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Ali Riley: Soccer Star Celebrates LGBTQ+ Community With Malmö Clothing

Football Player Ali Riley/ JWS

Ali Riley is an American soccer player who plays defense for Swedish club Rosengård on loan from the Orlando Pride of the NWSL. As a collegiate athlete, Riley captained the Stanford soccer team to two NCAA semifinals and one final. Internationally, Riley captains the New Zealand women’s national soccer team. Below, Just Women’s Sports talks with Riley and Malmö Clothing Company founder Emilio Bernard about the soccer star’s new collaboration in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. 

You can shop Ali Riley’s Malmö collection here

This collaboration is significant for so many reasons, one of which is the fact that it only furthers your connection to the city of Malmö. Can you explain what the city has come to mean to you over the years?

It’s become my home. I feel so lucky to have left my first home in California and come to a country I knew nothing about, and just be welcomed with open arms to a club and a community. This city really does celebrate diversity. Of course, there is always room to grow. I think spreading love and embracing our differences is so important right now. Malmö has done a great job of celebrating women and our cause is all about celebrating strong women and inspiring young girls. We stand for really important things, one of them is supporting and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.

Part of this collaboration, for me, is realizing that I was welcomed as a foreigner into this country and this city with open arms, and I want that for everyone. I will be giving my percent of the profits to RFSL [The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights] Newcomers Foundation, which helps anyone in the LGBTQ+ community who is seeking asylum in Sweden. The foundation helps them with legal issues and gives them a community to meet other people. I thought it was the least I could do to use my privilege to help other people.

Have you ever done a collaboration like this before?

No, actually, I don’t even think I’ve ever designed anything. This graphic with the rainbow embroidery just came to mind and Malmö Clothing Company was so helpful. They made it so easy for me to just pick out what style I like, what colors, what materials and what graphic. They helped me bring it to life and it’s all made with love here in Malmö.

You spoke to the significance of the collaboration, but what does it mean to you to be partnering with a local company?

I love supporting local brands, local restaurants and local bars. I think it is so important to support our city and our community. With Malmö Clothing Company, the clothing is not only local, but it is also organic and they make sure to use Fair Trade and certified factories. There are so many choices out there for clothing and for food, and with those choices, we can actually make a difference. So, why not lead by example? I also love working with a local company because it’s showing pride in our city, and I love Malmö. When you’re biking or training and you see someone walk by with a Malmö Clothing Company hat, it gives you such a cool sense of pride and community.

You said that you had never really designed anything before, but have you always had a visual sense or was this a completely new adventure for you?

This is completely new. It’s funny because I wear what’s comfortable, and I wear a lot of active wear. I don’t give that much thought to what I wear. Ever since I arrived in Sweden, I have had to wear a lot more clothing and I made this decision that when I buy clothes like t-shirts and sweatshirts from now on, I’m only going to buy clothes that mean something. I decided this at the beginning of 2020 and I started being on the lookout for clothes that supported a cause or were made with recycled materials, things like that. It is really important to me to support good causes, so when this collaboration fell into my lap, I just thought it was so perfect. Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris were inspirations for me because they had a collaboration with a company all about being an ally, and they designed this shirt that said, “Love whoever the fuck you want.” I love that.

Can you describe your collection for us? 

We have sweatshirts, t-shirts and a hat, so far. I’m not going to give myself too much credit, but the color palette for the particular sweatshirt that I chose is so nice. We kept the t-shirts more basic, so that the rainbow letters pop out more. I originally designed the collection with spring colors, but now that we are moving into fall, there will be another selection and hopefully we can introduce even more colors. I want to do a tote bag, too. Just to have as many people as possible representing Malmö the city, the clothing company and the pride collection.

You spoke a little bit about how you’re donating a percentage of the profits to the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights. Why was it important to you to both highlight that organization and the cause it represents? 

Going to the PULSE Memorial in Orlando had a really profound effect on me. I know that there’s discrimination and hate crimes and homophobia out there, but to see it firsthand and to think that people so close to me experienced that kind of discrimination when we are all human, really affected me. There are so many people close to me who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community — people who I love who inspire me. I thought it was so important to support those people, celebrate love, celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and bring awareness. Also, putting your money where your mouth is is important. While spreading awareness is one part of being an ally, making a donation and investing money into programs is also an important part of it. More than just saying that I’m an ally and that I support and love my friends, it is important to actually show it.

When you go to the Malmö Clothing Company website, your collection is right on the homepage. Did you see that? 

I know, it’s so cool. My two friends and my Mom were my models. One of my friends was born and raised around Malmö in Sweden. The other girl is from Scotland and we’ve played together for many years here. And then my Mom just happened to be in Sweden at the time. While I haven’t had to experience any discrimination from my sexuality, I think it’s really cool that my mom is supportive of this campaign and this collaboration. We’ve talked about it, and I know that she would love me and support me no matter what. And, I think it’s cool for an older generation to be part of this collaboration, as well.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

They do ship to the US and, once again, all of my profits are going to the RFSL Newcomers Foundation. I am so thankful that Malmö Clothing Company gave me this opportunity to use my platform to make a difference. It makes me wonder, what more we can do as players. We are in this space now where we do have a bigger following as female athletes, so how can we use it? I think it is our responsibility to make the world a better place.



