How to rebrand a luxury cashmere brand with a small touch of kindness

Melanie Costa Leite is the proud owner of Melanie Cashmere, a Portuguese independent fashion label specialising in luxury cashmere.

Those were the first three words that Melanie ever said to us. It’s not every day that we meet a client that genuinely loves what they do, with a real passion. When Melanie talks about cashmere, fashion & babies, which she does quite a lot, her eyes shine with a real excitement. We’re pretty sure that since our first meeting on Skype last year Melanie has reminded us in every meeting since that yes, she really does love cashmere!

Melanie uses the finest Cashmere wool that comes from selected farms in Mongolia. The farmers have been rearing their goats for generations and pride themselves on having healthy herds that grow some of the finest gauge wool. The goats are allowed to roam free and are treated like they’re part of the family. Their wool is carefully gathered and shipped to Europe.

The textile factory in Milan, Italy, receive the precious commodity and spins the wool into the finest Cashmere yarn. The family run business has been working with textiles for five generations and are seen as one of the most influential factories in the world of luxury fashion.

The Cashmere yarn is then used to produce the new Cashmere collections designed by Melanie’s fashion director based in London.

The new collections are then sold on the Melanie Cashmere website and stocked in selected high-end retailers either side of the Atlantic.

The Melanie Cashmere business had been growing slowly but surely for a couple of years, but whilst exhibiting at New York Fashion Week in the spring of 2016 Melanie had an unexpected light bulb moment. The A/W 2016 collection rack was a full of beautiful designs for the finest luxury cashmere. The womenswear designs received the usual good reviews, but what Melanie was not expecting was the overwhelming expression of love for her few pieces of mum & baby cashmere stuck at the end of the racks. Everyone went gaga about it. Melanie also noticed that the fashion buyers in New York were now starting to ask the right questions about the quality, provenance and supply chain for her cashmere. These are subjects that Melanie feels very passionate about:

On the flight back from JFK to Porto she decided to make a small but decisive pivot with the direction of her company. Melanie still wanted to create beautiful designs for luxury cashmere, but she was now looking for a way for her label to be more inclusive for pregnant women with more choice for baby. She also gave herself the challenge of doing a better job of raising awareness of the cashmere story from the farm to factory to fashion store.

Take something good and make it better

During her time in New York Melanie was introduced to some fellow Portuguese entrepreneurs who were in town promoting their new start-up venture called Skyhour. They mentioned that they were collaborating with BTL Brands and suggested we might be able to help. When Melanie got back to Portugal she gave us a quick call on Skype and set us a simple challenge; help me reposition & rebrand my successful company to make it even more successful?” Most companies choose to rebrand when their business is failing or start selling different products or services. In this case we were given the challenge to take something good and make it better with just a small tweak. Not easy.

Melanie Costa Leite

We had to find a start point. To take the company in a new direction we had to get a better understanding of Melanie as she pretty much is the company. Melanie comes from a long line of entrepreneurs with diverse commercial interests ranging from private banks to wood mills to art collections. A very successful and well-respected Portuguese family setting high standards for her to live up to. She could have made life easier for herself by joining the family business, but she is a very driven individual determined to create her own future and cut her own cloth.

From a young age her love of fashion and style was a driving force that led her to study design at college, and then work in London for several of the big style magazines. The years spent in London gave her a priceless insight into how the fashion world really works (she has plenty of real-life ‘Devil Wears Prada’ stories that never cease to amuse us).

Style with not much time for substance

The luxury cashmere market is full of big brands selling premium products. Most of the leading brands are owned by global corporations with the primary function of making hard profit every quarter for their shareholders. The luxury cashmere industry is not particularly soft or warm. The main focus being style and sales, with not always enough time for substance. The luxury cashmere market is broken down into the basic categories of women, maternity, babies, kids & men. There isn’t much crossover between them and most work independently of each other:

The Melanie Cashmere brand was operating within the two separate categories of women and baby, but we were keen for her new brand to start blurring the lines between women, mothers & babies.

We wanted to create a new inclusive fashion label that could be worn by women (with, without or expecting kids) and their babies. The new womenswear designs would be cut generously and stylishly in a way that allowed them to be worn by all women, regardless of being pregnant. A new luxury Cashmere brand that values substance as much as style.

Honesty is the best policy

Being truthful with a client, when discussing what aspects of their existing brand are in need of change, can be awkward and a bit uncomfortable sometimes. It usually falls into the same category as telling a proud new parent that their baby might be just a little bit ugly. We do our best to always be honest and direct, whilst taking care when helping clients to navigate the choppy seas of change. Most clients like the idea of change, often talk about it, even joke about it. However, when it’s time to make that change things can get a bit tense for clients as they’re scared that we might get a bit carried away with ourselves and unknowingly unleash the Change Monster from it’s box (and none of us want that to happen):

Fortunately for us we discovered in our brand workshop that Melanie loves honesty & change (almost as much as Cashmere). She gave us complete freedom to make whatever changes were necessary to reposition & rebrand her business. During the workshop we got Melanie to download all of her thoughts, ideas and random stuff in her head related to her vision for the new brand. Certain key words like love, care, softness, luxury, natural & honesty kept popping up:

We then proceeded to deconstruct the brand, bit by bit, deciding what should stay and what should go. At the end of the process the company was in bits, but thankfully Melanie was still in one piece. We then made a start on putting the bits back together in a new way to help Melanie create a new version of her business model, brand strategy, name, personality, digital etc.

