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How to Make a Successful Collaboration

“There’s a recipe to a good collaboration,” said Jonathan Barban, senior menswear designer for Lacoste Live.

The French heritage label has a history of working with brands, designers and photographers from different backgrounds, including Bape, Campanas and Jonones. However, Lacoste’s March 2017 collaboration with New York-based skate label Supreme set the bar at a new level. The collection, which included co-branded track suits, tennis sweaters, crewnecks, polos, pique shorts and cap, sold in out 20 minutes and rejuvenated sales for Lacoste’s standard line.

At Denim Première Vision Tuesday, Barban spoke about lessons learned during the whirlwind experience and how other brands can achieve a successful collaboration. “You have to make a statement and stand for it,” he said.

Are you in it for a new market? To push a product line? Support a product launch or gain visibility? Barban says all of these factors help determine the direction and outcome of a successful collaboration.

Pay attention to social cues.

“The Lacoste and Supreme collaboration wouldn’t have work two years ago,” Barban said. However, the stars aligned in 2017, just as ’90s fashion came back into vogue. The decade was peak time for Lacoste as it became a favorite label in the French hip-hop scene. Simultaneously, the boundaries that previously blocked a brand from speaking to consumers outside their wheelhouse was breaking down. “It’s a cultural sweet spot,” Barban said, adding that “urban tribes” are blending together and allowing for a mashup of brands and styles. “When I was a kid, you had to decide if you were a skater, hip-hop or a hype beast, but now you can be everything,” he said.

Be similar but not the same.

Part of the appeal of collaborations is the unexpected outcome of two unrelated brands combining their creative directions and aesthetics. However, Barban said a successful collaboration requires some similar DNA. “It might be obvious, but its good to remember to make sure your product and vision will work together,” he said. For Supreme and Lacoste, the common ground was their places in hip hop culture.

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Barban pointed out that its crucial for both brands to not loose their identity. “Remain true to who you are and don’t get carried away,” he said. For the collaboration with Supreme, Lacoste chose to stay with what it knows best—polos, sweaters and track suits. Barban said the brand brought back cool pieces that people forgot about like preppy V-neck sweaters. “That’s what we are known for. People are going to get who you are through the collaboration. Don’t lose yourself,” he added.

Find a friend with benefits.

A cohesive message and retail plan is essential to a successful collaboration. “Make sure you can work together and take advantage of each others capacity in marketing and retailing,” Barban urged. Part of the reason Lacoste chose to work with Supreme was because it is a strong retailer. “They knew what to do with our product and their point of sales are mostly in the U.S. and Japan—where our point of sales is weaker,” he said. Supreme, on the other hand, benefited from the collaboration because the brand was able to make a big impact with minimal cost. Supreme outsourced the development of the product to Lacoste.

It is called a media plan for a reason.

The Lacoste x Supreme collaboration sold out in 20 minutes. That doesn’t happen on its own. Fans helped build up buzz about collaboration weeks before it launched by sharing photos of fakes and sneak peeks. However, Lacoste and Supreme followed through with a media plan that spanned seeding influencers to editorial by a diverse group of publications, including Vogue, Complex, I-D and more.

“You need a rock solid media plan. You need to answer demand for seeding, pictures and editorial. You need to give pieces to the right people and influencers. At the end of the day, that’s how you’re going to make the collaboration even more successful,” Barban said.