Can you give us a quick introduction to Malmö Clothing Company?

I grew up in Oxnard, California, but I quickly left, went to school and started living in the Bay Area. I met my partner when I was living in the Bay Area and she was from Sweden. She basically said, “Runaway with me. I’ll take you to this awesome place called Sweden.” I came out here the first time in 2013 and basically never left. When I first moved, I had no vision for what I wanted to do, so I just did a little bit of everything. I quickly figured out that I was actually really into graphic design. I found some work with graphic design in the music industry and then I started a design studio with a friend. We did that for about five years, but I’ve always been very interested in printing processes and printing techniques.

That, in parallel, worked with an idea that whenever my friends would come visit me in Malmö, there was never anything that they could take home that was a representation of the city. You see cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, and you can’t look five meters down the road without seeing somebody wearing some Los Angeles script t-shirt or some SF Giants stuff. There is that pride here in Malmö too, but nobody was really capturing it and having fun with it. So, I started Malmö Clothing Company about three years ago. The city has been super receptive. People see the effort, they see that it’s genuine and they see that it’s sustainable. It’s been a slow growth over three years, but our stuff is all over town now.

Where did the idea for the collaboration with Ali come from?

It’s interesting because she came into the shop and I was working that day along with my colleague. We were both chit-chatting and Ali came in with all this energy, which is not very Swedish at all. Swedish culture is usually very reserved. We started talking and we realized that we were both from California. I recognized her, but I couldn’t remember how until she left the shop and posted on Instagram about us. I messaged her back like, “Hey, I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Are you interested in doing a collaboration?”

For a while, I had been wanting to reach out to the athletic community, especially FC Rosengård, because they have so much positive energy within their organization. For us, it was the perfect collaboration. She was all in and it was surprisingly easy to make it all work.

Ali mentioned that the design for the collection came to her right away. How did you ensure that the collection would fit both her taste and her ideas as well as the company’s brand?

We have a pretty simple minimalist brand. We try not to do too much. We also have a really good garment supplier. I basically try to only work with them because they have some of the highest standards in the business. They have all of the best certifications in terms of sustainability, and ethics. I pretty much gave her the catalog and said, “Go for it.” She chose something that I had never considered, so it was a bit of a gamble. Ali is our target customer, though. She’s the kind of person that we want to wear and buy our clothing and she’s also bringing a totally new perspective. That was all the convincing I needed, and it’s been super popular. Everybody who comes in says, “Damn, it’s so nice. It feels really high quality and it’s super comfortable.” So, yeah, it’s a 10 out of 10.

You mentioned that you hadn’t yet done anything to celebrate Pride. Why was it important for you to make a collection celebrating the LGBTQ+ community?

There’s a couple of reasons. The most obvious one is that Malmö and Copenhagen were chosen as the International Pride cities for this year, but it got postponed to next year. At the same time, the history of Malmö is quite interesting. Just on a quick note, Malmö is a very, very diverse city — 50 percent of the people who live here are not from here, which is quite rare for a Swedish city. It’s definitely an inclusive city in a lot of ways, and that’s now built into the fabric of the culture of Malmö itself. So I think that’s an important characteristic that needs to be promoted and celebrated. There’s also the whole micro-community aspect where we want to celebrate those communities. Yes, we are all one big community, but there are also smaller communities that we can lift up and shine a spotlight on.

You will have to promote the collection again next year when they do all of the Pride celebrations!

Exactly. This is just the warm-up collection.

How did Ali’s role as a professional athlete play into the collection? 

Obviously, her platform is important because she has a megaphone she can use. When we, as a brand, come up with something, we have — I don’t even want to call it a megaphone. It’s more of a piece of folded paper that we talk through. It only has so much reach. We feel like the message with this collection needed to be propped up on a higher platform and she is the perfect person to do that. Ali actually uses her platform to push out good causes more than just her professional accomplishments. There are more components of her life that have weight to them other than her professional soccer playing skills. I think it was a good mix.

Ali mentioned that it was important for her to work with a company that had international shipping so that her family and friends from home could be a part of it and to keep spreading the message.  

It’s funny to think that there are people out there in Texas and New Jersey and Florida rocking a Malmö sweatshirt with a little rainbow on it. I reckon that when people see it and they see the rainbow, they’re like, “Yep, that’s positive vibes right there.”

Is there anything else that you wanted to add?

Just one. Malmö gets a pretty bad rap in Swedish media, but people fail to highlight a lot of the great things happening in the city. There are so many small businesses and start-ups that are out here working on women’s health, health accessibility, education accessibility and more. So many good things come out of Malmö that just get swept under the rug. I think it’s important to highlight when something fun like this comes out. It’s great for the city and it’s good to push back with a little bit of positivity.