What are you gonna call it?

Very early into the project we decided to throw the baby’s name out with the bath water. The Melanie Cashmere brand name had done a great job up until this point but we weren’t convinced that it was fit for purpose moving forward. During the workshop, and several Skype calls after, we went through the process of debating with Melanie the pros & cons of having her name above the door. It’s worked incredibly well for Stella, Victoria & Tory:

However, in this situation, we weren’t convinced that the founders name would do the job of communicating the essence of this new unique brand.

With a handful of marker pens and a roll of brown paper we went through the usual process of scribbling names and related words all over our studio walls. Nothing. We scribbled some more. Nothing. We gave up on trying to create something new and went back to Melanie’s name. We don’t speak much Portuguese in the studio but our basic command of Spanglish helped us understand that her surname translates roughly into ‘Milk Coast’. At the same time we’d realised that rolls of soft cashmere fabric take on a ‘milky’ appearance when they’re allowed to ripple and fold in on themselves. What a great name for a new brand that specialises in natural, gentle & luxurious cashmere for women & babies… Milk! When we told Melanie that we didn’t want to use her name, and presented to her the new Milk concept, there was an awkward few moments of silence… and then she just nodded & smiled:

It’s not rocket science!

Ok, we had a company with a new name and now was the time to start building a new brand around it. In our opinion branding isn’t rocket science, it’s not even an academic subject (sorry to upset any brand consultants out there with a different view). We always start a new project by just asking three simple questions and listening to the answers, hopefully without too much prompting. During the brand workshop we just covered our walls in brown paper and scribbled notes whilst Melanie answered three questions about her business. Three basic questions (Why? / How? / What?) that help us get to the core DNA of any company, to give us what we need to start defining the new brand purpose & profile. A simple process explained well by Simon Sinek in his much viewed TedTalk. If a company founder, or directors, can’t answer these three questions with certainty and conviction there is usually a fundamental flaw in the business model.

We then took a few days to filter all of the workshop output, fine-tuning and de-cluttering, until we arrived at a Milk brand purpose circle that reflected the true nature of Melanie and her vision for the new business direction:

The output of the workshop, and the new brand purpose circle, gave us everything we needed to start creating the new brand profile triangle:

The triangle funnels down to a point at the base for the new brand message. This is a distillation of all the words above that have been used to describe the new brand. The brand message is a simple statement, or call to action, that helps bring the new brand to life in as few words as possible:

Look & feel

Time now for the really important stuff in the world of premium fashion… how the new brand looks & feels. As we all know this is a world heavily influenced by image. We believed that the new Milk brand identity needed to be smart, stylish & subtle, with simple use of typography. Now was not the time to create an identity that made a play on the nature of milk as a gloopy white liquid. Milk needed a visual identity that could sit comfortably alongside any other luxury brand on Bond St, 5th Avenue or Rue de Honore:

A fine touch

The new brand uses an iconic decorative typeface for the logotype and a classic fashion magazine typeface for the text font:

A soft touch

The new brand colour palette is full of natural, soft & gentle tones:

Less is more

The art direction for the new Milk photography followed a very simple less is more approach. The cashmere must always be the hero. Whenever possible we zoomed in close to show the soft & gentle ‘milky’ ripples of finest fabric.

We didn’t feel the need to always show full products in the photography, in some cases just an intimate mother & baby shot, or a drape of wool, does the job of communicating the essence of the Milk brand.

Whenever we needed to show women or babies we would always try and show a detail or a crop, rather than the usual head to toe shot, so that we could highlight the attention to detail for the pattern cutting and styling.

We used close-up images of the hand-stitched labels to show that every aspect of the brand has been carefully considered with attention to detail:

Website

We always encourage clients to choose what digital approach is best for their brand and for their budget. In this case there was no need for us to go to the expense of using our web developers, we could just as easily do a great job with a Squarespace Wordpress template. The site is still currently work in progress whilst we wait for the first Milk collection to be produced in Italy, however, we managed to use samples to get the site up & running.

Homepage (SLIDESHOW)
Homepage (SLIDESHOW)
Homepage (INTRO)
Homepage (ABOUT)
Homepage (STORY)
Homepage (JOURNAL & CONNECT)

Print

Business cards might be seen as a luxury today. That’s even more reason for Melanie to have a card that uses the finest paper & bronze foil, crafted by high-end Lithographic printers with a bit of de-bossing for good measure:

All good

With her first S/S 2017 Milk collection currently on the drawing board Melanie is very happy with her new brand. The feedback so far has been all good. To date nobody has asked the question “Why Milk?”. When people meet Melanie, and see the new Milk branding, the connection between the brand and the person is obvious.

As well as developing her new Milk collection Melanie is also busy talking to connections within her supply chain from Mongolia to Manhattan via Milan. Over the next few months Melanie will be exploring new ways for her Milk brand to extend a small touch of kindness to all of the relevant people within the Mongolian Cashmere wool industry.

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