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Resurrecting A Forgotten Brand, Esprit’s Hopeful, Steady Rebrand

by Mandy Pao

Have you ever wondered how brands like Coca-Cola or Apple came to be? What it takes for a brand to succeed and why it sometimes crumbles? Have you ever asked yourself, "What is my brand?" If we’ve learned anything from the past, we know brands can crumble just as fast as they're built. Remember: brand-building is a never-ending endeavor. To explore brand-building, we look at the rise, fall and resurrection of one of the biggest fashion brands to exist, Esprit.

Esprit, a name that used to be synonymous with fashion, has been on a dramatic journey since it started half a century ago. Esprit was the height of fashion for 15 years and even weathered a downturn following 9/11. But the past decade has not been kind to the brand. A significant decline, almost as big as its come-up, the brand has been hammered by increasing competition from fast fashion and big brands. A name that everyone knew 20 years ago now seems little more than a distant memory. But the brand is determined to change that narrative. It’s now doing everything it can to step back in the spotlight.

The Halcyon Days 🌍

Esprit, formerly named “Esprit de Corp,” was founded by the couple Doug Tompkins and Susie Russell in 1968. In 1973 Esprit opened a small factory in Alameda and began producing the clothing line that would be the hallmark of casual fashion. Esprit became part of the American landscape with iconic stores in Soho and San Francisco; Mary Quant and Penelope Tree were fans long before it was cool. Esprit products were also made available in Europe through exclusive retail partners such as Harrods and Liberty as well as in Japan — Isetan.

The ‘80s was the decade where Esprit created casual clothing that felt inclusive of a relaxed lifestyle. It offered bold colors and bohemian style, with logo sweatshirts and striped patterns that really started to identify the store as a landmark in itself, projecting equality, environment and creativity in the urban space. Esprit quickly became THE standard for casual apparel and would carry its momentum through the ‘90s.

What Goes Up Must Come Down 🎢

Over the next decade, Esprit became a household name thanks to its legacy. Its success brought expansion beyond Europe and Asia. In the ‘00s, however, Esprit was sold to a Hong Kong-based conglomerate and the brand experienced a rapid decline.

The birth of fast-fashion in the ‘00s marked the crash of Esprit; its decline is said to have begun when companies like Zara and H&M entered the market. The introduction of more affordable versions of its products changed its image and helped to diminish its reputation as an upscale brand. Esprit shares fell almost 50% over the next decade, even as overall clothing sales boomed — citing Esprit’s lack of growth strategy, both in terms of product, and in terms of their marketing efforts.

Esprit’s reputation and brand equity plummeted in just a few years.

Rebranding: New Life And Color 🎨

Today, Esprit is working to restore its name to its former glory. In 2020, Esprit unveiled a rebranding that’s more relevant to today’s youth. With an “effortless” design ethos, Esprit came out with a new logo, a new typeface and a first-ever monogram, created by design agency Pentagram. Natasha Jen, designer and partner at Pentagram, developed Esprit’s new design system by using the color wheel, limiting the palette to just 72 shades — designers may use any 2 or 3 complementing shades within the color wheel to create a design. It’s a way for Esprit to keep things “hyper-minimal” while integrating the “joyfulness and colourfulness that has always been associated with the Esprit brand.”

Esprit has focused on creating trend-driven campaigns, offering colorful basics that echo Gen Z fashion. One of the brand’s latest campaigns involves DJ and fashion’s it-girl Peggy Gou as well as South Korean rapper Simon Dominic. Esprit’s other campaigns so far have focused on highlighting young creatives to build awareness and a community-building approach as the brand carefully makes steps to become relevant again.

Final Analysis

Though it’s been decades of victories and failures, Esprit continues to move forward with great efforts. Most recently, the brand has rebranded itself with a core strategy that speaks to a younger audience by communicating the brand’s soul in a new way. 

Watching and analyzing Esprit’s rollercoaster ride of brand-building offers two key lessons :

1. that brand-building is a never-ending endeavor, and that once you stop, it’s very easy for the business to go south.

2. Rebranding can ressurect brands by bringing back the things that made them special in the first place. Some of the benefits of rebranding include a more focused target audience, better brand positioning in the market and increased brand awareness and market share.

Is it time for your rebrand? Contact us today for a free consultation and review of your business.

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