Why fashion is leaning on niche music platforms for cultural cachet!

by | Oct 1, 2023 | Music

Photo: NTS x Diesel / Visioni Parallele

Brands like Diesel, Adidas and Burberry are attempting to harness the power of music platforms such as NTS and Colors in a bid to build cultural relevance, marking a growing trend for fashion brands.

For Diesel, the partnership with NTS allows them to take a “360-degree lifestyle approach” to reach new consumers in a way that goes beyond their collections. Collaborating with a platform like NTS, Diesel has the opportunity to tap into an existing audience in a way that transcends social media. “The aim [is] to reconnect with society and to give back to the community,” says Diesel creative director Glenn Martens. “The NTS and Diesel partnership embraces this ethos by gathering together a mix of progressive musical talents and collectives from around the globe to promote the club culture, connecting people, giving [them] the possibility to express themselves and their diversity.”

Italian fashion house Diesel and NTS held a 17hour rave in East London.

Italian fashion house Diesel and NTS held a 17-hour rave in East London.

 Photo: NTS x Diesel / Visioni Parallele

Niche music platforms and fashion brands are teaming up for online and offline activations. Earlier this month, music platform Colors — known for its emerging artist discovery — unveiled its latest fashion tie-up, a collaboration with Adidas Originals. The brand teamed up with Colors to celebrate the launch of its latest Adidas Club Originals campaign with a video series featuring European artists. As part of the series, Adidas Originals hosted and dressed emerging artists on the Colors stage: Palestinian-French-Algerian and Serbian artist Saint Levant; London-based rapper, producer and songwriter Berwyn; Geneva-based artist Varnish La Piscine; the series will conclude with German artist Amilli.

“Colors has a rich history in showcasing exceptional, rising talent from across the globe through their musical talents,” says Chris Mitchell, VP for Originals, basketball and partnerships at Adidas Europe. He adds that this aligned with the foundations of Adidas’s Club Originals campaign, which centred around celebrating creativity in all its forms — music, art, style and movement. “The two brands are linked by their commitment to fostering community and culture, providing a platform for self-expression and creativity. Our aim with the Club Originals campaign was to inspire our audience across music, art, style and movement and to encourage them to get thinking about the future of those sectors.”

In April, Ralph Lauren teamed up with Poolsuite, the Web3 community and internet radio station formerly known as Poolside FM, to tap into their NFT community and align the brand with the Miami lifestyle. And in April, Christopher Kane’s More Joy partnered with Glyn Fussell, founder of Sink the Pink LGBTQ+ collective and club night, and Bugged Out, an underground club night ad platform.

“Our vision for More Joy has always been that it goes beyond selling products,” says Tammy Kane, co-founder and co-creative director at Christopher Kane. “The partnership aspect is key; we know fashion, but we don’t know the music industry.” Some 1,500 tickets were sold for the inaugural More Love Disco club night, which took place at KOKO in Camden in north-west London.

With these collabs comes cultural cachet and access to engaged communities of loyal fans. Colors, which launched in 2017, has a following of nearly 7 million on YouTube and over 1.3 million followers on Instagram, and its videos are known for going viral across platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. NTS has nearly half a million followers on Instagram and over 3.3 unique monthly listeners and 260,000 annual attendees to NTS events.

“These platforms have a finger on the pulse that [large] fashion brands need,” says Tessa Solan, co-founder of JFA Music Group and music partnership consultant, adding that brands have to find new ways to excite younger consumers who are constantly being served new content online — that’s where these music platforms are able to help brands tap into the zeitgeist. “Being able to lean into music discovery, talent and culture is something brands can’t buy, and that’s why collaboration is so necessary. You can’t buy support and true, genuine interest. That’s where platforms like NTS or Colors have always been consistent and authentic, and brands need that authenticity.”

When done correctly, a brand can maintain relevance and also increase audience acquisition in the long term, adds Jane Kellock, founder and creative director of trend analysis consultancy Unique Style Platform.

By partnering with platforms that have a strong following, like NTS or Colors, these brands are able to gain a better understanding of Gen Z and millennial audiences through insight and data shared by the music platform, says Kellock. “Having access to that kind of information is quite interesting for brands [as well as] having that reach… It’s a great way for brands to tap into that huge market that they don’t already attract.”

The streetwear playbook

These partnerships are not just a fashion or music play; they’re about tapping into the audience and culture that those platforms speak to, says Mervyn Lyn, founder of Strategic Partnership Solutions, which specialises in music, entertainment and sports partnerships. These are influential platforms and brands want to align with platforms that make them appear cool, he adds. “It’s a cultural space, and that’s what those brands are trying to buy into, this cultural ecosystem that involves music, fashion and all kinds of entertainment… It’s easier to do a deal with a platform than it is to do an endorsement deal with any one artist because of rights issues.”

Streetwear brands, and more recently, beauty brands, have long experimented with cross-industry collaborations. Whereas with these partnerships, the KPIs are different: it typically involves product placement as well as looking at how the post performed in terms of reach and engagement instead of using sales as a metric of success. One of the early Colors collaborators was British heritage brand Burberry, who partnered with the music platform in 2021. Similarly to the Adidas partnership, six artists were styled in Burberry’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection, designed by then creative officer Riccardo Tisci, for their Colors performance, and released an exclusive video series for each artist on the Burberry website. Burberry collaborated with Colors again the following year.

