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Manolo Blahnik and Birkenstock may seem, at first glance, like they serve opposite segments of the broader high-end shoe market. But the two brands—one known for ultra-expensive sexy stilettos, the other for costly cork-soled comfort shoes—joined forces this year for a very successful capsule collection. In addition to merging their distinctive styles, the collaboration allowed both companies to find purchase in each other’s markets, as well as attract a whole lot of media attention.

If collaborations between clothing brands—or between fashion brands and celebrities—once seemed unusual, today they are everywhere. The publication Luxury London traces the explosion to early in the 2000s, when a wildly successful collaboration took place between the Swedish fast fashion brand H&M and the super high-end fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. The 2004 collaboration “was an eye-opener for the fashion world,” because it showed that “Collaboration, once shunned as a form of brand dilution, was now a leading and lucrative strategy.”

As that description implies, collaborations offer varied and multiple advantages to both customers and brands. Many of these joint efforts involve high-end brands and mass market labels, so for shoppers, they provide great novelty and access to aspirational brands—plus the obvious appeal of feeling like a savvy shopper who knows how to buy couture looks on an off-the-rack budget.

In turn, the companies engaged in such collaborations gain the ability to tap into each other’s unique expertise, budgets, target markets, and reputations, to both of their mutual benefit. For example, when the luxury streetwear brand Supreme decided to take a foray into footwear, instead of designing and creating sneakers from scratch, it agreed to collaborate with the existing brand DC Shoes. By leveraging the experience of DC Shoes and the ultra-hip brand image of Supreme, the outcome was a $500 million shoe business.

With such seemingly universal benefits in mind, what would stop other brands from expanding the capsule collection idea beyond the seemingly obvious products markets of clothes or shoes? Nothing, it seems. Some brands even are building links across categories. When the luxury streetwear brand Vetements launched in 2014, it caused a stir (and got its name mentioned frequently in news reports) by collaborating with the shipping company DHL. Other well-promoted cross-industry collaborations include Balmain and Barbie, Frame Denim and The Ritz Paris, and the Japanese designer brand NIGO and KFC, which produced a fried chicken–themed sportswear collection.

In this age of no-holds-barred collaboration, brands may have to find new ways to go even further to surprise tired, worldly shoppers with novel offerings. And that’s another way of saying to companies: Better use your creativity to meet the challenge!

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the reasons brands seek to collaborate with one another? Does your answer differ for luxury versus mass market brands?
  2. Name some creative collaborations that you think might be successful, whether among fasion brands or between fashion brands and other types of companies.
  3. Can you imagine some ways or reasons that such collaborations might fail?

Source: Gabrielle Becerra Mellet, “The Most Iconic Luxury Collaborations to Indulge in 2022 (so Far),” The Market Herald, April 11, 2022; “Let’s Make Better Denim: H&M Drops a Circulatory-Driven Capsule Collection.” about.hm.com, August 18, 2022; Zoe Snell, “Manolo Blahnik Meet Birkenstock,” The Market Herald, March 18, 2022; “The Many Advantages of Capsule Collection for Brands,” ateliers-ame.com, June 7, 2022; Layla Ilchi, “The Biggest Fashion Collaborations of 2021,” WWD, December 20, 2021; Layla Ilchi, “The Biggest Fashion Collaborations of 2022—So Far,” WWD, June 30, 2022; Anna Solomon, “Fashion Collaborations Have Reached Fever Pitch. How Did We Get Here?” Luxury London, January 14, 2022; “Vetements x DHL: A Lesson In Brand Partnerships,” dhl.com, March 4, 2022