It's tempting to think of the "brand" in monolithic terms, as imbued with god-like powers to enrich the common man, and sprung fully formed from the mind of its creator. For consumers, who often do regard a brand as having the power to transform their lives, this is a good thing. For apparel companies, an approach that relegates the source of brand identity to just one area of the apparel supply chain can be limiting, and even fatal.
Certainly, we can all identify powerful symbols or words that come to represent an entire brand in the collective mind of a particular group, country or culture. The most successful transcend all three, capturing the zeitgeist or tapping into universally held desires or beliefs.
But it's a mistake to think that the omnipresent Nike "swoosh" or McDonald's curvy "M" could alone carry the weight of brand identity, and companies with successful brands know that the strength of a logo or image resides as much in the consistency, innovation and quality of the product as the oft-seen stamp it fronts to the world.
That's why, especially in the increasingly competitive and global world of apparel, it's crucial to take a "full package" approach not only to the manufacture of apparel product but to its brand strategy as well.
What does this mean? To begin with, it does not mean neglecting those logos and symbols. We all know first impressions are crucial. Defining and disseminating your brand image or lifestyle through smart marketing that includes multimedia advertising and in-store merchandising is crucial. So is differentiating your product with carefully planned hangtags, labels, pocket flashers and the like. This issue's two-part special feature offers insights on e-tail branding as well as product ID trends.
But the brand face presented to the consumer has arms that reach far back into the supply chain, encompassing issues from design and style to size and fit. An eye-catching hangtag will only take you so far if the jeans don't fit well, if the shirt style is off message with respect to the lifestyle the brand purports to represent or if the color of the pantsuit's top and bottom suddenly don't match in the dressing room light. (For more on ensuring good color and color matching, see this month's "Production Solutions.")
And it doesn't stop there. Brand identity can be shaped not only by design and fit, but also by the very fibers, yarns and fabrics that comprise the end product. Today, some apparel companies are differentiating themselves from competitors by partnering with suppliers at the very front of the supply chain to create exclusive fabrics with properties that combine, say, high-tech moisture control, UV resistance or stain repellence with an ever-softer hand, greater stretch and recovery or increased ability to accept a wide range of dyes.
Indeed, companies that want to make a lasting mark on the future apparel industry are making strides in turning the supply chain into a loop. (See this month's "Country Report" to learn more about Thailand's push to integrate its textile and apparel industries to achieve such a network.)
Those companies that succeed in winning consumer attention will offer something new and different, and ultimately something more useful to the customer than what is already hanging in her closet. They will do this by being on top of their game, and by taking a holistic approach to the apparel industry.
So, when you're perusing the trend books and fashion shows to see if ponchos will still be hip next year, take some time to scope a little further down the chain, and talk to yarn spinners, chemical producers and fabric developers. You might form a partnership that allows you to truly take your product to the next level.
And who knows? You might even develop a garment that transforms the life of the consumer.