Warner Bros. Consumer Products’ Sunny Hong on the passion that powers fashion partnerships for Space Jam: A New Legacy

With partners on board spanning Nike, Bait and Tommy Hilfiger, we caught up with Sunny to find out more about bringing Space Jam: A New Legacy to life in fashion.

Sunny Hong is the Creative Product Development Director of Fashion, Home, Food Health & Beauty, and Owned and Operated for North America, at Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

In her role, Sunny develops creative strategies and brings to life product that best represents Warner Bros. iconic stories and characters, with recent launches from her team including Revlon x Wonder Woman, Coach x Wizard of Oz and Kate Spade x Tom and Jerry.

One of Sunny’s most recent projects has been looking after one of the largest ever fashion roll-out for the Looney Tunes brand as part of merchandise activity surrounding Space Jam: A New Legacy.

With partners on board spanning Nike, Uninterrupted and Tommy Hilfiger, we spoke with Sunny about securing success for Space Jam: A New Legacy in fashion.

Sunny Hong, Warner Bros.

Hi Sunny. Great to catch up. Before we dive into Space Jam: A New Legacy, how did you first start working in the brand space?
I fell into it! I was working at a law firm when I was looking to pivot my career. I submitted my resume to a staffing agency and one day they called me about an opportunity at Disney Consumer Products. Since then, I can’t imagine doing anything else outside of developing consumer products!

I could line up ten different Creative Directors and they’d each have very different approaches to what they do, so how do you sum up your role at Warner Bros.?
I oversee fashion, home, food, health & beauty and owned and operated. A typical day is jumping from meeting to meeting to discuss creative strategies. In one meeting we may discuss product collections for a new theatrical film like Space Jam: A New Legacy and how we need to find a way to create differentiation in the marketspace to give the fans uniqueness and reasons to purchase the different products. The next meeting, we may be strategizing for the next film or franchise moment.

Internally, there’s lots of alignment calls between different business units and teams. We’ll speak with the franchise marketing team, the retail team and the category team to align on business strategies and creative strategies. That’s critical to ensure we’re all marching towards the same goal!

The best part of being on this team is that we get to interact with the licensees and partners on a daily basis. We rollout new creative assets, creative strategies and share guardrails they have to stay within to ensure we respect each other’s IP. We’ll provide them with trend boards to get their creative process going. The licensees are the experts in their product category and we are the experts to translate our stories to product.

Sunny Hong, Warner Bros.

Moving onto Space Jam: A New Legacy, what guided your approach to bringing the brand to life in fashion?
The franchise marketing team built the strategy of this franchise and the category teams brought on the strategic partners and our product development team take all the strategies into account as we extend the story of the film onto product.

The licensees and partners were excited about Space Jam: A New Legacy right from the start. As creatives, it was almost like we were just waiting for this to happen! Growing up as a ‘90s kid, the first Space Jam film still means something to us. The pop culture influence, the trends, the Looney Tunes crew and now, here’s a new film where we get to bring new trends, tell another story of our Looney Tunes AND we have LeBron James?!– it’s phenomenal. For us, it’s always about supporting our licensees to translate our stories with quality and trend on product.

Detail is also really important. If we’re doing a basketball jersey, how do we make that authentically Space Jam? If we’re doing a t-shirt, do we give it a puff print, embroidery, contrast stitching? How do we elevate? All these details helped us to create the right design DNA for Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Sunny Hong, Warner Bros.

In terms of brand DNA, Space Jam: A New Legacy has quite a few strings for designers to pull at. There’s the ‘90s nostalgia, there’s basketball, there’s LeBron, there’s the elasticity of the Looney Tunes…
We hit them all. People will be fans of Space Jam: A New Legacy for different reasons. Some will love it for our beloved Looney Tunes characters, some will love it for the basketball, perhaps they are fans or look up to LeBron.

The nostalgia factor is real too and we have to serve the fans who are returning for this new film. And from a design perspective, we are inspired by these different themes– sporty jerseys and athletic tank fits vs vintages washes, or bringing in the newest street trend vibes vs clean logo or character hits and so on.

Sunny Hong, Warner Bros.

There are lots of fantastic brand collaborations happening at the moment, and your Space Jam: A New Legacy partnership with Nike looks great. Can you shed some light on how that collection was put together?
Nike really stayed true to our story. They were already great storytellers for the LeBron brand, so they had to find a creative way to weave in our Tunes, and the way they did that was not only creative but authentic.

The Nike collection truly has something for everyone– you can get their jerseys and look as if you’ve just walked straight out of the movie! If you’re a fan of a specific toon, they’ve created some fun and unique products that storytell like the Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner within the design. Perhaps, you want to be more lowkey and there’s something for that fan as well.

We’re making something now that we hope people will still have a fondness for in 25 years’ time – like the original did. When they have the sneaker, t-shirt or cap, we want them to have these products for years and really cherish them in the same way they will the film. It’s about consumers emotionally connecting with the products.

Sunny Hong, Warner Bros.

On the character side, how did you help your partners understand the Looney Tunes?
Well Bugs Bunny has his own brand DNA, as does Lola Bunny and the rest of the characters. They are so iconic and recognisable with their ownable colors, character personalities and storylines. It makes it easy to pull little bits of them out into smart design touches.

Some people love having full character artwork on their t-shirts, which is great, but some fans will want items that nod to characters through a little embroidered piece or a fur texture. Some like loud shirts, others like subtle shirts. We wanted to serve all the fans in different ways through design.

Sunny Hong, Warner Bros.

What is about Space Jam that makes the brand such a rich sandbox for your licensees – and their designers – to play in?
It’s the same reason that you and I are so crazy and excited about Space Jam. Licensees have their own vision for how they want to interpret the film and how they want this collection to connect with fans. The great thing is that each licensee is unique and so each collection has its own identity. Some are quirky, some are tailored and serious. That’s what’s beautiful about the brand and these launches.

Great stuff. I’ve already taken up lots of your time Sunny, so my last question is: How do you fuel your creativity?
To clear my head for a full day of creative work, I like to start my day with a run. It helps me turn the world off and get a little bit zen. Also, as much as I love and feel inspired by being connected on social and online to see what’s hot and trending, there’s something very inspiring when it’s just the music in my air pods, the sky and watching the world in front of me. That aside, it’s all about the team – our different creative lenses, different experience that come together but that doesn’t just mean engaging with the creative team. Collaboration fuels creativity.

I’ve heard non creative teams say “This isn’t my lane, but I think this could be cool…” And they’re great ideas! It’s important to listen to each other, collaborate with each other and that helps us carve out different creative strategies.

Sunny, this has been fun. A huge thanks again and good luck with Space Jam: A New Legacy roll-out!

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