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How Cool Kid Brands Are Keeping Designer Collabs Fresh

Capsule collections have become a retail norm—and a Millennial obsession. Here’s how some of the coolest brands are keeping the tactic from getting stale.

High design for less has become a go-to tactic for retailers, who have found again and again that offering luxury labels at mass market price brings people in the door in droves. Fashion brand capsule collections have been around as long as some Millennials can remember, but we continue to see them create buzz—and in some cases mania—among young consumers. Though they’ve become a marketing and design norm, consumers still line up, stampede, and fight for their cart full of limited edition items. This past November, the new Balmain x H&M collection was so wildly popular that it began selling on eBay for prices that make it more expensive than some actual Balmain items. The resale of capsule collections has clearly become big business for some.

Still, a big-name designer pairing up with a big-name retail brand for a highly publicized collection has become expected. Target, the originator of the designer-names-for-less trend, produces a steady stream of capsule collections. Their next, with Marrimekko, will be out in time for summer, and undoubtedly create a craze. So what happens when a once innovative ploy evolves into an industry norm? Here’s how some of the coolest brands of the moment are finding ways to put a new spin on designer collaborations: 

Exclusive Access: Madewell x Daryl K.

Madewell, the brand Digiday calls “J.Crew’s cooler, younger sibling,” has risen through the ranks and seen a huge growth in sales at a time when many clothing retailers are struggling to profit and resonate with young consumers. Geared towards the “modern city girl who has that easy tomboy chic about herm” they carefully target that specific demographic on social platforms, giving shoppers a sense of an all-encompassing lifestyle rather than just products. Last month, the retailer released a collaboration collection with designer Daryl K., and made sure their followers on those social platforms got an edge on shopping the looks. Their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter followers were given info to sign up for a pre-sale alert, giving them access to the collection two days before the rest of the world. It looks like they’ll continue innovating the capsule collection pattern: their next collab, with Giejo swimwear designer Gabby Sabharwal, is sustainable, can be mixed and matched, and is available to purchase online weeks before it will be in stores.

Up and Comer Cool: & Other Stories x Faux/real

Leave the big name designers and hyped up collab campaigns to the chains—some of the most interesting retailers are turning to relatively unknown influencers to create capsule collections that are more about the design than the brand. H&M’s “grown up” spin off brand & Other Stories is making collaborations a regular part of their offerings, but unlike their big-brand parent company, most of the designers that have paired with & Other Stories have been surprisingly under the radar. Their collection with stylist Ada Kokosar was promoted only through a co-branded Instagram account. In February, the retailer paired up with New York jewelry designer Faux/real, and made the collection the centerpiece of their “modern day romance” Valentine’s Day campaign. After Everlane chose illustrator Langley Fox as their first ever designer collaborator, Fashionista wrote, “it’s the obscure, personality-driven team-ups that are interesting right now. Everything else, especially celebrity collaborations, feels tired.” Clearly other indie brands feel the same way.

Hyper-Focus: Net-a-Porter x J.W. Anderson

As designer collections have become more common, they’ve also gotten more broad. Target’s collaboration with Marrimekko will include not just clothing but home goods and other lifestyle items. Recently Net-a-Porter put a different spin on a designer collection by creating a hyper-focused line with J.W. Anderson. The line consists of six reimaginations of the classic men’s shirt. Only two types of fabric were used for the designs (crisp white and blue stripe), and the brand wanted to keep to a strict theme. The less is more approach makes the line stand out from the massive collections being created by others in the industry.