Why Fashion Brands Today Have Such Strange Names – Wall Street Journal
IT MIGHT SEEM perverse. Perhaps it’s strategic. But new clothing labels are picking stranger and stranger brand names, as became clear to me last week when I found myself weaving through the booths at Pitti Uomo, a biannual men’s fashion trade show held in Florence, Italy. The brand names I encountered ranged from the elaborate and multipartite (“Grunge John Orchestra. Explosion”) to the groan-inducing (“Rewoolution”) to the perhaps not-safe-for-work (“Fabric Porn”).
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Once upon a time, labels were content to rely on a founder’s name. That gave us Brooks Brothers (founded by Henry Sand Brooks in 1818), Alden Shoes (started by Charles H. Alden in 1884),
(established by Salvatore Ferragamo in 1927) and scores of other familial monikers. Today, instead of charting a direct line from a founder’s name to a shirt’s label, nascent brands seem determined to confound us with names like 99%is, Suicoke, Come Tees and Pink House Mustique.
Competition is fierce. The over 1,200 brands at Pitti Uomo represent a sliver of the fashion industry. Given the almost incalculable number of brands, “most of the obvious names are taken, so you kind of need to go down some more obscure avenues to find something that is available,” explained Eli Altman, the creative director at A Hundred Monkeys, a firm based in Berkeley, Calif., that specializes in naming companies. And when Mr. Altman refers to a name being “taken,” he talking not merely about the inability to trademark it, but several other closed doors: important internet URLS, top slots in Google search results and social-media handles.
‘Once a brand owns a name, that doesn’t mean the headaches cease.’
This can force entrepreneurs to chase workarounds. In the early 2010s when Samuel Bail and his co-founder Abel Samet came across the word “troubadour” in a poem, they thought it jibed with the identity of the London-based bag brand they were developing. However, as Mr. Bail told me during Pitti Uomo, a pub in California already occupied Troubadour.com. So Mr. Bail and Mr. Samet tacked on the word “Goods”— troubadourgoods.com was still open.
It’s not always as simple as adding a word. In 2003, years before search engine optimization and URL competition emerged as principal concerns, Japanese designer Eichiro Homma still had trouble securing the trademark for Seven Seas, his first-choice name. “Seven Seas for us was very difficult to register, because as a brand name it’s quite popular,” explained Mr. Homma during Pitti Uomo. Eventually he landed on Nanamika, a Japanese word that roughly translates as “houses of seven seas.” Still unsatisfied, he felt the k “didn’t look good,” so he tweaked the name to Nanamica. This confused even Japanese shoppers, but the word’s exclusivity allowed Mr. Homma to register it as a URL, claim the @nanamica Instagram handle and appear at the top of Google results when shoppers searched for the brand by name.
Once a brand owns a name, that doesn’t mean the headaches cease. Adam Cameron and his wife Charlotte, who co-founded a five-year-old English clothing company, had no trouble securing its name “The Workers Club.” Though Mr. Cameron notes in passing that when you Google the phrase, an identically named club in Australia pops up, lately he’s been troubled by the launch of newer labels such as whose names closely resemble his brand’s.
Coincidentally or not, across from Mr. Cameron’s stall at Pitti Uomo was the booth of a Swiss bag brand named Officine Federali, which I initially mistook for Officine Creative, a higher-profile Italian shoe brand. Adding to the (perhaps intentional) confusion, there is also Officine Generale, a well-known French clothier.
Soundalike names confronted me everywhere at Pitti Uomo. I saw a stand for a brand called Best Company, which I mentally connected to New York’s Best Made Company. Passing Olow, a French brand, I thought of Orslow, a Japanese brand. And a sign for France’s Kytone reminded me that I needed to go visit the booth for Italy’s Kiton.
Before ecommerce and Instagram, closely or even identically named brands coexisted for decades, oblivious of each other. They were sold in different regions and registered in different countries. It was unlikely that any shopper would ever draw the connections I did at Pitti Uomo or fall victim to subtle attempts by an interloper brand to co-opt a more successful label’s reputation and credibility. Today, in the context of multi-brand online stores and social media platforms that catalog brands from all over the world, the potential for a shopper to make those connections and for a soundalike brand to exploit them is more of a factor.
But the soundalike strategy has its risks. To avoid being overlooked in a scroll of seemingly interchangeable names, the founders of other brands are choosing creative names that range from the amusing to the memorably asinine. My colleagues and I recently had an extended Slack exchange about the peculiar qualities of the brand name 99%is which is hard not to see as a typo. An unconventional name will “get people talking, get people writing, and the more [the brands] can do that, the more presence they have,” said Ken Pasternak, the president and chief strategy officer at Two by Four, a creative agency that works on branding in San Francisco. Hoping for newness, brands like 99%is refuse to limit themselves to the 26 characters of the English alphabet. At least two brands—Reese Cooper and Ambush—have affixed the registered trademark symbol to the end of their names. English designer and asterisk fan Samuel Ross operates A-Cold-Wall*. And designer
brand is officially known as Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh.
Such extreme originality can also backfire, however. “Sometimes their names are so out-there that they’re hard to remember,” said Mr. Pasternak. Worst still, some names are so downright bizarre that they keep shoppers at bay. I’m sure the Los Angeles label Skin Graft makes nice clothes, but with a name like that, I’m not sure I’m willing to find out.
The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.
Write to Jacob Gallagher at [email protected]
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Write to Jacob Gallagher at [email protected]
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