Designing the “most popular” Seattle sports uniform of all time required just two things: A well-placed arch graphic and some foresight.
In fact, Greenwood resident Kris Steinnes, 70, said it only took her a few days to sketch out the vintage 1970s SuperSonics design from start to completion. She didn’t get paid much either, accepting a Sonics season-ticket package for that 1977-78 season in lieu of any financial reward.
But the pride rewards can’t be measured: Like what she felt when glancing over her husband’s shoulder in September as he read an online Seattle Times story about the winner of the newspaper’s Great Seattle Uniform Bracket. More than 150,000 votes were cast and overwhelmingly selected the “iconic Sonics look” over 32 other team entries.
“I said ‘Oh, that was the one I designed!’ ’’ Steinnes said with a chuckle. “I didn’t even know about the contest, but seeing that it had been chosen was really neat.’’
The story mentioned the design being from the late 1980s through the early 1990s. But it’s actually the same one designed the prior decade by Steinnes and which held up for 18 seasons until an overhaul in 1995-96.
Steinnes is now an author and runs the nonprofit Women of Wisdom foundation, which offers “opportunities at growth and transformation” for women by holding workshops and importing motivational speakers. But four-plus decades ago, she went by her maiden name of Kris Marshall and was a clothing designer for the Pacific Trail Sportswear company when legendary Sonics athletic trainer Frank Furtado approached her about redoing the team’s original uniforms.
She’d recently designed the uniforms for the Seattle Cascades professional tennis team Furtado had also been a trainer for, and he liked her work.
A few days later, Steinnes produced a folder of design ideas, and they eventually settled on the one. She still has a copy of the original sketch.
“For me, it was just a classic design,’’ Steinnes said. “It was very simple but it really highlighted the Sonics curve. I think at the time sports uniforms really just had the name on it, but no special design. It wasn’t really common in those days to design the uniform.’’
Before her design, the “Sonics” lettering sat alone atop the green jersey front right above the player’s number. But Steinnes added a white arch with gold trim to the front and placed the lettering inside that.
She did the same for formerly stand-alone player names, placing them within an arch in the jersey’s back.
While it sounds simple, it was actually a pretty radical departure from what was being done at the time. Teams back then didn’t use graphic design firms paid seven-figure amounts when they wanted new uniform concepts.
And most of them — as the saying goes — got what they paid for.
Steinnes is likely one of the few women to design the uniform of a major pro sports franchise, though it was never something she’d envisioned doing.
Born in Seattle, the Nathan Hale High School graduate studied clothing design at the University of Washington and earned a degree in home economics in 1971. Seattle was booming with sportswear companies at the time — much like today — and Steinnes soon embarked on a decadelong career as a fashion designer and pattern maker.
The short-lived World Team Tennis league had been founded in 1973, and by 1977, a Hawaiian squad relocated to the Northwest and was coached by local pro Tom Gorman. And though Steinnes wasn’t much of a sports fanatic, she got the team uniform assignment.
“Everything was so busy back then, you just did what was needed when the time came,’’ she said.
She laughed about getting paid in Sonics season tickets after the basketball assignment.
“It wasn’t something I normally would have done,’’ she said. “But we enjoyed going to the games that year. It was something different.’’
She remembers meeting coach Bill Russell the previous spring when her design was still being worked on. Also, of being invited to a team dinner as a thank you for her work.
And though Steinnes gave up the season tickets the following year — the season the Sonics won their only NBA title — she maintained a casual interest, watching the odd game on television. She felt a tinge of pride when Sonics owner Howard Schultz redesigned the uniform one final time in 2001 and went with a more retro version that drew inspiration from her design.
Steinnes was also saddened to see the Sonics leave for Oklahoma City in 2008, feeling a part of her went with it.
“I really hope we get a team back because I know how much it meant to the people here,’’ she said.
Even now, she added, out-of-towners raise eyebrows when she offhandedly mentions her uniform involvement. They remember the arch and how the uniform looked, even if they can’t recall players or how the team did.
“Uniforms are important in that they express the team for their city,’’ she said. “And I love that it’s been an iconic uniform.’’