Brand collaborations between up-and-comers and established labels, street style and luxury brands, and perfect complements and strange bedfellows are here to stay, as brands seek marketing innovation on a shifting retail landscape.
The march toward the kind of innovation that grabs consumer attention in the age of e-commerce reaches beyond just unique in-store services and shopping mall experiences. The digital threat to bricks and mortar retailing also exists for brands that must find ways to cut through the clutter and be heard above the crowd to ensure they become, or remain, firmly entrenched in consumer minds — for emerging and established brands alike.
A retailing trend that’s beginning to gain more and more traction in Hong Kong that has already gained a foothold in overseas markets is the brand collaboration. Which is not to say these collaborations have gone unnoticed in the SAR. In a city nearly purpose-built for shopping, brand collaborations have regularly been hits with savvy, in-the-know consumers. Fashion and fashion accessories are the most obvious retail sectors that make for strong brand collaborations — the sector where complementary partners and products are most easily found.
Though brand collaborations — usually denoted by an ‘X’ — are on the rise, they’re not new. California label Stussy, popular with hip hop and surfer subcultures, collaborated with Casio’s G-Shock watch brand in 1997, and the originals have since gone on to become coveted collectors’ items. Japanese retailer Uniqlo has experienced massive sales and profile growth since it started its collaborations in the early 2000s with, among others, Jil Sander and Theory, as well as Marvel and McDonalds in its UT t-shirt series. Sweden’s H&M went from mid-range fast fashion label to fashion powerhouse (Vogue editor Anna Wintour refused to stick them in a corner at a Met Gala) after partnering with Marni, Maison Martin Margiela and pop star Madonna — who is every bit the brand Kanye West (Adidas) and Rihanna (with Puma) are.
Each partnership has its own quirks, messages and target markets, but the most effective ones — often also the most unusual combinations — have proven to be incredibly effective ways to raise a label’s profile and drive traffic into stores, even if only for a few minutes.
Even seemingly odd match-ups can prove effective in broadening awareness, as was the case with elite water brand Evian and French designer Courreges, the very British Ted Baker and millennial-approved Quella bicycles, Coca-Cola and Comme des Garçons, Uber and BMW, and Rimowa and New York streetwear label Supreme — whose limited stock sold out in record time. Traditional activewear label Champion cultivated a new image with its collaboration with ironically anti-fashion French label Vetements. Closer to home, local lifestyle brand G.O.D. and martial artist Hing Chao collaborated for Modo Boon, a kung-fu inspired casual clothing line, and Hotel Icon unveiled a Vivienne Tam-designed suite in 2012.
The formula for a winning collaboration has a great deal to do with broad awareness of at least one of the brands and that most intangible of qualities: buzz. But the right team-up can have major impact on all involved. Quick sell-outs indicate exclusivity and impending releases create positive retail noise in a crowded city. The most complicated element is bearing in mind the consumer base of each brand, but as long as both partners can achieve that, collaborations are among the most effective current marketing strategies.
But even more crucially, as some (though not all) of the sheen comes off luxury brands because of shifting consumer tastes and demographics, those same brands have been forced to re-engage with their core clientele in new ways, as well as reposition themselves for fresher, younger shoppers. Marriages of hip, modern, forward-thinking “street” fashion and high-end labels have consistently been commercially successful, and have raised brand profiles across retails sectors — making mass market fashion palatable and fun to the luxury sector, and finally reaching the wider, budget-conscious audience that was previously unavailable to high-end designers. Among the most creative: Crocs brought Balenciaga to the mainstream; celebrity favourites Jimmy Choo and Off-White resulted in a crossover between classic luxury and progressive cult chic, which would previously never be spoken in the same sentence; H&M brought Versace to the masses, and Uniqlo demystified Louis Vuitton by collaborating with former LV designer Kim Jones. Labels from Coach (Disney) to Chanel (Pharrell Williams/Adidas) have all boarded the brand collaboration train, and as long as they reach previously untapped markets, they’re likely to stick around. Can Giordano X Dolce & Gabbana be far behind?