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DHL Was Fashion Way Before Vetements

The shipping company’s fashionable turn didn’t start with T-shirts.

Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

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DHL fully infected the last season of fashion weeks. Thanks to Vetements, either one or one-A on the list of the world’s hottest labels, and its uber-popular DHL T-shirt breaking out in street style galleries across the globe, the logo was everywhere. The Gvasalia version of the corporate shirt eventually even appeared on the CEO of DHL himself. Thinkpieces were followed up by savvy people who instructed us to gather a group of friends and head to the DHL website where you can place mass orders of the style. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the trend was sent to a farm upstate where it could play with other trends and be free. DHL settled back into its place, its red and gold logo cemented a little more in our minds, as the shipping company not named UPS or FedEx.

We didn’t think much of DHL again until a press release hit our inbox for NYFW: The Shop, a first-ever experiment from IMG and NYFW that houses “designer collections, bespoke artwork, special events, giveaways, and more.” Nestled in the fine print of the pop-up shop’s webpage: “The Shop will be presented by partners Maybelline New York, Intel, Aquafina, Caldrea, Colgate Optic White, DHL, Gemfields, and Papyrus.” A couple frantic Google searches later and it became evident that while DHL only recently broke onto the fashion scene in a big way, it’s been bubbling under the surface since the only people who cared about the word “vetements” were high schoolers studying for their upcoming French exams.

DHL’s involvement in various fashion weeks around the world dates back to 2007, starting starting with the U.S.-based fashion weeks, according to the CEO of DHL Express Greg Hewitt. In 2008, DHL became the official global partner of the Big Four fashion weeks, which means the company “provides logistic support to designers,” delivers pieces of stages and creates venues, and brings in “point of sale or marketing materials, tickets, VIP documents and credentials,” according to Hewitt. This relationship grew into partnerships with designers, like punk legend Vivienne Westwood, and eventually an entire program that supports young design talent called DHL Exported.

The DHL Exported program is the most recent extension of the shipping company’s fashion endeavors. Through the program, DHL, in partnership with IMG, helps designers with marketing (IMG’s part) and business plans (DHL’s portion). This is where it really makes sense for DHL to break into fashion. It can help designers who don’t yet have the necessary structures in place ship their product and build business plans. In a time when e-commerce is more important than ever, shipping is tantamount to a business’ success.

Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Hewitt explains that sponsoring fashion initiatives helps DHL approach retailers and designers who may want to expand their business. “When I talk credibly about how we support [designer shows], how as a brand we're a trusted partner to fashion week, how we're helping designers, and how we're helping fashion, I think all it does is lend itself to people who are in the industry [becoming] more open to talk to me about their logistic challenges,” Hewitt says. “They see us as a more genuine company.”

“I don't know from a business standpoint that if lifted our brand or rose sales, but it doesn't hurt right?” Hewitt said.

Earned marketing impressions is clearly the name of the game for DHL — and the Vetements T-shirt is the best example of this. While Vetements designer Demna Gvasalia didn’t cite DHL’s fashion week activations as the inspiration for his T-shirt, the constant interaction he had with the brand sparked something in him. “For me, it was such a recurring topic in my life,” Gvasalia told The Telegraph earlier this year. “DHL seemed to be more a part of my life than anything else so I thought, why isn’t it in the show?” Vetements declined to comment for this story.

I could fill this space with enough copy for an entire DHL marketing catalogue: about how DHL’s fashion week partnership feels more organic the more you think about it (if we’re doing more shopping online than ever before, young designers need a piece of that pie to stay relevant), about how designers need to move items — often important, high-priced items — around the world. Why wouldn’t a retailer want a partner that can take international shipping protocols off its plate? But all you need to know is that DHL is really about this life.

“Shipping and logistics are crucial to building and sustaining the global fashion industry and DHL plays an important role in that ecosystem,” Catherine Bennett, senior vice president and managing director of fashion events at WME|IMG, concurs. “They’re passionate about working closely with designers to expand their businesses internationally, and by partnering with us on various events and the DHL Exported program they’re able to have an even more lasting impact.”

DHL has long been in the background of fashion, but it took one T-shirt to turn them from invisible machinery into fashion darlings.