The Art Of Collaboration

Collaborations are a lot like a relationship, you can take two totally beautiful people and have one ugly kid. Likewise, two ugly people can create the next Blake Lively. The same thing can happen with a tee collaboration between brands and artists, you can take two awesome logos or styles and mash ’em together into a wicked piece of garbage. For this reason you must selectively pick the brands, bands, or artists you link up with for collaborations. Work with brands that a similar to yours, carry a quality reputation, and aren’t simply trying to ride your wave of success. I recently finished up the very first Sugar Steak collaboration tee and below are the three questions I asked myself prior to doing this.

1) Does the style, target audience, and/or brand reputation work together?

I think we would all agree it would be stupid for The Hundreds to do a collaboration with Ed Hardy. If you don’t agree, stop reading this now. I mean, one brand is known for quality, originality, exclusivity, and consistent progress. While the other is associated with muscles, Jersey Shore, Costco, and complete sell-out branding. Now I already know someone who went to business school is reading this and thinking “Kyle you suck, The Hundreds would capture so many more customers if they worked with a known brand like Ed Hardy! I mean Ed Hardy is EVERYWHERE!” And my answer to you would be, get off IATT, go hug your business textbooks, and take your crew to The Buckle so you can all buy matching shirts. Sure TH might gain some new customers, but they would lose the respect of the loyal fans they have worked so hard to earn and ultimately lose a lot of repeat customers. People camp out for days to get their hands on a new Hundreds shirt, that means something. Not only are the two brands very different in style, but they cater to very different audiences, and carry very different brand reputations and respect. This is why you see The Hundreds collaborate with brands like Diamond Supply Co, E-40, and other brands/artists that epitomize what The Hundreds represents. When you are looking to collaborate with another brand you need to keep in mind what your brand represents and what the brand in question represents. Make sure your styles match, or have the ability to match together, the best collaborations come from companies that can target the same audience and carry reputations that will complement each other.

2) Will this cross-promotion be mutually beneficial?

Collaborate with brands that are on a similar scale as yourself and/or carry potential that will bring about positive recognition. As your brand starts to become more recognizable you will get approached by several up-n-coming brands suggesting a collaboration or cross-promotion idea. The reason for this is simple, they want to piggy-back off your success. They are looking to help themselves and hope they can leverage what you have worked hard to create. Sure they probably respect your brand and love what you offer, but you need to realize how a collaboration like this can potentially hurt your brand image. It’s one-sided, it will help their brand, but not yours. If you have built your brand name to a place where it is respected and represents quality, you need to stick with brands that have done the same. Don’t be afraid to turn people down for this reason. Sure they might think you’re a dick and say you act all high and mighty, but you have a brand reputation to uphold, it is YOUR brand and you obviously did something right to get it to where it is. Don’t be afraid to protect your image. On the flipside you may be approached, or you may even want to approach a new brand because what they are doing has potential. In that case, go with your gut, recognize talent when you see it and make the choice you feel is best. Now to those of you that have been turned down by brands
for collaborations and cross-promotion ideas because your designs or status wasn’t up to par, don’t get down on yourself. The truth hurts, but the truth will help you improve. Every brand has to start from the bottom, at one point Johnny Cupcakes was laughed at by other brands, but look at him now.

3) What’s the point to this collaboration?

In my opinion there are two reasons why collaborations happen. One, for cross-promotion and increased awareness to new customers. Two, to mix-it-up and get a fresh perspective or design style. If you’re just doing a collaboration simply because someone gave you the idea and you figured “Sure, why not.” Well then, good luck to you, hopefully you don’t waste your time and money. A collaboration tee should be planned out like all your other releases, in fact you should put more thought into a collaboration because it’s not just one but two brand names on the line. If you don’t have a good reason why you’re doing a collaboration, then don’t expect a whole lot to come from it.

Ok, now that I have yakked on and on. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Like I said earlier, I recently finished up the very first Sugar Steak collaboration with Saintgraphic, an artist from Italy, and trust me all of these questions went through my head. You can see the mash-up of our two styles in what I’ve dubbed the “Campfire Collaboration” available for pre-order now in the SGRSTK online store.