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Maestros of the concert merchandise movement

Driving it are Bravado of Universal Music and Thread Shop of Sony Music

Valeriya Safronova | NYT 

T shirts, Merchandise, Merchandises
From the first half of 2014 to the first half of 2017, the amount of tour-related products sold online increased by 720 per cent. Photo: iSTOCK

One Friday morning in early May, eight high-end boutiques in the and were flooded with desperate fans jostling to claim their piece of the Weeknd, snapping up bombers, hats, shirts and sweatpants celebrating his album Starboy. Two weeks later, at exactly 5 pm, at more than 200 stores, Urban Outfitters released decorated with Lady Gaga’s face and the title of her album Joanne to barely controlled consumer delight.

Welcome to the world of elevated concert merch — special collections linked to specific cultural events, limited in availability, and one of the newest and fastest-growing sub-sectors in the fashion world. From the first half of 2014 to the first half of 2017, the amount of tour-related products sold online increased by 720 per cent, according to Edited, a company that tracks analytics at more than 90,000 brands and retailers.

Driving the phenomenon is Bravado, the division at Universal Music Group that works with entertainers such as Justin Bieber, Desiigner, Selena Gomez, and the Weeknd to design, manufacture and distribute branded products; it is led by Mat Vlasic, an energetic New Yorker (and Riverdale Country School alum) who favours a black-on-black uniform and meditation for handling stress.

Not far behind is the Thread Shop, Sony Music Entertainment’s merchandising arm, which collaborates with artists such as Nas, Common, A Tribe Called Quest, ASAP Rocky, DJ Khaled and Fifth Harmony, and which is run by Frances Wong, also a New Yorker (but raised in New Jersey), who calls the Thread Shop’s savvy customers “kids” and worked for Rocawear, the clothing label started in 1999 by Jay-Z and Damon Dash.

In a twist of corporate musical chairs, Bravado’s Vlasic actually founded the Thread Shop during a 12-year stint at Sony, where he began in the finance department, while Wong worked at Bravado until 2015.

Now, the two are engaged in something of an arms race to own the increasingly lucrative cross-disciplinary fashion territory they have defined.

When first releasing an artist’s products, both Bravado and the Thread Shop will often do so through pop-up shops. “We’ll identify the ground zero retailers that create demand, create urgency,” said Frank Bartolotta, Bravado’s senior vice-president for national sales. “That creates a crazy amount of energy. Because it’s like, ‘If I didn’t get it during that three-day cycle, I need to figure out when I’m going to get it.’ Then we go to a larger retail partner.”

Thus in early May, Starboy was sold for three days only at boutiques in eight cities across the US, including Patron of the New in New York and FourTwoFour on Fairfax in Los Angeles, and also online for limited periods. After that, Bravado went to PacSun for a larger roll-out. “If there’s not an experience tied into this, it becomes stale, it becomes mute,” Bartolotta said. “When we create these moments that live there for literally 72 hours, there’s an alertness, and that fan is rabid.”

Wong takes it a step further and offers a different collection at each distribution point. “I don’t want fans to see the same thing over and over again,” she said. “If you’re a fan, you’re going to be shopping online; if we drop something at Urban Outfitters, you’ll go to Urban; and if you’re at the tour, you’ll buy a T-shirt, too.”

Or, if you know your way around the resale market, you might go to eBay, Grailed or similar online marketplaces for the items you missed. After all, not everyone lives in the city where a store pops up or a tour stops. “The reselling culture is now crossing over into the world of music and merchandise,” said Lawrence Schlossman, the brand director of Grailed. 


© 2017 New York Times Service

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