Fashion Takes a Front-row Seat in the Music World
THIS INDUSTRY-LEADING BUSINESS REWROTE THE RULES FOR ARTISTS’ MERCH—AND FASHION HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME
Artists’ merchandise, or “merch,” used to mean black T-shirts adorned with the concert name, logo, and a list of tour dates. Fans bought them as souvenirs to prove they were there. But it would end up in the back of their drawer or relegated to sleepwear.
Bravado, the merchandise and brand management, division of Universal Music Group, is changing the narrative on artist merch. With teams in 40 countries, the business provides merchandising and brand management services to some of the world’s biggest names in music, including The Rolling Stones, Justin Bieber, Elton John, Ariana Grande, and The Weeknd. The company helps artists design apparel and accessories that reflect their aesthetic, often in partnership with renowned designers. You may not even find them at shows. Fans buy artist collections at experiential pop-up shops, artist websites, and luxury stores, such as Maxfield, Bergdorf Goodman, and Selfridges.
FASHION, NOT MEMORABILIA
Bravado changed the game in this fashion genre, earning a spot among Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies list. The designs are coveted by fans, who will wait in line for them at a bricks-and-mortar store or wake at odd hours of the night to buy from a limited-time digital shop. CEO Mat Vlasic, founder and former head of Sony Music’s Threadshop, sees Bravado’s impact beyond the music industry. Every time he picks up his 9-year-old from school, his son and his friends may be wearing limited-edition merchandise from Travis Scott’s Astroworld Collection or Billie Eilish hoodies.
That wasn’t the case four years ago. When Vlasic joined Bravado in 2016, the merchandising industry was rooted in memorabilia. Fans bought a shirt at a show the same way they might buy a souvenir from a circus, Vlasic explains. He knew audiences were yearning for tangible ways to connect with artists, especially since most fans buy or stream their music online. He also knew artists’ fashion choices influence culture, and even fashion designers, so there was an intrinsic connection between music and fashion. That was part of his pitch when he called a buyer at a high-end retailer about selling Justin Bieber merchandise for the first time. “My thought was, ‘He influences all the designers within the store. Why shouldn’t he be there beside them?’”
FASHION ICONS OF THE FUTURE
Fashion and music trends change fast, so speed to market is important for Bravado. A few months after Vlasic’s first phone call to the buyer, Bieber’s collection was alongside Prada and Gucci. Today, Bravado is equal parts fashion and brand management. Vlasic likens the business to a fashion house for artists, with the infrastructure, connections, and experience to bring concepts to market quickly. He notes their model can be used to support a wide range of artists and brands including visual artists, Instagram influencers, Youtube stars, and video gamers who are looking to strengthen their personal brand and connect to fans around the world.
Bravado changed merch by borrowing best practices from the fashion world. Today, some designers take cues from them. “There’s been explosive growth in luxury fashion that isn’t fueled by the runway,” Vlasic says. “It is hoodies, t-shirts and jackets, emblazoned with different logos. It is high fashion’s version of merch.”