Collaboration: a few reflections

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The popularity of logos is by no means a new phenomenon, in fact, I remember writing about them for SCAN a few years ago; it is clear that the need for belonging to, for want of a better word, a clan is natural in a period of extreme uncertainty and it something that is perhaps unexpected in the current climate. However, can this really exist in such a contradictory way to the growth of reselling platforms, small businesses and of course, increased concern about the impact of the fashion world on climate change?

I don’t think anyone will ever find high-end brands irrelevant and especially for the large proportion of the world’s population, the glamorous fashion houses will be the epitome of elegance, sophistication, opulence and beauty forever. The wealthy may be able to treat Chanel as their local Primark and nothing can change that, however, what will the post-Covid world, a world with a fair amount of people preoccupied with the balance between climate, social justice and looking good for social media, look like for fashion?

There seems to be no shortage of collabs launching, H&M being among some of the most memorable in terms of high streets brands. The success of this model is evidenced by the fiscal advantages that come with not only directly increased sales but also brand awareness perpetrating new audiences that either party wouldn’t have been able to successfully breach otherwise. 

The cynic in me would leave it there, observing the increased sales associated with collabs as a chance for people to belong to a group they wouldn’t have ordinarily been able to. They are, of course, fertile ground for haul videos and other social media marketing techniques, a brilliant way to boost sales in every way; but is this all they can be? 

Here, perhaps we should reflect all the way back to 2019 when Meghan Markle launched her charity capsule collection for Smart Set. Her comments on the inspiration behind the initiative demonstrates something profound about fashion: 

‘People can say that so much of Smart Works is about the clothes themselves but it’s really not … all of that stuff is the exterior but it’s what it does for you on the inside that ends up being the best accessory. It’s the confidence, it’s what is built within, that is the piece that you walk out of that room with and walk into the interview with.’

However, though this may be true and the success of it has impacted the lives of many women looking for work, instead we should look at the framework of the collaboration. Instead of the usual schematic of just two brands working together, generally of very different price points and meeting in the middle, this collection incorporated four brands: John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer, Jigsaw and Misha Nonoo. Each sold their own addition to the collection meaning that they were able to benefit from increased sales without having the burden of making a huge amount of stock; better for sales as well as the environment. 

Vogue Business commented on this: 

‘(Priced between £19.50 and £199 and available in sizes from 6 to 24, the Smart Set was designed to be accessible and inclusive)’

This cross-retail approach could become a blueprint for other celebrities who don’t want to align too closely to a single partner. It also allows brands to enjoy the celebrity’s halo effect without having to produce a significant amount of inventory’

‘Diversification of distribution is just the evolution of the traditional collaboration model, and it will probably be adopted by more celebrities,’ says luxury brand consultant Ana Andjelic, adding that the right celebrity partner is key’

If more companies adopted a similar approach, it could revolutionise the way that the fashion world works. Though the celebrity collaboration model is just as effective as the union of two brands, the difference here though seems to be that Meghan Markle’s name attached to this project was not just about her selling a bunch of clothes that, for example, PLT had made; but to attach her name across the brand. A few select items are enough to draw attention to high street names without the production issues and likewise prevents the problem of traffic simply just going to the page of their collab. 

Beyond the financial incentives as well as being environmentally friendly, it could mean greater inclusivity and diversity. With multiple brands being prepared to share their image, it means that brands who are notably lacking in promoting a message of equality will lose out hugely: sales instead go to those companies who are doing the right thing. 

The point that I would like readers to take away, is that it would be nice to see the fashion industry uniting more. I began by setting out the deep contradiction that seems to be in place between the small business and the large high street brands, with luxury companies seeming to orbit a completely different planet however, maybe that is what we should be calling the industry to do – to unite. With fierce rivalry comes an ignorance of its consequences and that is what encourages unhealthy habits, for us and for the environment. 

I have always seen Depop and Vestaire Collective as a virtual high street, or perhaps more accurately, the closest we can come to virtually shopping down the lanes in Brighton. It would be sad if the High Street were to fade away but in the times of Covid perhaps the best we can do is try to think of online shopping as close to physical shopping as possible. Let us browse and not panic buy and perhaps restraint will help the fashion companies to do something similar – wouldn’t that be a good outcome of Covid? If the fashion industry could learn to unite, perhaps adopting some of the ways discussed here then maybe it will be possible to envisage a world where we can feel fashionable, look our best and not destroy society and the earth in the process. 

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