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Are Too Many Brands Losing Sight of Their DNA?

In an effort to be everything to everyone, are brands losing sight of their DNA?

It’s a common problem in denim, said Tilmann Wröbel, founder of the denim consultancy group Monsieur T, at Bluezone in Munich Tuesday.

At a time when fashion cycles are speeding up and brands are in competition for valuable likes and dollars, denim brands can lose sight of the key traits—be it heritage, quality, fashion or fit—that helped distinguish them in the crowded, blue marketplace in the first place. And in a category led by legacy names like Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee, a brand’s story is often its most valuable asset.

“We all know that a brand is all about storytelling,” Wröbel said. “It’s about DNA.”

But not all products are made with that same DNA intact.

On a product-by-product basis, Wröbel said brands are willing to “make exceptions and try something different”—especially medium size brands in competition with online and traditional retail behemoths and these denim legacy brands.

“In today’s industrial world, it’s more difficult to compete with these distribution heroes because they go fast and they have everything,” he said.

And as a result, smaller labels retreat to churning out trends that are “not coherent” with their DNA. Being ‘in’ one day and ‘out’ the next doesn’t say anything about a brand’s DNA. “It just says [you] have a bit of everything,” he added. “You cannot be everything. You cannot sell everything.”

Brands, Wröbel said, need to press pause, because a brand that maintains its story and DNA has a different type of strength.

“As a brand, you can be different, which means maybe you’re not covering everything, but you stand for something more than trends and products,” he said.

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One mass market brand that has stood for something, Wröbel noted, is NYDJ, formerly known as “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans.” Known for offering 66 sizes for women of all shapes, plus their focus on comfortable yet figuring flattering fits, the NYDJ’s storytelling moniker represents the needs of its clientele.

“And it works because it’s a statement,” he said. “They said ‘yes’ to some things and they say a lot of ‘no’ to other things.”

Saying no to trends may just be the ticket to standing out. “You have the power to say no,” Wröbel said. “Enjoy this power—it is a power. Because the big [brands] have the right to say yes to everything. They’re friends with everyone. And a friend with everyone is friends with no one. And you want to be friends with your consumers.”

Becoming known—and trusted—for one product may be better than becoming a catch-all for whatever fad crops up next.

“By not embracing every trend and focusing on your own story, you become yourself. And that is the proper strength,” Wröbel said. “Today’s clients want to be part of your story. Build that story. Let them know your story. Embrace your own DNA and stand for it.”