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Justin Bieber’s merch hit H&M Friday, completing the pop singer’s master plan to get his printed T-shirts and hoodies onto the backs of everyone with $17.99 to spare. Bieber’s nearly year-long strategy played out brilliantly, allowing him to cash in at every point of the trend’s life cycle.
Step One: Make It Cool
Bieber got in on 2016’s merch trend pretty early. After Kanye, the Biebz was one of the first people to make merch that transcended an item typically bought at concerts and worn strictly by fans. He partnered with Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo and with trendy boutiques like NYC’s VFiles, Miami’s Alchemist, and Toronto’s Nomad, and cribbed design tricks from Vetements. The collaborations, and that you could shop them without even entering one of his concerts, lent him credibility beyond his typical teenybopper fanbase.
Bieber merch popped up in street style photographs and Complex wrote a story titled “Justin Bieber Turned Me Into a Hypebeast for a Day.” Even more striking, a majority of the people lined up at the NYC pop-up reported being there strictly to cop the clothing, not because they were particularly big Purpose fans.
Step Two: Make It Prestige
After imbuing the clothes with a measure of unquantifiable coolness, Bieber made his next move. He collaborated with upscale retailer Barneys, boldly selling a $1,695 leather jacket printed with the same designs from his concert tees.
Never mind that the moto jacket — and many of the other items from the collab — have hit the sales rack; the narrative was written. Headlines breathlessly trumpeted his new high-priced items, and it marked the first time Barneys ever carried an artist’s tour merch. “It is the first time we’ve done it, but it felt right,” Jay Bell, a senior vice president at Barneys, told the New York Times.
The strategy was right: Ride the groundswell of a trend and hope to cash in on higher-priced items. The market looking for an almost-$1,700 jacket commemorating the Purpose tour might not have been there, but the moto still did its part. No one’s gone back and written about how the Barneys merch didn’t really move, Bieber’s still the artist who took concert merch and made it prestige.
Step Three: Open It Up to the Masses
The final step is what really feels like the stroke of a genius. Like any trend, it starts with the influential in-the-know customers before slowly trickling down to the mainstream.
Typically, a specific audience falls for a brand like Gucci and its crystal-clear aesthetic. Then, fast-fashion retailers like Zara interpret that aesthetic at a significantly lower price point and make off with the profits.
Bieber, however, managed to be both Gucci and Zara. He rode the merch trend for as long as possible, starting narrow at the top before diffusing it to the mainstream. After the boutiques and Barneys, Bieber moved onto hipper mainstream retailers like Urban Outfitters and PacSun before sending it where all trends go to die: Forever 21, in August, and now finally, H&M. While the more fashion-forward customer has already moved onto the next thing, the average customer can finally buy the products they’ve seen in trendy boutiques, street style galleries, and Barneys at an affordable price.
And Bieber made money off every step, revving up the hype machine for almost a year. There was a blueprint here — Kanye’s Wes Lang-designed Yeezus merch started at pop-up shops before moving to PacSun — but it’s not hard to argue Bieber(‘s team) perfected it.