Last month’s news of the majority sale of Happy Socks put an exclamation mark on one of the great small-business stories of the last few years. Besides generating a bumper payday for its founders and investors, the news also placed a value on why it’s never the wrong time to invigorate a tired category with new energy and a fresh premise.
After only eight years in business, the Swedish ‘innerwear’ brand has secured a presence in more than 90 countries and annual sales of around €100m. A whole management book could be written about everything its founders did right, but as a branding success story, three fundamentals stand out:
First, Mikael Söderlindh and Victor Tell built their brand on a clear and simple premise, completely distinct from their category rivals. Rather than competing on fashion-sense, comfort, quality or price, Happy Socks was devoted to being the only sock brand known for happiness. Their model relies on disrupting perceptions rather than supply chains – appealing to consumers’ impulses and emotions rather than waiting for their needs.

Happy Socks monobrand store, London 
Founders Mikael Söderlindh & Victor Tell
Second, they backed themselves to sell in locations where their competitors had no business being. They didn’t aim for the sock department: they aimed for the happy department – wherever that may be. While their products are far from cheap, as a proposition that assures retailers floor-presence and product rotation, Happy Socks has always been easy to like and easy to buy.
Third, they constantly made it easy for consumers to come into contact with the brand. In a category where few offer anything new, Happy Socks always ensured they had something to say. As a matter of course, they use collaborations, licenses and endorsements as platforms to give reach and relevance to their message. In January alone, the brand released or previewed at least five new collaboration capsules, each replete with dedicated communications and POS solutions that echo the brand's fun and original spirit.
Like many others in the Collaboration Generation, Happy Socks stand out for their single-minded focus and their systematic reliance on other brands, creators and properties to lend visibility, range and substance to their claim.


With so many major fashion and home shows packing the January calendar, brand innovation highlights were plentiful last month. Here’s the best of the bunch...

Louis Vuitton’s show with Supreme at Paris Fashion Week premiered an expansive collection that set male fashionistas alight. In response, Dazed wrote an interesting piece about the future of menswear now that the kings of collectible luxury and streetwear have agreed to meet in the middle.
Wrangler arrived at Pitti Uomo with an elaborate tribute to psychedelic pop artist, Peter Max. Made for the brand’s 70th anniversary, the capsule’s multi-coloured corduroy western styles, vivid prints and imaginative packaging recycled a collaboration from the brand's 1970s archive.
On a more sober note, at the IMM show Birkenstock took its reputation for orthopaedic care to a new extreme by launching Birkenstock Sleep System – a range of ergonomic bedroom furniture that captures many of the form and function elements that typify the ‘Footbed’ brand.
Finally, Omega proved that Instagram shopping is more than a platform for cosmetics, first by dedicating a special, €5,400 Speedmaster to a hashtag (#SpeedyTuesday), then accepting pre-orders for all 2,012 pieces in precisely 4 hours, 15 minutes and 43 seconds.


The history of fashion is littered with fads and failed ideas. But while its most far-fetched trends can die out in weeks, the ideas fashion introduces can enjoy an afterlife away from the catwalks. Their legacy is often to expand our aesthetic tolerance.
A case in point is split-panel tops – designs that combine the work of different brands, designers, bands or artists in the same t-shirt. Seen at houses like Givenchy and Off-White, these mash-up designs differ from typical collaborations by making no attempt at harmony. Dissonance is key and authorisation often isn’t sought – if even needed.
At last month’s Pitti Uomo, a few exhibitors featured split-panel designs in their collections but the signs were that the half-trend of last season might be over.
Fast-forward a week to Paris, where at Maison & Objet Seletti was expanding its Hybrid range designed by CTRLZAK with a range of East-meets-West rugs. In a more subtle way, Rosenthal’s Sambonet was using a new tableware collection to combine the modern wave-forms of Serena Confaloneri with renaissance ornamentations by Gianni Cinti.

Seletti x CTRLZAK
Sambonet Kyma with Deruta
Maybe fashion gets too much credit for innovations like these. After all, chefs have been mixing cuisines and creating harmony from opposing ideas for decades.
The growth of the craft-food movement means curiosity for new flavours is also on the rise. Examples arise every month of establishment brands working with independent names to offer remarkable, hybrid flavours to a new generation of connoisseurs. January saw new releases like Redbreast Lustau Edition, a sherry-tinged whiskey created by Midleton Distillery and Bodegas Lustau, as well as ‘Fernetic’ – a herbal craft beer created by the botanic brewery Forbidden Root from the secret aromatics of Fernet-Branca.
Redbreast Lustau Edition
"Fernetic" by Forbidden Root & Fernet-Branca


“Why do they believe we want to carry a bag with a zodiac animal all year round?”

As international lifestyle and luxury brands clamoured to release special edition products for the lunar new year, names like Longchamp, MCM and Calvin Klein found themselves the object of ridicule on Chinese social media. Other common complaints concerned the accidental use of phoenixes and liberal use of red – a colour to be avoided for people born under the sign of the fire rooster.
Generally any kind of special activity that helps brands lean into their surrounding culture is positive, but the hammering many received last month highlights the value of a little design research.
Here’s a few examples of brands digging deeper for inspiration:
Images shown: Le Coq Sportif x 24 Kilates; Victorinox; Loewe; Kim Kiroic x Vans capsule 


Business media and consultants constantly feed us technology stories about new platforms, start-ups and Kickstarter campaigns that promise to disrupt markets and change lives. But while the benefits promised by technology are often valid, the idea almost always lacks a storytelling component to make its value apparent. Trusted brands are often the most efficient storytellers but, until now, brands have often been missing from the equation.
Brands are constantly told they need technology, but the reverse is more often the case. A recent article in License Global used Pokémon Go as a perfect example of this. Niantic Labs’ self-developed augmented reality platform took three years to reach eight million downloads. Packaged together with Pokémon, the same technology found 100 million users in 26 days and hit revenues of $1billion only a few days ago. Why? Because Pokémon is so popular? Or because it made the premise and benefits of Niantic’s AR easier to digest?
Last month’s CES show in Las Vegas generated a raft of tech stories that were more incremental than revolutionary, and arrived with the backing of household names. Voice-controlled automation was a headline trend, with carmakers like Ford and VW, home appliance brands like Whirlpool and LG, and various finance, insurance and public service brands introducing new functions that use Amazon’s Alexa platform. Meanwhile Vivint, makers of smart-home controllers, joined forces with Airbnb. The rental site’s reach with clients who need remote door access could be a key application that helps push such devices towards widespread use.

LG with Amazon Alexa
Vivint x Airbnb
But it was in the hands of toy companies where new technology seemed compelling and more likely to overcome tech inhibitions and privacy concerns. Mattel’s Aristotle is an Amazon Echo device that doubles as a child monitor and interactive entertainment centre. Fisher-Price’s Smart Cycle promises to combine children’s game and app use with physical activity, while Lego Boost teaches kids to build smart toys that test their building skills while teaching them to code.
Mattel Aristotle
Lego Boost

December 2016
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