Collab Mentality

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fashion Collabs (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Key Takeaways

  1. A proven way to garner attention while possibly making some much needed capital is through creative collaborations and brand partnerships.
  2. Bigger companies ironically enough are looking out for new faces and brands to collaborate with constantly, but it's all about being consistent with yourself and with your brand.
  3. In collaborations, it's crucial that both parties feel invested in the creative process, otherwise it's just a business transaction.

Much has changed for the fashion industry in the past several months due to the global pandemic, and as we move into the all-important Holiday gifting season, the avenues to sell clothing and make money in the fashion industry have narrowed. Social media channels can be great places to make money and advertise yourself and your work, but making sure your efforts get noticed, and that you get paid, can be complicated and difficult. 

However, a proven way to garner attention while possibly making some much needed capital is through creative collaborations and brand partnerships.

Not a new concept, brand partnerships have been around for decades. But in the fashion industry, the moment that showed how viable partnerships were going to be in the 21st century was Karl Lagerfeld’s 2004 collection with H&M. The success of that collection led to an explosion of fashion collaborations, thanks also to the rise of social media and our move to more online shopping and a diversified approach to retailing. Even in 2020, a year ravaged by the global pandemic with headlines commandeered by politics, brand collaborations created some of the most newsworthy fashion buzz and achieved high-points in sales: H.E.R and DIFF Eyewear; STAUD and New Balance; Jason Wu and 1-800-Flowers; Travis Scott and McDonald’s. The North Face, a culturally traditional company, has no less than four brand partnerships going this year, including with Gucci, Supreme, Brain Dead, and MM6 by Maison Margiela. Virgil Abloh may be the modern day poster boy for brand collabs, as he has partnered with, to date: Nike, Levi’s, Moncler, Jimmy Choo, Sunglass Hut, IKEA, Moët & Chandon, Rimowa, Timberland, and more.

Virgil Abloh x IKEA, 2019

But of course, not every collaboration is between A-listers and Fortune 500 companies. Thousands of collaborations are struck every year between small, young brands, as well as with larger, older companies and fashion houses, entities with the financial means and built-in fan bases that up and coming designers and creatives need. Conversely, larger brands are able to utilize the cool-factor and fresh perspectives younger and less-established artists can offer in a collaboration. And with the fallout from COVID-19, the seeming importance of collaborating has only increased.

Take for example Social-Work, a New York-based ready-to-wear line founded in 2018 by Chinese-American designer and Parsons graduate Helen Zhang. Zhang recently launched a capsule collection in collaboration with the Chinese beer brand, Tsingtao. Created in 1903, Tsingtao is China’s second largest brewery and a positive symbol of Chinese culture worldwide. The capsule brings together Social-Work’s contemporary aesthetic and construction techniques with the vintage look and colors of Tsingtao’s famed logo—earthy mid century greens, a warm chocolate brown, and a shade of blue called “Aqua Sky.” The pieces include plaid jumpsuits and faux-leather pants, retailing from $100 to $735. 

“This is our first collaboration,” Zhang tells us of the partnership between her fledgling fashion line and the Chinese beer maker. “Tsingtao actually reached out to us back in January, and we thought it could be really cool to work with an historic Chinese brand like them, a company that shares a common history with Social-Work and myself.”

But a great cultural fit was not the only reason the brand collaboration seemed so promising to Zhang; for her, a charitable arm of the partnership sweetened the deal.

“50% of our sales from this capsule collection will go straight to the Share a Meal program, a charity run by Junzi Kitchen,” Zhang relates excitedly. The Share a Meal, created by the successful Chinese restaurant chain Junzi Kitchen, sends freshly made and healthy Asian-inspired meals to frontline healthcare workers combatting COVID-19. 

“By bringing the story of Asian owned businesses together—Social-Work, Tsingatao and Junzi Kitchen—our collaboration became a bridge, bringing together restaurants and the fashion industry during this most difficult time,” Zhang explains. “I think this opportunity with Tsingtao made me realize that fashion can be a bridge to many things, not just a business venture.”

Social Work x Tsingtao, 2020

P.S. Kaguya
, a popular curve model based in New York City, has worked with household names like Savage x FENTY by Rihanna, Google, and Spencer’s Gifts, while also dedicating her time to collaborating with socially concious lines like Chromat and CHNGE, and small sex toy companies like Femmefun and Bellsaco.

“I’ve had mostly good experiences collaborating with brands, but it has definitely been a learning process,” Kaguya tells 1MOQ. “Bigger brands definitely come with perks, like big budgets and large social reach and publicity machines. But also more responsibility and need for punctuality. It's also a different language when discussing the guidelines, contracts and fees, and for the most part these people know exactly what they want! Not a lot of folks are prone to telling you their tricks and skills, and knowing your worth is hard. You also accept a lot of free jobs along the way, it’s just another part of the process.”

For up and comers looking for attention from bigger outfits, Kaguya suggests consistency. “Bigger companies ironically enough are looking out for new faces and brands to collaborate with constantly, but it's all about being consistent with yourself, with your brand, with posting, and with engaging. Don’t be afraid of criticism. And most importantly, be happy with what you put out. Especially in this day and age, when young creatives are feeling intimidated or stuck in a creative rut, it's just so important to collaborate!”

Lindsey Solomon is an experienced fashion publicist who helped lead Mode PR for years before launching his own firm this year, Lindsey Media. He has chaperoned a plethora of designers and brands through their brand collaborations, including sustainable fashion-favorite Collina Strada’s recent collabs with footwear line Hoka and audio tech company Skullcandy. He now represents Gaga-favorite Wiederhoeft, pearls for boys designer Presley Oldham, and Social-Work, among others.

Collina Strada x Hoka, Fall 2019

“For me, it's always about making sure my clients are getting something valuable out of the partnership,” Solomon says. “Whether that’s brand exposure, introduction to a new audience, or having something to talk about with the press in between seasons or fashion week events. And it's crucial that both parties feel invested in the creative process, because otherwise it's a business transaction, which won’t necessarily add to the culture and public perception of either brand.”

Solomon also thinks that in 2020, it’s time for underground creatives and smaller brands to stick together. “It's imperative, especially now, that creatives work off each other. I very much enjoy fostering collabs between indie brands because they work with each other synergistically, combining their efforts for the greater good of both. It’s a good idea to work with fellow brands even if it’s just for social content, because it's all about getting as many eyes on your product and your line as possible. I think partnerships will continue to be extremely important in the future.”

He summarizes: “Any way a brand can partner, create, or think in a forward way, is to their advantage.”