Selling Clothing vs Selling Fashion

Clothing has long been a necessity. It protects us from the elements, covers our private regions and is a functional tool to carry important items such as a key or wallet. Without clothing, it wouldn’t be possible to explore the world, attend a business meeting, or play a sport. Functional clothing serves a purpose, one that allows the user to interact with the world in an efficient manner. This form of apparel is thought of as a need. You need soccer cleats to play on the pitch. You need a thick coat when going to colder regions. However, just like in many other industries, fashion is also an industry that sells an idea. That is what newer brands must understand prior to launching. By deciding whether you are selling clothing or fashion, you could formulate how to market your brand to your target audience.

Let’s face it, there really isn’t a need for another clothing line. There are thousands of brands out there that provide us with an infinite amount of options at different price points for any demographic. There will always be an industry disruptor that comes along like Under Armour that introduced sweat wicking athletic gear or Levi’s that made denim into an everyday staple. But what about those brands that come along that aren’t really a necessity. Why do people need to wait in line for the new Supreme drop? Why do Yeezy Boosts sell out so quickly? Why has Raf Simons become synonymous with rappers and celebrities? Vetements has become a force in the streetwear industry by selling items such as a snoop dogg shirt for $920. How are brands able to create such a strong presence in their consumer’s eyes?

Vetements Snoop Dogg Shirt

Just like any other industry, the key to fashion is providing value. This is the basic law behind supply and demand. This could be interpreted in many ways. Some will not see the value in luxury brands because they don’t care for the narrative. In the streetwear industry, Supreme is viewed as one of the originators of the New York skate culture. They were meant to appeal to those with a rebellious mindset. The logo is inspired by Barbara Kruger whose art was always full of social commentary. There are other narratives that make Supreme a desired commodity. Their items are produced in limited amounts making them exclusive. If you walk into a Supreme store, their employees don’t have smiling faces and they won’t happily greet you. In fact, they will hardly care to answer any of your questions. Supreme is not meant for everybody and this is intentional. It may seem counterintuitive but this is what Supreme embodies at its core. This is because they know their audience and they know that this is what their demographic expects of them. If they ever were to open stores in malls, they will lose their appeal to their core customer. Everything they do is consistent to who they are. They are not simply selling garments, they are selling an idea. They are selling exclusivity, rebellion, fashion and status. Not everybody cares for this, but those that do are willing to pay for it. In this scenario, the value that is provided is intangible.

Crowd standing outside a Supreme store in East Village NY

Supreme is just one of many examples. Brands such as Ralph Lauren have a completely different story. They don’t just sell polo shirts with an embroidery on the left chest. They sell the concept of Americana, heritage and nostalgia. Their aesthetic embodies their story. RL will never make long line shirts or oversized cropped hoodies. Thats not part of their story. Even if those were trending items, consumers don’t view those items as part of the RL aesthetic. This would not be authentic for the RL customer.

If you look at the above photo, there are many messages trying to be conveyed here. One is, that the RL customer embraces the beauty of nature. It has classical design incorporated with a modern fit such as the pants being low waisted and slim fitting. Although they embrace the new trends, they still apply their traditional color palette, fabrics and patterns in order to stay true to their brand. Ralph Lauren is sending the message that are meant for those you enjoy a weekend getaway with some friends at a rustic lakeside log cabin. Similar to Supreme, they are selling a lifestyle.

Many new brands emerge with the premise of having the best quality goods. The problem with that is they are setting themselves up for failure. Today’s consumers are smart and have an infinite amount of information at their fingertips. By claiming to have the best product, brands are opening the door for criticism. There will always be a product that is better made, has better fabric or lasts longer. There is no way to make everyone think you have the best product mainly due to different consumers giving importance to different variables. Just like the brand narrative, quality and fit need to be catered to the expectations of the intended consumers. For example, RiRi is considered one of the best zipper manufacturers in the world and is used by many designer labels. If Ralph Lauren were to use RiRi for their product, it wouldn’t translate to their customer. They don’t care for that attribute the same way a Vetements or Raf Simons consumer would.

There will always be room for new brands. Everyone is always ready to embrace a new story. However, consumers will always proceed with caution. Although methods for attaining customers has evolved, there is one tried and true method that has withstood the test of time. The art of storytelling will always prevail because those that purchase fashion do so because it is an emotional decision. At the heart of this all is the product. The product needs to be everything that it was imagined to be. As long as brands are true to themselves and are able to deliver their promise to the right group of individuals, consumers will be willing to adopt them.