want players to be more opinionated and authentic.
“It’s inspiring and the fact that Patrick Bamford is supporting us is great. It works because he believes what he says and thinks about what he approves of.
“When we talk about racism, we know it’s bad, but climate change isn’t as easy to bear. With that in mind, we shouldn’t put people down when they talk about it.”
For Doughty, throwing Hylo was just as important as his football career. He took early retirement aged 29 despite being one of Swindon Town’s highest-paid League One players.
After coming through Chelsea’s famed Cobham Academy as a schoolboy, he joined QPR, for whom he would play in the top two divisions.
It is always a remarkable decision to leave football by choice for another job.
“I could have played for big clubs like Sunderland, Derby County and Ipswich if I had stayed. I had a lot more years in me and had a good contract,” Doughty added.
“It was during the pandemic that I decided to quit. I had this opportunity to work on Hylo and the crowds wouldn’t be full. I was really passionate about this project and wanted to do it.
“I also realized that at best I could become a lower level league player. Yet I went into football to be like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I was never going to be that. In this job I have no ceiling and I can become like a Messi or a Ronaldo.”
A first sign of the high standards came for Doughty while training alongside Raheem Sterling at QPR: “I played with Raheem Sterling even though he was much younger than me.
“He was 12 or 13 years old and playing in several age brackets. It was so clear from that day that he was going to be a superstar.
“Raheem became that, but I wasn’t. I had to fight to turn professional. Even if you want to turn professional, you really have to be in the top three players in the youth team.
“For me at QPR, I was never that until I was 17 and scored goals for the youth team regularly from midfield.”
One of the similarities between fashion and sportswear and football is that it is a fiercely competitive industry.
Not only is it creative, but it’s also lucrative. Brands like Adidas and Nike enroll thousands of athletes in multiple sports and dominate the market in which Hylo finds itself.
For Doughty, he doesn’t want to disrespect or replace any of those great brands. He does, however, want Hylo’s philosophy to influence the sport in general.
“There is a tribalism in a locker room based on what you put on,” he continues. “If you’re wearing a Nike t-shirt with adidas shorts, you’re laughing at the piece.
“There’s a sense of identity in choosing a brand. It’s not about choosing Hylo but whether it matches who you are and what you believe in.
“We can all do more and work together. It’s not about taking down other brands, it’s about enabling athletes to perform amazingly without negatively impacting the world. If all brands do, the result is much better.”
“Hylo is just a small brand, if the bigger brands want to ask us questions or want to help us, that’s fine. I don’t want to own sustainability or sportswear, I’m just passionate about have a positive impact.
“In the end, it’s an existential crisis that impacts everyone.”