Elaine Mensah is the CEO of Showroom Etc, an agency dedicated to redefining how the world experiences African fashion and luxury. Showroom Etc works with designer brands in fashion & luxury goods, entities in arts & culture, beauty & lifestyle, and publications and networks in media & entertainment. Showroom Etc works with clients on strategic scaling of global growth, brand consulting, designer & product collaborations, strategic partnerships, and representation in entertainment.
Feb 1, 2021
In December of 2019, there were whispers about a new virus that was taking Asia by storm. For most, that was something that was happening "over there." Collectively, we scrolled past posts on Twitter and didn't give it much thought. By mid-January 2020, it was clear that whatever this virus was, it was more serious than anyone had anticipated. The World Health Organization (WHO) started using the word "pandemic" and it was clear things were about to change.
The scale, global impact, and shift the pandemic would cause in every aspect of life could not have been foreseen. As a brand strategist and luxury consultant who had just launched a company dedicated to providing access, opportunity, and growth to African brands in fashion and luxury, examining what life and work in the industry would mean in the era of COVID-19 was essential.
Carrie Bradshaw x Manolo Blahnik for SATC. Photo: Glamor Magazine.
T'Challa in Ikire Jones for Black Panther. Photo: Collider
Janelle Monae sporting FKSP jumpsuit, ZAAF bag and Minku jewelry, for Antebellum. Photo: Lionsgate
One key, yet oft overlooked, avenue of opportunity for African fashion brands is in the area of entertainment, specifically television shows and film. For decades, exposure through print publications was the go-to PR and marketing tool by which designers and brands reached a global audience; however, with the rise of social media, direct access to consumers via technology, along with the challenges print publications have been facing in recent years, focusing on other mediums is critical to brand growth. Additionally, while social media would seem like the most obvious choice, utilizing the power of television, programming, through costuming and product placement, has additional benefits, including a “greater reach, an immediate benefit/reward for viewing, legitimacy and prestige,” among others as outlined in Forbes.
According to Business of Fashion, "For most brands, having clothes or accessories prominently featured in a television show or movie is priceless exposure. That’s never been truer than during the pandemic when consumers spent endless hours watching and rewatching their favorite series." Additionally, according to The Economics of Product Placements by Priceonomics, “Nielsen reports that placements in TV shows can increase brand awareness by up to 20%, and NextMedium claims that number can climb to 43% when the placements are integrated into ‘emotionally engaging programs.’ By associating a brand with an engaging show, likable character, or cool celebrity, product placements can benefit from the halo effect—or positive association—of that context.”
For this reason, brands should not focus solely on new media as their avenue for global visibility or on placements in traditional print publications that will only yield a mention of the brand in the credits of the image. Being mentioned in a magazine, no matter how prestigious, should no longer be enough.
Issa Rae wearing Lisa Folawiyo on promotional poster for Insecure. Photo: @hbo
As a brand, product placement on a television show garners exposure which increases the audience and, by extension, the customer base. Revenue generated from television contributes to a brand’s bottom line and the growth of the business.
"The space of mainstream TV is one that we, as a brand, had never quite considered till we were introduced [to it]. The possibilities are endless and it’s such a great avenue for brand exposure,” says Aisha Ayensu, Founder and Creative Director of Ghanaian ready-to-wear label Christie Brown and Showroom Etc client. “I would say though, it’s important that brands use the right channels or agencies when considering getting onto mainstream TV, so that the brand’s image stays intact."
"For many brands, the first hindrance to television placement may simply be not knowing where to start or how to catch the attention of and align with the right people. Pop culture focuses on the celebrity stylist. There is a (perceived) glamour of traveling the world, working with the most renowned designers, and often becoming celebrities in their own right. However, costume designers, costume buyers, and their coordinators are some of the most key figures to know in the industry as they provide the visual anchor to any show. Through their sartorial choices, they add visual texture, character, and energy to the overall story; they help define the actual characters through clothing and accessories. Who can forget the impact of seeing Olivia Pope on screen with her white Burberry trench coat, Carrie Bradshaw strutting down the streets of New York in her Manolo Blahniks, King T'Challa commanding the screen with his Ikire Jones scarf swathed over his suit, or even more recently, the plethora of African fashion brands featured in Beyonce's Black Is King? Costume designers make that happen. They can take a fashion brand from an unknown entity to a household name.
