The Rise of Collaborations in Fashion

Index PDX’s glass case displays some of the hottest and most expensive sneakers. Recently, more and more of these sneakers have been collaboration pairs. (Photo Credit: Felix Coffin)

Nobody can do it alone. Working with a community to develop a high quality product is what leads to widespread and long-lasting innovation. For years, fashion brands have been working independently, trying to one-up each other and obtain an ever-elusive share of a constantly evolving market. However, in the past few years, brands have turned to each other to create a hit collection. The previously taboo idea of working alongside rather than against someone else has become a way of life in the fashion industry. The transition to collaboration has happened incredibly quickly, leaving many wondering why it has become so commonplace to see multiple names on a single product.

The answer lies in market capitalization. Over the past decade, designer trends have seen a slow decline. In 2016, luxury fashion had its weakest year in nearly a decade. And although brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Estee Lauder, and Yves Saint Laurent have seen slight revenue gains in 2017 and 2018, it is a far cry from high-end fashion’s success during the mid 2000’s. In its place, streetwear has thrived. The skateboarding, hip-hop inspired culture that was once a joke to the high fashion community now plasters magazines and runways alike. Due in large part to the emergence of streetwear, the $300 billion fashion industry has seen an outrageous increase in sales in the past year.

A reason behind the explosive success of streetwear is the affordable retail price points of brands like Stȕssy, Undefeated, and Billionaire Boys Club. Even Nike and Adidas have undergone rebranding to appeal to the streetwear culture. For designer brands, luxury pricing (the percentage of a brand’s products that retail above $200) consistently hovers around eighty to ninety percent. In comparison, Supreme, a notoriously high-priced streetwear brand, has less than thirty percent luxury pricing. But by reducing quantity of production, they retain their signature exclusivity while streamlining business. Supreme has very few brick and mortar stores: 11 worldwide, to be precise. They spend no money on advertising or technological development. The complete lack of common business expenses is reflected in Supreme’s relatively affordable retail prices. This is the business model of nearly every streetwear brand, and has allowed them to tap into the mainstream market of those who can’t afford luxury brands, but still have the financial ability to indulge in fashion.

Index PDX has a short, yet rich, history in Portland. When it was founded in 2013, the downtown sneaker consignment shop’s walls were lined with brand new Nike Dunks and Air Jordan Retros. Their famous glass case, displaying shoes over $1000, was almost exclusively rare Nike shoes. Fast forward some five or six years, and Index has become a cultural hub for any sneaker fanatic. They’ve sponsored numerous community events, and are a cornerstone of Portland’s fashion scene. The store itself remains largely unchanged. They still have the old Nikes and Jordans, but the glass case is distinctly different. Almost all of the pairs are now collaborations with musicians like Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, streetwear brands like Bape and Comme Des Garçons, and luxury designer brands like Fragment and the biggest name of 2018, Off-White ℅ Virgil Abloh. “I think it’s great,” says Cam Kiyokawa, the manager of Index, looking over the case “The more people you can include, the more companies you can work with, the better. It’s great for those people into sneakers that wouldn’t necessarily be.”

The cultural shift towards streetwear has laid a path and prompted a race for fashion’s elite to cash in on a previously inaccessible population. Since luxury brands rarely have the means or desire to lower retail prices, the easiest channel of access is through collaborations with equally popular, but less expensive brands. These partnerships, known as “high-low” collabs, have proven to be wildly successful.  Off White’s Nike collaboration, The Ten, released in 2017 and sold out two minutes after release. “[The Ten] was a first. No other collab had gotten that kind of attention before,” says Ahna Bishoff, a student at Sherwood High School, browsing the shelves of Index. “It opened the door for more people to work with a huge company like Nike.” Sure enough, one year later, Nike has worked with designer Jerry Lorenzo, musicians Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar, and designer brands A-COLD-WALL* and Acronym. Nevertheless, Off-White reigns supreme, bringing in more revenue than all other collaborations combined. The unspoken agreement between the two brands is simple: Nike gets a sell out collection, Off-White gets customer acquisition from a $120 billion giant.

Strip away the hype. Strip away the sales figures, the market strategy, the brand image. At the heart of a collaboration are the core principles of creativity and innovation. The goal of a good fashion partnership is to push boundaries and provide a unique take, something that has never been done. And while collaborative products almost always deliver on the promise of creativity, general releases from the same brands have made up with an unprecedented dullness. Jordan Brand is a prime example: while the basketball and lifestyle brand has boasted huge collaborative successes in 2018, with the likes of musician Travis Scott and fashion brand UNION Los Angeles, it has had far more misses than hits. “When you’re mass producing at the rate Jordan is, you need to have a really great concept for a sneaker or collection not to flop,” says Bishoff. Sadly, Jordan’s well of ideas has run dry. More Jordan sneakers have gone on clearance this year than ever before and Jordan Brand’s lack of imagination, combined with gross market oversaturation, has accounted for a drastic 8% revenue decline, according to Nike’s 2017 fourth quarter report.

Still, some believe that with an influx of innovation, general release quality is bound to follow. “The collab products are top-notch, there’s no beating them. But I think the mass production quality is trying to catch up,” says Bishoff’s friend, Dylan Kolb. “It’s created competition and slowly rising quality.” As for the prospects ahead for the world of fashion collaborations, Kolb is excited. “We’re finally getting to see so many new and differentiating perspectives come together, and that’s the best part. The barriers between high and low fashion are gone, and it’s kind of become one all-inclusive culture that’s always growing and learning from one another. At the end of the day, conversations are being started and people are coming together.

 

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