The Great Licensed Apparel Question

Licensed apparel (or clothing) has gained prominence in the merchandising puzzle as of late thanks to its simplicity, low cost/high margins and its customizability. Long gone are the days when clothing bearing your favourite cartoon character was only availably in a few, all-round safe choices. Today, thanks to on-demand production and the internet as a sales channel, it’s possible to create clothing with just about anything on it and in just about any batch size. So here’s the deal, given a choice, would consumers rather wear clothes that feature a character or rather replicas of the clothes the character wears?

The prompt for this was a recent competition over at Threadless where everyone was given the choice of entering a design for the holiest of cartoon holies, The Simpsons. With people stomping over one another for the opportunity, you would think that a ton unique and creative designs would emerge, right?

Well yes, but they were far from alone. Interestingly enough, some of the first designs out of the gate were, uh, right out of the show itself. Take a peek:

threadless_simpsons-5 threadless_simpsons-3 threadless_simpsons-1

Interesting, eh? Yes, but for many reasons.

For starters, while there were many, many original designs submitted, the replica submissions have a significant presence at the top of the charts. Homer’s muumuu is number 4 after all.

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So that begs the question, while original clothing and apparel has obvious appeal, do the actual clothing the characters wear have a significant level of appeal too? If so, is it a potential merchandising opportunity that is being neglected?

Obviously selling the clothes that a character wears can be a waste of time. Homer Simpson, is, after all, dressed in a white shirt and blue trousers. Lisa wears a simple red dress and Bart is simply a red T-shirt and blue shorts. They’re also human! Plenty of cartoons feature anthropomorphic creatures who wear little or nothing, making them a hard sell.

Plenty of examples do exist though, and even in the Simpsons, costume changes and special occasions reveal plenty of opportunities for unique clothing. New shows could exploit this further by having characters wear different clothes in each episode.

All this is prompted by how fans and consumes wish to portray the association with a particular show or character. Clothing featuring them is one thing, but to replicate them exactly is a different story altogether.

Casual cosplay is a recent trend that sees fans mimic or imitate their favourite character’s fashion by dressing in a subtley similar manner using just their regular clothes. The concept is not to imitate them exactly as traditional cosplay does, but rather to identify with the character in a way more conducive to daily life yet remaining noticeable to other fans.

Clothing worn by characters is a similar, if more explicit, idea that places more value on the article of clothing itself as opposed to the fans’ general appearance. They are also more likely to be readily identified by general members of the public, which perhaps is the intent.

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Back to the original point though, would they sell more than just licensed, themed ones? I would say yes, given that they were created correctly in the first place. The Simpsons and its fans are known for their zealous knowledge of jokes and meta references so wearing the shirt below would bring instant recognition of the episode and why Marge’s face is the way it is (“I got $2 off because mine got smeared.”)

Other cartoons and animated films/shows looking to sell exact replicas of clothing worn by characters need to put real thought into the effort so as not to appear openly willing to exploit fans for commercial gain.

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