Collaboration – brand strategy

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New Balance 1400 Super Team 33

I am a bit of a sucker for street wear. Collaborations have been in the blood of street wear since the beginning as graffiti artists did guest designs for brands and designers like Shawn Stussy engaged mainstream bands in a form of involuntary collaboration by hijacking their likeness – from Richard Nixon in the ‘skateboarding is not a crime’ t-shirts to his double-s logo aping Chanel.

Over the past few years collaboration has ripped into overdrive. A week doesn’t go past without a Nike or Adidas collaboration happening with a smaller independent brand like trainer shop Huf, streetwear pioneers Stussy or tattoo artist Mr Cartoon. There are dedicated websites covering this news, my favourite being Hypebeast.

This trend has gone beyond the big brands into streetwear labels themselves. Stussy’s big push in spring was their Destiny range with Futura and the summer range is a collaboration with Japanese label Neighourhood with the Boneyards collecton.

Pseudo Collaboration

New Balance – as well as collaborating with brands like Stussy on special colour ways the brand also has collaborations within its own design teams. For instance Japanese designers at New Balance were branded Super Team 33 and have issued a range of collaborations, my favourite being a set of tropical fish themed New Balance 1400s originally released at the beginning of 2006.

Brand Equity

The piece that hasn’t been looked at all that well is how it can affect brands over time. Young brands if over-exposed can go off the boil, a classic example is the way Pierre Cardin over extended itself by issuing too many licences across too wide a range of products – from shirts and leisure wear to cheap travel luggage. This ran along side their pioneering of the off-the-peg designer suit for men.

But how will the collaborations that Stussy is going affect its value as a brand. Is it just a salon for t-shirt designers or does the whole Stussy tribe ethos still exist? What does their brand stand for? Are we in the marketing equivalent of those ‘Will it Blend’ videos and what will the resulting carnage look like?