Londonbased musician rapper producer and songwriter Berwyn.

London-based musician rapper, producer and songwriter Berwyn.

 Photo: Courtesy of Adidas Originals 

Brands may not see a direct or obvious sales lift, however, there are longer-term benefits: when Gen Z consumers have the spending power to purchase from luxury brands, the ones that have partnered with cool platforms like NTS or Colors remain front of mind, explains Kellock. “It’s not going to be a direct return on sales, but that is what clever brands are doing,” she says. “Traditional brands will avoid doing that unless they see a direct increase in sales… but it’s about thinking outside the box and really tapping into that generation in a way that resonates with them.”

What’s happening in the music industry is similar to luxury brands teaming up with popular gaming platforms such as Roblox, says Konstantin Elchev, founder of consultancy firm the Department of Culture and Technology, who built Colors’s partnership division and is currently consulting for the music platform. The aim is to leverage these platforms’ reach and build cultural relevance. “Luxury brands create this feeling of aspiration,” he says. “We are creating an aspiration for [consumers] to want to eventually purchase from a luxury brand. That is a big strategy for luxury brands in general; they have to talk to the younger audience to prime them so that when they do eventually have the dollars to buy these goods, that brand is top of mind.”

Opportunities for brands

Across these partnerships, live events — not just social media-ready moments — are the focus. Both NTS and Colors have taken brand partnerships offline.

The partnership with Diesel, which is now in its second year, is one of NTS’s farthest-reaching partnerships, says Hope Abel, global director of creative solutions at NTS, adding that the nightlife sector continues to face pressures from funding cuts to government legislation. As part of NTS’s partnership with Diesel, the duo hosted an editorial roundtable which spoke about the issues affecting the clubbing and nightlife sector in London. For Diesel, it was important to host a physical club night; and for NTS, it was important to collaborate with the local community. NTS worked with a series of club collectives in the city in order to co-programme the 17-hour club night in East London and was able to feature more than 50 artists and DJs.

Diesel and NTS will continue to host a series of club nights around the world.

Diesel and NTS will continue to host a series of club nights around the world.

 Photo: NTS x Diesel / Visioni Parallele

“It’s a big (and slightly unexpected) statement for a luxury fashion brand to step in and want to do something about it, but it’s testament to Glenn’s visionary approach,” says Abel. “I think that’s why it’s been so well received not just by the fashion and music media but by those it matters to most: the youth. After the success of the first event in London last year, we had people reaching out to us from Milan to Melbourne asking when we were doing a party in their city.”

Brands and emerging designers see an opportunity for millions of people to see their clothes on someone that could be the next major artist. Unlike other music platforms, the Colors stage is incredibly visual, with the focus solely on the artist performing — lending itself to highly curated and styled outfits. “[Colors] offers so much discovery showcasing some of the most exciting music acts from various genres around the world, often the outfits/visuals are commented on as much as the music, so it’s a great opportunity for the talents of independent designers to also shine,” says stylist and fashion editor Chris Amfo. “We all know how intrinsically linked music and fashion are, so the appeal of tapping into this culture from big sportswear brands is also no surprise.”

The Colors stage is also a gateway to exposure without an official partnership like the Burberry and Adidas collaborations. Although musicians have autonomy over all style decisions, many are keen to collaborate with smaller and emerging designers, who subsequently gain exposure to Colors’s broad audience. Some musicians hire stylists or have custom pieces made for their Colors performance. For London-based afro-electronic and rap artists, known as Bryte, he was keen to bring fellow Ghanaian designers to the main stage.

“When you’re going on Colors, you want to look your best,” he says. “Colors is a huge platform for me. Once I have the opportunity to be on it, it’s only right that I represent who I am… I want anyone who sees it to know that I am Ghanaian and recognise that I am wearing something from Ghana.” He wore a matching two-piece from the international collective Dead Hype, founded by Berlin-based Ghanaian Bernard Koomson.

Choosing the right partner

Elchev, who previously built the art relations department whilst working as a national marketing manager at Red Bull, is leaning on his past experience working with brands like Adidas and musicians such as Snoop Dogg to help inform Colors’s partnership strategy. “I understood what we could do with Colors,” he says. “We needed to think about how we were approaching these opportunities…. Instead of saying, we’re going to put artists into this clothing and put them on stage, we started discussing the why and trying to create more in-depth concepts and campaigns.” Elchev’s consultancy firm has also worked with underground music platform Cercle.

If brand partnerships are not done carefully, customers may end up questioning the trust and authenticity of the platforms, says Lyn of Strategic Partnership Solutions. “It’s a disaster for the consumers that are attracted to the platform because of its authenticity; it’s genuine and speaks to them on a level that they understand. If that trust is ever broken, I don’t know that it can be retrieved. So platforms need to be [extremely] careful about what and how they offer these partnerships to consumers,” he says. “As for brands, they just move on. At this level, it’s not huge amounts of money [involved]; it’s not going to make or break them. They can just move on to the next platform.”

“We’ve built a special place in culture over the last 12 years, and it means we have to be super careful about our brand partnerships,” says Abel. “Music has always been a cornerstone of the Diesel brand, so when they approached us to help them re-explore and re-imagine their founding heritage in club culture, it was a no-brainer… we knew that together, we could create something that would genuinely add huge value to our global community of music lovers.”

Correction: Chris Mitchell’s full title is VP for Originals, basketball and partnerships at Adidas Europe.



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