The Brand Radar: Talking licensed apparel design with Trademark Products’ Phil King

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes sits down with Phil King, the Managing Director of Trademark Products, to discuss design, trends and pitching brands to retail.

Trademark Products are a well-established licensee operating in the licensed apparel market, with a core focus is developing t-shirts. Licensed apparel is a fiercely competitive and challenging category. It is difficult to create a point of difference and to avoid competing solely on price.

Well-chosen licences and carefully crafted designs can help establish a point of difference in the market. Trademark Products have gone down this route by selecting licences that appeal to fans of genres like gaming, anime, manga and comics.

It’s important for Trademark Products to be able to deliver ranges that engage with consumers but also appeal to retailers. There’s always a fine balance to be achieved and a key skillset for a licensee like Trademark Products is keeping in touch with retail buyers and sharing their creative vision with buyers.

Design is important in apparel and Trademark Products spend a lot of time making sure they are using licensed properties as well as they can, delivering designs that reflect the fan’s interest in the IP.

Below, Trademark Products MD Phil King gives us a great insight into how his company works, as well as how they approach licensing and design. It’s good to hear from licensees like Trademark Products and get a feel for the licensing process they go through to deliver t-shirts that become bestsellers.

Phil also gives us a little insight into the new style store HMV has opened in Solihull. This looks sets to be a template to be rolled out further and looks like becoming a retail home for fan culture products.

Phil King, Trademark Products

Phil, great to catch up. Can you tell us a bit about Trademark Products and the main focus of your business?
In a very competitive business of apparel, Trademark has – from the outset – always been focused on taking on new properties and brands that appeal to its core consumer, one we loosely refer to as the student market. This can range from TV and film to gaming and retro brands; all can find a place in our distribution channels.

Our goal has always been to offer different licences and properties than the established brands that are often represented by multiple licensees. We also focus on the supply of product to the entertainment retail sector as our launch point and this has created a point of difference to other licensees.

You have an eclectic mix of licences. What are your selection criteria for a new brand?
Being a little more alternative in our licence selection, but being fortunate enough to work with retailers who are happy to be a little more risky with design.

It’s really a simple approach when looking at properties. Firstly, do they either make you laugh or cringe… Both have merit, but most importantly is the humour hitting the right age group?

The next is quite tricky to put accurately, but here goes! Does the show have adult content, like drugs, violence or sexual content? They don’t have it all, but unfortunately these do sell! The next point is easier – what is the background to the show? Is it based on a popular book series or heritage brand?

Lastly – and very importantly – does the artwork lend itself as a graphic on a t-shirt and would the consumer wear this out? Bear in mind when you wear a shirt, this is a statement to other people of what you are about.

Let’s discuss the design process for your t-shirts. How do you approach this and how do you work on developments with the rights holders?
Design is always a balancing act between an IP holder’s aspirations and consumers’ demands regarding the graphics they want. We try and keep it simple. The first part is the obvious one: Can we actually produce the design onto the shirt, as there are a limitations in the printing process.

The most important thing is focusing on the key element that made you buy the licence, be that a slogan, phrase or graphic that represents the core of the property. Some of our best-selling shirts have been the most simple designs.

How do you keep track of trends in apparel? And what are some key trends of the moment?
Tracking trends is tricky. One thing that is certain is the uncertainty in what will be next big property, but we do try and follow certain things. What is happening out in the US within certain retailers can be a good indicator as to how the market is moving and what can be trending. You have to be careful, as the US is such a big and varied market, but it can be one of the pointers.

At the moment, anime is a significant trend for our retail base, maybe driven from lack of other new properties coming out due to the recent circumstances. Either way, it’s a big trend at the moment.

Phil King, Trademark Products

I know you supply HMV and recently visited their new store in Solihull. Can you give us some feedback on the new store and its focus?
We do supply HMV and following the recent buy out and new owners they have opened a new store with, we hope, more to come. They have shifted the look of the store with a key focus now being more pop culture and away from the traditional look of an HMV store.

The range of apparel is much more varied in licences and garment styles they carry, embracing much more vibrant colours for the ranges. Stores look different, with a big focus on East meets West, significant instore presence of Japanese sweets and drinks being offered as well as collectable figurines and accessories.

Looking at the results, it is a really exciting new development and something we are very happy to be part of. It’s great to see new retailers opening up on the High Street.

Thinking about new properties from emerging categories like anime, how do you set about presenting these to retailers?
New trends are so important to get into retail, but with the retailers we supply, they are very much more open to trying new licences. Shall we say the stock commitment is not the same as other High Street retailers. We do however still need to justify retail space. The buyer has to be comfortable it will perform as they have to ensure all space makes profit.

Mostly, we will support new trends with the rationale behind our signing it, but a presence in key stores in the US goes a long way to build confidence. Simple key factors, like good broadcast platform in the UK or with certain streaming sites, seems to work better or reach deeper in the key target consumer.

The target demographic of the show is key too. Does this align with their consumer? It all helps to build a picture of a property that is likely to work well in their stores.

Finally, what are your top three favourite t-shirts you have sold – and why?
This is the easiest question! For me, my favourite shirt is the Bazinga designs on a red t-shirt from the Big Bang Theory. After that, it would be Dave from the Minions on a yellow shirt and the Heisenberg drawing image from Breaking Bad. All simple designs, which for me demonstrates simple most obvious design is the best way.

Phil King, Trademark Products

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