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Branded merchandise hasn’t historically been considered to be very fashion-forward. Some popular brands have licensed their branding to designers in the past to form mutually beneficial relationships; the designer gets to sell their wares while the label gets to benefit from a hefty dose of advertising. But now, some of America’s most well-loved brands are changing the game by creating their own merchandise, making it possible for U.S. consumers to literally wear what they eat.
Forever 21 has made headlines by partnering up with restaurant chains (like Taco Bell) and beloved beverage brands (like Coca Cola) in the past to make branded merch a distinctively hip flair. But now, food brand marketers are being even more daring, launching their own kitschy fashion collections to entice young consumers who want a healthy dose of nostalgia (even if the food they’re advertising is anything but nutritious).
Considering that Americans eat an average of 66.5 pounds of beef every year, it’s actually not surprising that McDonald’s decided to launch its own fashion collaboration with Joe Freshgoods — the brand behind a popular “Thank U Obama” collection and other notable streetwear lines. The collection is in celebration of the new Sprite flavor that’s exclusive to McDonald’s, called Mix by Sprite Tropic Berry. The capsule collection is inspired by racing merchandise and were made available at locations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Anyone who purchased the new drink was eligible to receive a garment from the collection, which included t-shirts, socks, and even a leather varsity jacket.
But McDonald’s isn’t the only food brand that’s embraced streetwear with an ironic and delicious twist. Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel company that’s still a mainstay in many a suburban shopping mall, released a collection called “For the Love of Pretzels” that raised $1,300 for cancer research. The cute, nostalgic collection included iPhone cases, t-shirts, and fanny packs (the so-called “Auntie packs” ended up being the most popular item, by far) and were shared on social media by hungry fans.
KFC also found its venture into clothing and home linens to be highly successful, as its limited-edition chicken-print socks, Colonel Sanders pillowcases, and Fried Chicken USA sweatshirts sold out in a record two hours. IHOP also sold a line of pajama pants and socks with a breakfast theme to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. And most recently, Starburst teamed up with a Project Runway winner to create shirts, sweatshirts, and pink denim jackets to promote the brand in an infectious, highly shareable way.
Considering that half of senior managers say workers wear less formal clothing now than they did five years ago, it’s not surprising that these food brands are focusing on casual wear. But even more than that, they’re tapping into the idea of curating content and promoting their brand in a slightly ironic and colorful way. While not everyone wants to wear a fanny pack or have a pillowcase with the Colonel’s face on it on their bed, it certainly shows that branded merch is growing by leaps and bounds — and that these companies don’t necessarily need to rely on existing clothing stores to be successful with these lines.