It’s been a long 12 months, and before we kick 2018 to the curb, we're looking back at all of the most memorable, game-changing fashion and beauty things that went down. Follow along with us as we look back at the year in review.
Ever since we first started seeing the comeback of music merchandise in 2016, the rise of branded, promotional apparel hasn't stopped. Instead, it's evolved and shapeshifted, tapping into more industries, subcultures and communities over the years. In 2018 alone, we've seen collegiate merch make its way onto high-fashion runways, while media brands pivoted to clothing for increased revenue. Plus, all things highbrow, including museums and news outlets, have gotten in on the merch trend, as well as food and drink businesses.
Music merch itself has also heavily expanded in 2018, as artists experimented with new, creative ways to design — and market — their offerings, from niche collaborations to coveted bundles to go along with album releases. "If you have to sum it up to a keyword, it would be 'elevate,'" says CEO Mat Vlasic, as he reflects on Bravado's merch business from the past year. "What we've tried to do and what we try to push — even the competitors in our industry — is just up the level. Put more thought and energy into it."
Vlasic says that music merch doesn't involve just making a T-shirt these days. It's taken on other forms and executions, some of which happened to be Bravado's most ambitious offerings this year: Justin Timberlake's fashion rebrand involved merch, which included designs from Heron Preston, Levi's and Nike; a Rolling Stones pop-up took over London department store Selfridges for five months; and Kanye West's merch surrounding his new albums "Ye" (inspired by his listening party in Wyoming) and "Kids See Ghosts" with Kid Cudi, which had its own pop-up at Tyler, the Creator's Camp Flog Gnaw in November.
"Aesthetically, the rise of merch and the overall saturation of streetwear labels that focus on hero cut and sew items — hoodies, T-shirts — has evolved what normcore was for millennials to an over-branded reaction within the younger Gen-Z counterpart," says Marian Park, WGSN's Youth Fashion Editor.
Now, the pioneers behind music merch's comeback are only diving deeper into the fashion world, notes Park, such as Justin Bieber's anticipated launch of streetwear label, Drew, and Drake's "Scorpion" merch being stocked at fashion-forward retailers like Ssense. "Just like the way celebrities view their status intrinsic to the fashion world, their fans are following suit," adds Park. "It's not about going to the concert; it’s about being a part of the culture and a fashion echelon, which is what makes merch so appealing."
As this year comes to a close, merch has yet to hit its peak. In fact, it shows no signs of slowing down. According to a 2017 study from Promotional Products Association International, the promotional products industry is valued at more than $23.3 billion, compared to $20.81 billion in 2015, with roughly 36 percent of its sales coming from wearables (apparel and accessories). Plus, promotional product is ranked as the most effective form of advertising for businesses, as opposed to campaigning across broadcast television, online, mobile and print.
So, what will be the next wave of merch trends in 2019? We have some predictions. While some of our ideas have already been popping up in the past, we suspect to see even more of those merch releases in the coming New Year. Read on to find out what they could be.
While movie merch is nothing new, film and entertainment companies — studios, streaming services, etc. — are starting to ramp up their offerings. Almost every fashion brand that exists has collaborated with Disney to commemorate Mickey Mouse's 90th anniversary this year, and Netflix could very soon be following in its footsteps. The streaming service is betting big on licensing out its own original content. (Have you ever seen the "Stranger Things" merch at Target?) Plus, a former Disney exec recently joined the Netflix team to oversee its consumer products.
A24 is a prime example of catering to its cult following through merch. The studio started releasing product, including its first "A Twenty-Four" sweatshirt and a free zine, around late 2016 in support of its current and past film releases. Within the past year, the company started adding more to its online shop, often released in a limited run, like a "Mid90"'s long-sleeved tee, a "Hereditary" line of shirts in collaboration with Online Ceramics and genre-inspired scented candles from Joya. Bravado is also exploring film merch, especially with the releases of "A Star Is Born" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." Yes, a T-shirt with the face of Bradley Cooper's Jackson Maine does exist.
Collette Gangemi, the VP of Consumer Products for the Overwatch League's New York Excelsior (NYXL), sees the future of eSports following a similar path to skateboarding during the 1990s and early 2000s. "The athletes in skateboarding were the influencers in everything in fashion," recalls Gangemi, who spent more than seven years at Red Bull (a company that sponsored eSports athletes during her entire tenure) before joining NYXL. "You saw big athletic brands come on board, like Nike, Adidas and Converse, who were not involved in skateboarding in the past and the same thing is really bubbling and starting to happen in eSports. This is a sport where all of the brands are paying attention to."
