Fashion blogs have been quick to cover the impending debut of Los Angeles-based brand Band of Outsiders' collaboration with Starbucks. As a result, we know all of the details: The design (two limited edition ceramic mugs, accented with black or multicolor paint dripping), the launch date (June 24th), the price ($14.95 each) and how the collab came about. Scott Sternberg, the mastermind behind Band of Outsiders, told Vogue: "You get these phone calls from Steven [Kolb, the CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America] a couple of times a year and he usually prefaces it 'You're going to say no', but I sort of surprised him [this time] and instinctually and immediately jumped on it."
What is not being discussed with quite as much frequency, however, is what Band of Outsiders stands to gain from the one-off partnership and why the collaboration makes sense for Sternberg's brand in the first place. It seems obvious that Starbucks gains some major fashion buzz from the collab, as the award-winning Band of Outsiders is a coveted label hailed for its modern, rebellious take on American style. The take-aways for Sternberg are noteworthy, as well, and somewhat surprisingly, the collab actually makes sense.
We caught up with Steven Kolb to talk about the underpinnings of the collab from a business of fashion point of view, as a surprising amount of partnerships as of late have made little to no sense at all, aside from allowing brands to pocket some often much-needed cash. That does not appear to be the case here.
Kolb, who was also a key force behind the Rodarte, Alice + Olivia, Charlotte Ronson, and Jonathan Adler x Starbucks collaborations that we have seen over the past few years, said: "With Scott, it always starts with the creative challenge. Brand association is also very important to him." (Hence, Sternberg's comment about surprisingly not saying no to this idea.) So, why did Sternberg, who launched his brand in 2004, agree to do it? Well, in addition to challenging him, Kold says: "It doesn't hurt that Starbucks has a deep social, digital and marketing reach and very loyal customer base." Sternberg hinted at the coffee giant's expansive customer base, taking to the brand's Instagram account to share an image of one of the designs with the caption: "Band of Outsiders + Starbucks! Get one online now or in like a million Starbucks."
Of the collaboration, Sternberg says that it offers him a "huge platform to expose the brand," and one "that's much different from a high-end department store or a high-end boutique that sells our clothes, and this is an attainable product that is giving people an opportunity to sort of experience Band of Outsiders every day." Additionally, Sternberg is a daily Starbucks customer.
While most collaborations stand to assist brands, especially relatively young or small ones, in gaining the attention of new customers, it seems that Sternberg looked one step further. Ever the thoughtful designer and brand builder, Sternberg does not just want to reach new customers but wants to put out a message that is cohesive with his brand's identity and "hopefully give people a fuller understanding of what I do," he says. This is crucial, and yet, this is often the missing link in designer collaborations and the one that can make a collab desirable to shoppers. It is also the element that can dictate the success of the collaboration; success in terms of sales but more importantly, success in terms of brand awareness and engagement after the collaboration is all over. Essentially, are you engaging one-time Starbucks shoppers who think this is a cool mug or are you piquing the interest of individuals who may become devoted Band of Outsiders fans and customers?
Sternberg seems to be acutely aware of the role that a limited time collaboration can play in the grand scheme of a brand. Of this one-time partnership with Starbucks, he says: "It sort of goes back to that idea that we try to create things that are very singular and pure and iconic and that sort of represents something familiar, but helps you look at them in a different way. So, our clothes are preppy clothes and about preppy clothes -- they're not just a rehash of something that was in your closet if you were in prep school growing up, but they were a sort of a modern, clever, fresh take on that. And so in the same way, this is an image of dripping paint and seeing it in a new context, and the word drip ,and just mixing familiar elements and remixing them into something new. That's very much what Band of Outsiders is about."
Considering the frequency with which young designers are faced with opportunities to collaborate, some of which make sense for their brands, some of which absolutely do not, it is refreshing to see a bit of a more seasoned designer addressing the implications of a collaboration and how he can really make it work for his brand in the moment and also make it cohesive with the message he is trying to send as a whole. Young designers, take note. Because while a collaboration can provide great gains for a brand financially and in terms of increased consumer awareness, a bad brand association could also really put a damper on the work a designer has done in building his brand identity, specifically in the beginning stages. As for whether you think the end result is visually appealing is secondary to the business of fashion lesson here, I'll let you discuss that in the comments section below …