image: Nike

image: Nike

Ever wonder how – exactly – some of your favorite emerging-stage brands stay in business? Here’s a hint: it is usually from projects external the brands’ primary offerings. Take Public School, for instance. The New York-based brand – which was the subject of widespread industry praise and awards, and which boasts an array of relatively expensive wares that are markedly difficult to find on consumers’ bodies in the wild – showed Nike Jumpman-adorned garments on its Spring/Summer 2018 runway.

More then merely the result of a three-year long deal with Nike’s Jordan brand, the collaboration – or more precisely, the money that Jordan pays the Public School designers in connection with the collaboration – is almost certainly what enables the relatively young brand to sustain itself.

As we noted not too long ago, young-ish brands’ reliance on collaborations is extremely commonplace, potentially much more so than meets the eye in the notoriously opaque fashion industry, one that is riddled with privately-held brands that do not produce quarterly (or even annual) revenue reports, and where it is notoriously kept quiet that runway garments rarely sell in any meaningful quantities.

Of the industry’s young – i.e. right around 10 years old or so – privately-owned labels, such as Alexander Wang and Rodarte, are also interesting examples, as these brands almost certainly look beyond their main collections – i.e., their runway collections – for the vast majority of their revenues. 

In addition to its more affordable T by Alexander Wang collection, Alexander Wang has slapped his brand name on various collaborations to rake in cash. The New York-based brand teamed up with Swedish fast fashion giant H&M in 2014, thereby bringing in a pay check in the ball park of an estimated $1 million dollars. More than that, Wang signed on with adidas for another lucrative collab, which has seen two collection drops since its debut in 2016. The brand has also joined with Evian and Beats by Dre in furtherance of almost-certainly lucrative collaborations.

Rodarte operates according to a similar model. The Los Angeles-based brand – which has been praised for its “couture-like” creations (think: $21,000 mermaid-inspired dresses) – almost makes most of its garment-related money from its “Radarte” line of track pants, t-shirts and sweatshirts. This is something the brand’s PR team has – obviously – denied, saying the brand sells quite a bit of its pricey ready-to-wear, while also experiencing “strong growth in more accessible items including T-shirts and sweatshirts.”

Nonetheless, the number of other projects that the Rodarte founders and creative directors, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, are involved in suggests that their outside consulting likely funds their Rodarte design activities. In the past few years alone, Rodarte has lent its name and design sensibilities to Coach, Oliver Peoples, & Other Stories, and the Rug Company, among brands.

Additionally, according to Rodarte’s website, “The [Mulleavys] have collaborated on special projects with Frank Gehry and Gustavo Dudamel on the LA Philharmonic’s production of Don Giovanni; Benjamin Millepied on costumes for the New York City Ballet’s Two Hearts and L.A. Dance Project’s Moving Parts; and Catherine Opie and Alec Soth on Rodarte, Catherine Opie, Alec Soth, their first monograph.” They have also collaborated with Todd Cole on a short film, entitled, “This Must Be The Only Fantasy.” And recently directed a feature film, entitled, “Woodshock.”

Note: This is not terribly unlike the significant amount of consulting that occurs in the industry. Before becoming creative directors for Oscar de la Renta, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia worked for some time in consulting capacities for the brand, while also maintaining their fledgling Monse brand. Wes Gordon is another example; he is currently consulting for Carolina Herrera in addition to running his own label. 

While most fashion brands do, in fact, make money, most of it tends to come from external projects, as opposed to from the sale of their own branded items. So, keep your eyes open this fashion month. There are bound to be some noteworthy (read: big-money) brand pairings.