Dissecting the Elements of a Fashion Brand

Here’s a little-known bit of trivia about me: I started my college career as a Biology major. Somehow I’d gotten it into my head that I wanted to be a researcher in that field. Who knows where the idea came from, but I do know when I decided it wasn’t for me. After only a few afternoons spent in the lab, I realized that only interacting with beakers and Bunsen burners all day was a deal breaker. While all the other scientists seemed content to quietly putter away at their solitary tasks, my brain was screaming for more human interaction.

Good Chemistry

Even though my days in the lab were brief, I do remember a few things from those mostly-forgotten science lectures. And surprisingly, a few of those lessons can be applied to the fashion industry. For example, in chemistry, if you want to get a particular result, you have to start with the right elements. If you’re simply pulling substances from the Periodic table on a whim, your experiment could fall flat or literally blow up in your face. While determining who you are as a brand isn’t a science, it does draw on the same principles. Having the wrong mix of characteristics could result in a lackluster collection, while blending the right art styles, silhouettes, fabrics, colors and influences could spark legions of lifelong fans.

If you’ve ever seen someone wearing a blouse or carrying a bag and instantly been able to identify the brand without seeing a label, it’s because the designer has done his or her job in building a signature style. Branding isn’t just about having a logo. It’s about developing a comprehensive look that customers begin to recognize as uniquely yours. On it’s own, your fabric choice isn’t enough of a catalyst for brand recognition. But mix it with a distinctive illustration style and an unusual color story and you’re in the embryo stage of creating a branded identity.

Anatomy 101

As designers, you’re all working with the same raw materials. It’s the execution that will set you apart. Just think: each of us has two eyes, a nose and a mouth yet each of us is unique. It’s not about the components; it’s about how they’re expressed. The same is true when it comes to building a brand. Take some common kids’ wear prints like dots, stripes, hearts and flowers. Most are found in every collection but the strongest brands express them in a way that makes them their own. Like a fingerprint, a signature style identifies the specific dresses, pants and tops as yours. They hang together because they’re all related — even across seasons.

One example is Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Mini collection, which offers Japanime-inspired artwork and a Rockabilly vibe. This combination allows the brand to take ownership of each season’s trends. For instance, Harajuku Mini’s holiday collection featured black and white patterns, a staple for the brand and a current fashion favorite. But even though most designers were injecting this color combo into their lines, the label’s oversized houndstooth pattern gave the looks the bite its fans had come to expect.

Contrast that with the illustration style from a company like WeeGallery, which has built a business on charming black and white line art. With this distinguishing trait at its foundation, the company has been able to expand across product categories from mobiles to wall graphics to toys and books without losing its DNA — or its fan base.

Like prints and illustrations, specific embellishments and treatments can act as the connective tissue holding a brand together. For instance, two-fer tops are a staple in many collections. But the Morfs label subbed in socks for sleeves, giving moms another reason to love its appliquéd tees. Similarly, fabric flowers grace lots of girls’ wear styles but KidCuteTure made them a hallmark by scaling them up and making them a focal point on its handkerchief-hem dresses. Just as someone could identify you by your blue eyes or tall stature, these attributes are part of the genetic code for these labels.

With all this in mind, put your line under the microscope. Without its logo, does your collection have a true brand identity? The ultimate litmus test is if a mom who’s purchased from you before can easily identify your collection in a store or on a friend’s child. If that’s not possible, it’s time to dissect each element of your line to determine how they might create a better brand story.

About Caletha Crawford

Caletha Crawford is a children’s apparel consultant who has spent more than 10 years covering the industry, most recently as editor in chief of Earnshaw’s magazine. Caletha has a unique perspective on the concepts, designs and companies that resonate with retailers and consumers. Her services include marketing, branding and social media. In an effort to usher in the next generation of design talent, she also teaches at Parsons The New School for Design.

Read more about Caletha’s business, client updates, market insights and trade show standouts in her newsletter at http://calethacrawford.com/cccc-kidsbiz-newsletter

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