I support Nathaniel Drew in a number of ways. His erudite, thought-provoking and creatively produced videos have made him my absolute favourite YouTuber. So of course I routinely “like” his videos when they’re uploaded. I’ve added comments from time to time to show demonstrate he’s driving an engaged audience. I even subscribe to his channel. You know I’m a true fan, however, because I’ve bought an item from his clothing brand.
Earlier this year, the Paris, France-based creator announced the second collection he’s offering to those who enjoy his work and feel a kinship with his ideas about intention, purpose and mental clarity. The collection included a hoodie, T-shirts and a beanie that were all emblazoned with a single word: Coeur.
As Drew explained in one of his clips and on social services like Instagram, the word has a double meaning. It’s French for “heart,” of course, but also has a link to the Latin word for courage. Influencers like Drew are showing a mix of both as they extend their digital empire into direct-to-consumer apparel, or what I’m calling creator brand fashion.
Besides Drew, for instance, I’ve seen similar clothing collections from YouTubers and social media influencers ranging from Kelly Wakasa to the group behind Yes Theory. There are probably many others who I don’t watch or follow regularly who are doing the same (and I sometimes wonder if it’s the same manufacturer behind them).
Almost always, the approach is pretty much the same. Even if the audiences for the influencers or creators are men, the clothing is decidedly unisex. The branding and design is usually fairly minimalist (except in the case of Wasaka, whose sweats look like they were coloured on by grade schoolers).
The early collections (or “drops,” as they’re usually described) also tend to be extremely short lived – you have to place your order within a few days or less. This creates a sense of urgency and helps avoid the complacency of consumers who would put off buying apparel from a creator’s web store, while also easing inventory headaches.
Of course, buying merch from a creative individual or group you admire is nothing new. Most of us have a least a few T-shirts we’ve picked up at concerts or festivals. The difference is that these collections aren’t mementos of an isolated event or experience. They’re also less about worshipping the influencer/creator/artist but a way of supporting their ideas and philosophies.
Instead of buying a T-shirt with Kelly Wakasa’s face, for instance, you buy clothing with “Do What Excites,” his signature catchphrase that encapsules his approach to life. The same with Yes Theory, which markets clothing bearing the simple words “Seek Discomfort.”
Wearing these clothes is a way for creators to add an additional revenue stream, but also to market themselves in a way that’s genuinely inspiring. There’s also the sense of being part of a special club or community, which is even more important when you consider the fact the rest of the creative work being consumed here is all digital.
To me, Drew’s “Coeur” was more interesting (and more ambiguous) than most creator fashion brands I’ve come across. It was also rendered in a stylish, elegant font that appealed to me on an aesthetic level. I would have liked it just as much if had nothing to do with him and I’d found it on a rack in a store.
Perhaps most important, Drew’s Coeur hoodie (which was not cheap – more than $100 with shipping) was of higher quality than I expected. The creamy off-white was pristine and it is delicate to the touch. It fits roomy and comfortably, to the point where I put it on at least once at week.
I like the idea I’m making a financial contribution to someone who clearly puts a lot of effort into the work they provide online for free. It feels better than buying an overpriced T-shirt mass-produced by a third-party company that has little if anything to do with the band whose music I listen to at a concert. It’s also timeless, in the sense I won’t have to be embarrassed about explaining where it came from.
Creator brand fashion and it’s here today/gone tomorrow approach to marketing makes it easy to overlook in the sea of collections by more established labels with a greater mix of clothing and accessories. What it shares with those marquee brands is the idea that, as much as we like to think of our fashion choices as a form of self-expression, what we’re often doing is opting in or endorsing the self-expression of someone idea’s creative ideas. By wearing it, you could almost say we’re giving it a “like.”