What Makes Consumers Purchase Fashion Co-Brands?

H&M, a popular specialty retailer of private label apparel (SPA) brand, also known as a fast fashion brand from Sweden, is highly involved in collaboration with well-known designer fashion brands. H&M initiated its collaboration with designers with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 and collaborations in subsequent years include Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, Madonna, Roberto Cavali, Comme Des Garçons, Matthew Williamson, Jimmy Choo, Sonia Rykiel, Lanvin, Versace, and Marni.

H&M co-brands receive a high media exposure and co-branded items become most sought-after. The whole collection of Marni for H&M was sold out by lunchtime of the first day of opening in London in March 2012. Uniqlo had collaborated with the German luxury designer brand Jill Sander for two years, and their collaborative collections by Jill Sander (+J) were also highly accepted by the market.

By collaborating with a luxury designer fashion brand, a fast fashion brand can increase its brand equity as well as its brand image. Collaborations betweenfast fashion and designer fashion brands, which is recognized as ‘fast fashionco-branding’, has shown an incredible market response across countries as it can create a win-win situation for the brands involved.

Is it because consumers want unique items that bear two fashion brands? Or would it be because it gives an opportunity for the masses to seize designer brands at much lower prices?

Co-branding, the pairing of two or more branded products, forms a new unique product and is different from a traditional brand extension where a new product line or category is introduced to extend market coverage with an existing brand. Co-branding between two brands is about making a joint effort such as creating marketing synergy to appeal to brand loyalists and consumers new to either brand. This is particularly important for the fashion industry because a brand name or logo provides a key function for business operations and is an important means to attract consumers for building a relationship with the brand.

Consumer perceptions of luxury brands can vary among consumers, but consumption of luxury products appears to have a strong social function. The social dimension of luxury value perception refers to the perceived utility that consumers acquire by consuming products or services recognized within their own social groups. Such utility may confer conspicuousness and prestige value, which can affect consumers’ evaluation and propensity to purchase luxury brands.

According to the Keller’s study on building customer-based brand equity published in Marketing Management of American Marketing Association , brand’s unique associations as a type of brand value positively affects consumers’ willingness to pay premium prices.

For many consumers, clothing selection is a uniqueness-seeking behavior as they try to meet their individual goals for clothing selection (e.g., meeting aesthetics, fit, lifestyle). While luxury designer fashion brands are usually associated with differentiation, exclusivity, and innovation for the prestige value, fast fashionn brands are driven by consumers’ desire for newness of which products are quickly changing and available only for a short time frame. Fast fashion co-brands are then positioned to combine the strategies adopted by their parent brands. Fast fashion co-brands usually available in the form of a limited collection, which will be discontinued after a short period of time and they emphasize trendiness and newness like fast fashion brands/products.

An Empirical Work on Fast Fashion Co-Brands

Given that consumer brand perceptions can be driven by their brand knowledge and the need for uniqueness, a rare empirical study was carried out by a group of scholars lead by Bin Shen at Donghua University, Shanghai, China on the relationship between the consumers’ need for uniqueness and purchase perception of fast fashion co-brands.

According to the study, “Co-Branding in Fast Fashion: The Impact of Consumers’ Need for Uniqueness on Purchase Perception” to be published in Fashion Branding and Consumer Behaviors by Springer in February 2014 , consumers’ need for uniqueness are significantly different among the three types of fashion brands, i.e., fast fashion, luxury designer fashion brands, and co-brands between fast fashion and luxury designer fashion brands. Regarding consumer perceptions on the three types of brands, consumers perceive fast fashion as the least unique while they perceive luxury designer fashion brands as the most unique.

This study also found that the uniqueness of collaborative products between fast fashion and luxury designer fashion brands is the most important when consumers make purchase decisions on co-brands rather than the perceived uniqueness of either parent brand separately. The uniqueness of designer fashion brands alone was not a contributing factor for the consumer purchase decision on co-brands.

This study offers an important implication that uniqueness on the collaborative brands/products is an important factor in brand selection for developing co-brands. Indeed H&M collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld or Stella McCartney was an attempt to address consumers’ need for uniqueness by offering one of a kind products and to expose them to luxury fashion labels.

For consumers fashion is finding items that can provide unique personal and social experiences. Thus, it might be safe to say that meeting uniqueness of consumer brand perception is a key business strategy for all parties involved.