Taking collaboration in successful stride.
In building brand awareness and reaching a larger target market, collaborations have historically proved to be a successful tool and marketing strategy. One of the product categories to best utilize and execute collaborations has been footwear, particularly athletic shoes. Athletic shoes historically have been seen as a utilitarian object – used primarily for exercise, or daily casual wear. That is until they started marketing themselves as collectible pieces, similar to Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic Manolo Blahnik collection on Sex and the City.
Sneaker collecting became a mainstream trend when Nike and Michael Jordan introduced Air Jordans in 1985. Since then, most sneaker brands have experimented with various collaborations but there are three brands in particular that have been most successful in utilizing their collaboration to reach a completely new audience – Puma, Converse and Reebok.
Puma first partnered with the highly conceptual fashion designer and filmmaker Hussein Chalayan in 2008 by becoming a majority stakeholder of his business and appointing him as their Creative Director. Since then, they’ve launched Puma Black Label and have partnered with various other high profile fashion designers such as the late Alexander McQueen. The partnership with Hussein Chalayan is particularly successful in that he is able to blend his own conceptual and innovative design thinking with Puma’s sleek, minimalistic style and experiment in different materials and shapes that are non-traditional for athletic wear. This brings a more fashion-conscious and trend-oriented consumer to Puma and gives Chalayan a new ready-to-wear market to grow his own brand recognition.
Converse has also been incredibly innovative in their collaboration partners, particularly with embracing the materiality of their shoes (they are canvas based unlike the leather or man-made materials of their competitors). They brilliantly partnered with textile and pattern experts Marimekko and Missoni. Finnish based design brand Marimekko is particularly famous for printing on rough textured fabric and bringing this very basic material into a high fashion context, which is exactly what they did for Converse. The collaboration between Converse and Marimekko combines both an iconic American brand with an iconic European brand, therefore expanding both to a global audience and it brings together high fashion, basic materials and functionality in a beautiful new product.
Reebok just launched their collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation, a project I was personally involved with. Reebok has been collaborated in the past with iconic artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ryan McGinness and this collection is a natural expansion and a very strategic way for them to embrace the history of the company. Reebok’s brand awareness and popularity peaked in the 1980’s and by working with an iconic artist from that period they are able to build off their impact during that era while using contemporary manufacturing methods to create shoes that really push the boundaries of both art and sneakers by having removable pieces and 3D elements. These shoes are truly collector’s pieces that are must-haves for both the art community and sneaker collectors.
Footwear companies have really figured out how to do collaborations successfully for both brands involved. Other product categories are starting to experiment with collaborations as a marketing tool and some are doing so more successfully than others. It will be interesting to see moving forward how this strategy affects long term brand building and awareness, and how it can help brands expand their global reach.
Entry filed under: Anastasia Kouriatova. Tags: Air Jordan, Alexander McQueen, art, athletics, branding, collaboration, collectables, consumerism, Converse, creative direction, fashion, global, Hussein Chalayan, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Manolo Blahnik, Marimekko, Missoni, name recognition, product design, Puma, Reebok, Ryan McGinness, shoes.