According to Deloitte, eSport titles and events garnered more than 600 brand partnerships in 2017, and the global eSports market is expected to acquire up to $1.5 billion in annual revenues — mainly sponsorships and advertising towards an audience of about 600 million fans — by 2020. Deloitte also reports that while the young eSports demographic may be wary of advertising, there's demand for merchandise and content.
"The problem now is that eSports merch has not evolved. It's been cheaper blanks, not the best screen-printing techniques, oversized designs," she says. "It tended to be an afterthought for most organizations or eSports leagues." For NYXL, Gangemi has brought on a more fashionable approach to the eSports team's merch, partnering up with Champion, streetwear brand Undefeated and jewelry designer Melody Ehsani. To celebrate some of these launches, NYXL may often release them in limited-edition drops, sometimes at the NYXL pop-up shop and LAN center, where fans can sometimes spend up to five hours of their time there — shopping for merch, eating at the café and playing games. Gangemi estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 people going through the shop and LAN over one weekend in December.
Cannabis Culture Merch
Park predicts cannabis culture will have its moment in merch next year, noting emerging Los Angeles-based brand Mister Green as one to watch. (We're also big fans of smokewear label Sundae School.) Highsnobiety collaborated with The Elder Statesmen on limited-edition merch to celebrate the launch of its documentary "High End: The Regal-ization of Cannabis" on marijuana's luxury market back in April.
Just in time for holiday gifting, Everybody.World teamed up with media brand Merry Jane for a capsule collection of weed merch featuring artwork by Heather Benjamin. We've already seen a number of designers look to weed for inspiration, including Vetements, Alexander Wang, Jacquie Aiche and Palm Angels, but as the legalization of cannabis — and the multi-billion industry along with it — grows within the U.S., chances are we'll see many more apparel brands pushing the stoner aesthetic forward.
"The reality is anyone who speaks to or has a fanbase has the ability to create something now," says Vlasic. "Whether they do it well or have the right partners to do it well with them or they do it themselves, that will end up determining how successful it is." Indeed, we've seen everyone from YouTube stars and Twitch streamers to political candidates and Michelle Obama on her "Becoming" book tour make bank on releasing merch. In an interview with WWD, beauty influencer James Charles hopes his line of Sisters merch will eventually full-fledged fashion line. "That's the goal I want," said Charles. "I want it to be a self-sustaining brand without my name attached."
Vlasic also sees that professional athletes could take advantage of the merch wave, as well. "While sports teams have always been well merchandised, maybe the players haven't and there's some opportunity there," he says.
It might seem slightly strange buying an actual fashion item from a beauty brand, but it seems like consumers are just as down to purchase a tote bag or sweatshirt alongside their face serum and sunscreen. Give it up to Glossier for kicking this trend off: The brand originally created their signature logo sweatshirt for its team of employees back in its early days, and the item has now become a staple among its offerings.
We saw a slew of beauty brands get into the merch game this year, too, including Supergoop's launch of totes, hats and travel bags over the summer. Ouai, which also has its own line of merch, recently released an exclusive towel headband in collaboration with Summer Fridays. Plus, Glow Recipe's Watermelon holiday set comes with an on-trend clear tote in an Instagram-ready shade of pink. Drunk Elephant also just debuted its lifestyle collection of apparel and travel accessories. Though the merch's "I'm drunk in ❤" tagline might not bode well with a certain "Drunk in Love" singer.
Personal Moment Merch
Those "lousy T-shirts" you got from your friends and family members' bat or bar mitzvahs and sweet 16 parties just got a lot cooler. We've seen a few celebrities — mostly Calabasas-based — bring back these personal mementos for their party guests this year, including Drake's airbrushed birthday shirts, Reign Disick and Saint West's "Kids See Ghosts"-inspired birthday merch, Kylie Jenner's 21st birthday merch featuring her "Forbes" cover and Travis Scott designing senior shirts for Houston High School's graduating class. If you have a major milestone in 2019, might we suggest creating a T-shirt to commemorate it? You can take notes from Chiara Ferragni and Fedez's wedding merch, too.
Homepage image: "Mid90s" merch. Photo: Courtesy of A24