Although they were once in two completely different ends of the spectrum, one thing that luxury fashion, streetwear and even fast fashion brands have in common is their love for collabs. You name it: Louis Vuitton X Supreme, Dior x Nike, Yeezy x Adidas, H&M x Mugler and even Gucci x Balenciaga. If we're to think of the most successful fashion brands in recent years, the chances are they will have done at least one major collab which catapulted them further into the mainstream.
In recent years, brand partnerships have become the industry's modus operandi. Having reached a point where we see a new collab being announced every other day, we're getting to a point where we are considering whether they are just overdone now. Although we believe in inclusivity, community-building and innovation, we can't help but to put our sustainable hats on and question whether this should be the way of doing things going forward.
This article really dives deep into the concept of fashion collabs, why they are so popular, the pros and cons of doing it and how independent fashion brands can position themselves in a way that lands them partnerships with larger industry players.
How it works: the marketing strategy behind fashion collabs
Fashion collabs are most definitely a way to try to cut through the noise, grab customers’ attention and make them want something which they can impulse buy to get that instant dopamine hit, before jumping onto the next hype and starting the cycle all over again.
The truth is, in many ways, collaboration keeps the wheels turning, allowing brands to stay relevant, attract new customers and tap into the hype without sacrificing heritage or their core products. However it’s safe to say that there’s a bit of collaboration overload going on right now, it seems everyone is obsessed with them.
The pros: why fashion collabs are so popular
Essentially, fashion brands do collabs to make it into the press (and everyone’s Instagram feeds), get customers talking about them and looking at their products (whether part of the collab or not) - ultimately is to make people buy things. It’s a proven way to boost both retention and new customer acquisition. A brand’s most loyal clients can get early-access, whilst the collab itself attracts new audiences to both brands.
Apart from increased sales from the collaboration itself, there is also what is referred to in marketing as a halo effect. Most fashion brands actually see an increase in sales from products which were not in the collab. With all the traffic they drive to their websites and stores, a large percentage of those customers end up browsing for the full collection and buying something else so they can still scratch the itch. This is specially because collabs tend to be marketed as exclusive so most customers are aware they may not be able to get their hands on the products due to limited quantities (which is all a part of the process of building hype).
The best brand partnerships are a fantastic two-way street, where everyone benefits equally. Together, brands can achieve great things and strengthen the sum of their parts.
The cons: why fashion collabs are bad
However one of the key issues here is the promotion of overconsumption through the constant release of new items.
“The problem is when exclusivity is manufactured to keep us coming back for more, trapped in a perpetual state of wanting things we can’t have. The urgency around it all gets people hooked on shopping, addicted to the thrill of the hunt. It’s not like all this ultra-rare stuff is being worn, either. Most of the time, it just goes on Instagram and then sits in a closet somewhere. And that’s what hype is really, really good at - making mass-produced things seem exclusive and absolutely essential” - Alec Leach in The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes
Is the hype diluted now?
On one hand, with so many collabs being announced all the time, it could be argued we have reached a point of collaboration fatigue. A once proven way of tapping into consumers’ pockets, now requires a lot more marketing efforts (and spend) to really grab customers’ attentions and, most importantly, encourage them to buy.
If we’re to add figures to it, 68% of Gucci x adidas is available today despite the release date being on June 2022 (9 months ago, at the time of writing this piece) and 70% of YEEZY GAP ENGINEERED BY BALENCIAGA is still available on GAP’s US website despite the release date being on September 2022 (6 months ago, at the time of writing this piece). These are some of the biggest brands in the world so arguably, is really says something about the effectiveness of collabs.
On the other hand, as the idea of the sharing economy and communal ideologies rise in popularity, fashion is bound to push collaborative projects harder than ever before. It could be said that collabs are fashion only real constant now.
If we’re to put a TFB spin on it, there is definitely a better way of doing collabs. For example, with the increasing problem of deadstock, collabs could be a way to rework existing pieces, give them a new life and rewrap them under a brand partnership. A good example of this would be GANNI X Ahluwalia (the sustainable fashion girlies will know).
How to do collabs when you’re not Yeezy and you don’t have Adidas budgets
For many independent fashion brands, collabs can still be weaved into their marketing strategies in a more cost-effective and authentic way.
Here are some ways to tap into fashion collabs as an independent brand:
1. Build a community and the rest will follow suit.
Crteiz x Nike is an unknown collab to many but the cult streetwear community that taps into Crteiz is so loyal the Nike Air Max 95 in the Crteiz Green colour way sold out in a matter of minutes, despite it being nearly ipossible to get the password in time, to then enter the website and buy them.
2. Have a niche or expertise.
If your brand specialises in a particular product category or design style, more established brands would be more likely to have a reason to want to collaborate with you i.e. we wouldn’t be surprised if KAI Collective were to partner with a luxury footwear brand on a printed heel design for example.
3. Learn to share ideas and work together.
One of the greatest creative directors of all the time, the late Virgil Abloh was characterised by his willingness to share everything. His creative process was famously known for involving large teams including friends, interns and artisans in reworking and reinterpreting existing ideas and concepts. Are there creatives in your network who you could work with on a new collection?
4. Think innovatively.
Rather than releasing more of the same products or just rewrapping old products under a brand partnership, is there a way you can make the world dream? What can really connect with people’s emotions? Think Moncler: The Art of Genius
5. Decide what you stand for and put your brand message out there.
Fashion collabs can be a great way to give a voice to underrepresented perspectives. If you have found your niche, built a community and have fresh ideas to bring into the world, you are best positioned to secure a brand collab with a bigger platform which can help you to catapult your message and spread it to the masses.
Witten by Giovanna Vieira Co, 2023