Jason Sky, Costume Buyer for HBO’s ‘In Treatment’ on HBO says "when it comes to brand placement on TV and film for African designers, [the process] is no different than that of a small or new brand.” He continues, “social media has been a fantastic tool to allow the unseen to be visible. I personally scour social and click away to land on a fabulous fashion discovery. But most important is the turnaround time and follow up. So check your DMs and stay active. Have online lookbooks readily available to view, and a process in place to ship quickly."
There is significant opportunity for African fashion brands to be a part of the global conversation. As Vincent Desmond wrote for Industrie Africa in African Fashion As Seen On Screen, "the regular appearance of pieces by African designers on red carpets in Hollywood as well as on screen helps these designers build their profile and establishes them as forces to reckon with around the world." Banke Kuku, Founder and Creative Director of the eponymous brand who has worked with Showroom Etc concurs. "I think having my brand on television is a great way of showing my work to a global market,” she says, adding: “It shows the piece in action which is always great for people to see.”
Tina Lawson in Christie Brown. Photo: Courtesy of Christie Brown
Tiwa Savage in Banke Kuku for Koroba music video. Photo: Courtesy of Banke Kuku
Beyonce in Loza Maleombho for Black is King. Photo: Still from film.
So, for brands looking to be featured on television, here are six tips to ensure your brand is ready for its on-screen close-up:
Stay true to your aesthetic
You may be inclined to "westernize" or adjust your design aesthetic thinking that modifications will increase your chances of being chosen. However, the reality is actually the exact opposite: costume designers pick looks that speak to the character or scene, and your piece, in its authentic form, may just be what they are looking for. So, don't shy away from your expertise and conversely, don’t play to tropes and stereotypes of African design. In short, be yourself!
urgency is key
As Africans, we tend to run on "African time." However, that pace can be the difference between making it on a show and your brand never being seen at all. Make it a priority to be responsive and timely. Do not procrastinate or respond to emails and inquiries in days, weeks, or, even worse, not at all. Be clear in your communication. Turn down an offer swiftly if it is not right for you, but don't string people along or worse, not communicate at all. The industry is too small: lack of communication can ruin your reputation.
put your best foot forward
Often, the television network’s expectation of the products African brands produce is very low. Not necessarily because of perceived inferiority, but simply because of a lack of knowledge or experience working with African brands. As such, brands should strive to exceed expectations with their design, craftsmanship, and delivery. If your brand is presented to a major network, nine times out of ten, this is the first time the costume designer is interacting with your clothes. Make sure that all quality control measures have been checked, re-checked, and triple checked. With garments that are samples and have been used before, check for stains, seams that are coming apart, and overall issues that need to be fixed. It is important that your first impression be your best impression.
packaging (and presentation) is everything
The respect and dignity with which you treat your garments results in the level of expectation you set for the costume designer. Branding is more than just your logo, it is your company culture. Set the tone about the maturity of your business through your packaging and how items are sent.
Choose the Right Agent/Agency To Represent You
Whether working with an independent consultant, boutique firm, or large agency, ensuring that your brand is represented in a way that aligns with your brand vision is key. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure whomever you work with has the relationships, processes, and frameworks in place to help achieve your goals.
strike while the iron is hot
A quick google search of “African fashion brands on television” or “African fashion designers featured in films” will yield links to stories about African fashion brands and designers to watch, or best fashion in black films. There is little to no mention of designer brands on mainstream television shows. So, in this era where costume designers and networks are expanding their search beyond the go-to fashion brands, be ready when they come calling. Have all your processes, asks, and products in place for when the opportunity arises.
the bottom line
Understanding the benefits of television as a medium for brand growth is critical. Dedicating the time, resources, and preparation for television opportunities is worth a brand’s investment.
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