The return of #merch

Merchandise is making a comeback with millennials seeking content that is tangible and collectible.

We often hear how millennial consumers are replacing material goods with experiences. However, over the past year, an acutely materialistic movement has come to light, which is seeing these consumers buy into new kinds of branded merchandise.

Take the music industry. In the past six months, several musicians have launched small, limited edition products that coincide with their musical endeavours. Frank Ocean, alongside the release of his Blonde album earlier this year, published an entire magazine called Boys Don’t Cry, which was launched exclusively in special pop-up shops. Meanwhile US rapper Travis Scott has created a capsule product collection, and MIA has created an open-source merchandise concept that enables fans to download and print her logos on their own clothes.

One reason these artists are turning to products is the continued desire to offer a physical dimension to an otherwise increasingly digitised experience – an especially important characteristic for tangibility-seeking millennials. This is the generation responsible for the revival of the vinyl record, after all.

But these new kinds of artist-branded products – a creative reinvention of artist-produced band, such as t-shirts and posters, sold at live concerts – point to something more tribal, albeit with a healthy dose of millennial irony.

Media brands, previously of an entirely intangible offer, are now tapping into this trend as they seek to deepen the experience of their content. Music streaming service Spotify has made physical music ‘merch’ available to purchase on its artists’ pages, and television and movie streaming service Netflix has released a vinyl record featuring music from its recent hit show ‘Stranger Things’.

Merchandise is playing a similar role in fashion. While fashion accessories for high-end designers were typically high-priced and out-of-touch for many fans, several brands are now producing one-off, accessibly priced products that explore the inspirations and references being used in their clothing collections. Balenciaga, for instance, under the creative direction of Demna Gvasalia, has just launched a series of branded mugs and eye masks, which were sold at French fashion store Colette this summer. While these items enable the brand to continue the brand’s collection-specific aesthetic – in this case, a humorous reference to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign –  they also offer fans a way to easily access the brand, while playing squarely into millennials’ desire for covetable items.

 

There has also been the rise of the fashion edition – books that launch alongside, and not retrospective of, a brand’s collection. French label Jacquemus is one such fashion publisher, having created ‘Marseille Je T’Aime’, its brand inspiration book that acts as an affordable and accessible extension of the clothes. Major fashion house Loewe has created a limited edition book self-published by Loewe and its creative director J.W Anderson. Entitled ‘Past, Present, Future’, it explores not only the collections but a variety of references that help to explain the brand and its point of view. Again, these affordable books offer fans a means of collecting and owning a part of the brand.

 

With a variety of brands, including ones from the world of media, now creating these small, collectible trinkets of their ethos, it seems that merchandise has become a crucial strategy for brands wishing to expand their touchpoints and win young fans.