Meta–Merch

Why shouldn't luxury brands bootleg themselves?

Key Takeaways

  1. Who is represented by this brand? Would I wear this brand? Is it in tune with my intellectual, cultural, ethical integrity?
  2. Wearing a t-shirt from a NYC-based hardware store, or repping a hoodie from a Parisian bookstore quietly became the norm—why not wearing an officially-bootlegged tee from your favourite brand?
  3. Reduce the price tag, increase the reach. The Grateful Dead are selling more tees than tickets. Simple as that.

At a time when ideas matter more than products, and high-speed exchange becomes a widely disseminated communication protocol, the idea of a brand moves faster than the actual garments—as something volatile, ubiquitous. As users who constantly face and process a tremendous amount of information, potential customers might associate with certain brands, without owning any of the actual pieces—they’re, perhaps, just fine with the idea of the brand. The dichotomy between the idea and the product is expanded and accelerated when pricing is added to the equation: some are just fine being users and not customers.


Campaigns, editorials, lookbooks, digital and physical activations are just a few of the tools that increase the brand’s presence and build a community around it—all the while delivering a precise vision to contextualize the clothing, the idea of a brand. Who is represented by this brand? Would I wear this brand? Is it in tune with my intellectual, cultural, ethical integrity? Addressing these type of questions means challenging the idea of the static brand, one that’s stuck in a simplistic paradigm of production just for consumption’s sake, while reconsidering the cultural function of another type of brand, one that creates values and ideas. But this doesn’t always mean people will be able to afford your product just because they’re connected to it.


In the last few years, the rise of merch has brought a fresh perspective on how we consume fashion, and how we exhibit our affiliations through clothing. Wearing a t-shirt from a NYC-based hardware store, or repping a hoodie from a Parisian bookstore quietly became the norm—a process derived from the ethos of global subcultures and music merchandise. As we progress forward, merchandise (bootleg or official) is still a practice that represents generational symbols and behaviours.


At the higher end of fashion, luxury brands can learn from the merch phenomenon. What could be called here “Meta-Merch” is the act of producing merchandise items to integrate the main fashion line—i.e. luxury brands making their own merch. A Meta-Merch strategy gives brands an opportunity to diversify their product lines, providing their audience with something that’s as wearable as accessible, with a certain gift shop-quality. These products are still produced in the capacity and quality standards of the main line, but adopt a simpler design and price tag, hitting the right spot at the intersection of affordability and desirability.


Meta-Merch products are part of the brand while being far removed from fashion’s seasonality or imperatives; they act as symbols, vehicles for ideas, commodities you own because you feel part of the game—they’re the key to access the brand without a big-budget commitment. 


On the occasion of their SS2018 collection, Jacquemus released a set of T-shirts bearing the runway show’s details, all the while becoming a collector’s item and now only available on the secondary market. The “La Bomba” tee—named after the collection—retailed on the brand’s e-shop for €90 and sold out almost immediately. Milanese brand SUNNEI adopted a similar strategy for the launch of their first womenswear collection, releasing a merch-like white tee that was gifted as the brand’s invitation to the runway show, and then sold through their online store at a lower price point. 


Although we have a history of fashion brands playing with the boundary between garments and merchandise—mostly prompted by legendary Telfar t-shirts printed with actual looks from their runway shows, Yeezy’s wearable invitations or Jerry Lorenzo’s contribution on Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour merch—there’s plenty of space for emerging brands to pick up on this trend.


Many have been the experiments of highbrow brands diversifying with spin-off labels tackling a more “urban,” “young” customer—that’s the case for D&G, CK Jeans, Versace’s Versus, and the list goes on—but with “Meta-Merch” we’re talking brands that release an officially-bootlegged product that reaches wider segments, although remaining integral to the original vision. i.e. the idea of the brand. 


Today, subcultures meet at the nexus of luxury and exclusivity and, in this scenario, why shouldn't brands bootleg themselves?