How to Build a Successful Design Collaboration

Champion x Supreme, Todd Snyder and Off-White. Hanes x RE/DONE, Vetements and x karla.

BY NED MUNROE, HanesBrands Chief Global Design Officer, Activewear

Design collaborations are a hit in the apparel industry – HanesBrands included. Not surprising since they can help brands expand into new channels and product categories and attract new consumers. But how does a brand ensure it’s picking the right partner or project? At HanesBrands, we’ve found that the following five principles are key to building strong partnerships that reap benefits for the participating brands and delight consumers:

  1. Dig deep: We spend a lot of time researching and gathering consumer insights, determining macro trends and learning about new innovations and technologies that inspire the team. We love finding both established and younger brands – and influencers, designer and artists that are “best-in-class,” with the understanding that when exploring a partner, you can’t be a stranger to what that partner stands for. Before establishing a collaboration with brands such as Wood Wood, Beams and RE/DONE, we dive deep to understand everything about them. If you’re going to recommend a partnership, you’ve got to love the budding project and truly believe it’s the right fit. We thoroughly vet our partners, because we don’t want there to be a disconnect with our design aesthetic or brand principles.
  2. Make a match: The process is more or less the same every time we approach a collaboration. We first ask: How does the partner brand’s aesthetic language and design vision complement our own? Is it authentic, a market or category leader, and is there a shared love for our brands? Compatibility is critical. From there, we consider how a potential partnership could help us expand into new categories and channels where we are not necessarily experts. So, what’s in it for both brands? We are always looking to push the envelope, exploring collaborations with artists and other partners that may be outside of our core competency, while ensuring our core design approach will mesh well and that the collaboration will add equity to both brands.
  3. Open Up … : The creative process is the most exciting part of any partnership. Our heritage and brand DNA are so integral to our existence, and we know it’s the same for our partners as well. When Champion’s collaboration with Supreme began to combine our brand’s iconic styles with Supreme’s street edge, we saw it as an opportunity to embrace a new element that would add further dimension to our brand. Our designers know there is no room for ego, and we bring an incredibly collaborative approach to any partnership.
  4. … But Stay Grounded: Our senior design team implements a thorough process of concept review and branding alignment to ensure our brands are protected through each step of a partnership. Filters must be applied continually throughout the creative process – you can’t just design to hit a trend. Take Hanes x RE/DONE. When we began concepting this project both side agreed the result had to be rooted in the Hanes heritage. It is easy to hit trends … much harder to keep an icon fresh and relevant. The consumer always has the loudest voice and the last vote. When we see the partnership producing something beautiful that will entice consumers from both brands, then we know it has potential.
  5. Be Thoughtful: When brands “over partner” they lose credibility. We take a thoughtful approach to our collaboration strategy. We debate on whether or not a project fits with what we are currently doing? Does it create a conflict with something we already have under way? Is it being done at the right time, does it expand our brand or category reach and will it take us into a new channel? We are fortunate to be the guardians of such iconic brands. Sometimes we make a match; while other times we have to say no, unfortunately. We have some fantastic future projects in the works … can’t wait to share them!