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Scott Sternberg possesses an obvious amount of panache and ingenuity, which allowed him to grow the decade-old Band of Outsiders into a global brand. Then there’s social media.
“The rise of social media means that these tiny little companies like mine have this global reach, which is [as] awesome as it is time-consuming,” he said of his company, during an onstage interview. “It’s a positive thing for our men’s business when it comes to selling more clothes and opening more dialogue.”
Indeed, Sternberg’s relationship with social media came about organically, even before the very term became du moment in today’s obsessively connected world. It was an unintentional foray into the very medium — one in which he launched via a Polaroid campaign in 2007 that instantly became viral — that made him, in a sense, a trailblazer.
“I wanted to create a set of images for the brand that didn’t fall into fashion clichés,” he said. “When you shoot a model you’re shooting a campaign. I’m a photographer and Polaroids were cheap at the time and the lighting doesn’t have to be set up. I shot some friends — who are not famous — then a confluence of actors I met, at the same time.”
The Polaroids were much-buzzed-about online on Sternberg’s then-blogger platform. It soon became a hit — so much so that Hollywood actors like Jason Schwartzman and Michelle Williams were clamoring to be a part of the movement.
“Both of them came to us and offered to do it,” he said. “They saw the photos of our friends. This is before social media became so proliferated.”
Schwartzman became the face of the brand’s 2007 holiday campaign; Williams, for 2008’s fall Boy by Band of Outsiders.
“We didn’t pay them — we did pay them in trade,” he recalled. “The power of celebrity cannot be denied. Listen, we don’t ask people who aren’t going to do it to do them. We have a good batting record. Like with Frank Ocean — we heard he loved our stuff. And Andrew Garfield. When I was shooting him with a Polaroid was the day he found out he had gotten ‘Spiderman.’”
Sternberg attributes his celebrity wrangling prowess to his days working for brands at the Creative Artists Agency, after graduating with honors at Washington University in St. Louis, where he worked with young brands in the technology and e-commerce space. It was there, he said, that he caught the “entrepreneurial bug.”
“I decided I didn’t want to do work there any more,” he recalled. “I started working with Emily Woods, who started J. Crew with her dad. And she sort of made that connection between this idea of starting my own company and not being only an agent to service clients, but fashion.”
Thus was born the brand, named after the French term “bande a part,” also after Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film.
Sternberg said his brand was about creating a new uniform for the future of American prep. He had traveled and shopped in Europe at Miu Miu and Prada for his job, but said he didn’t quite find any apparel items that struck a chord with him.
“I loved the fit and quality but nothing was quite my style. I was looking back at Ralph [Lauren] and what I loved, which was the fit, fabrication, and quality. I tried to merge the two. I had a really clear idea in my head of a very modern brand that can have fun with fashion and a light take on it.”
Band of Outsiders was launched in 2004 with shirts and ties. It has since moved into a full men’s and women’s line with four deliveries a year, and multiple shows during fashion week.
“We play with the big boys,” Sternberg said.
But it was social media, he deemed, that allowed him to reach the masses.
The designer officially downloaded the application, Instagram, in 2012 in Paris when he launched a stunt in which a model lived in a gallery in Marais with open windows, and abided to a Sternberg-written manifesto, for 60 hours.
“It was about going way outside the box and thinking about what a fashion show is,” he said. “I started my Instagram account at this event and then started to see just how much of an open dialogue I could have.”
The next year he created a scavenger hunt in New York City with a truck that had open windows and models in his apparel.
“The followers situation from the beginning to the end was so palpable. It was physical, too, as we were in this clear structure and could literally see people going to our Instagram and following us.”
Today, social media is still a major component of the brand — and imperative to its growth, he said.
“Instagram is a look into my life. Twitter is a dialogue and press stuff and talking back and forth on topics that relate to the brand. And Pinterest is only for our women. This is a clear way for us to be able to have a global reach.”
Speaking about being global, Sternberg said after opening his Tokyo flagship that he would be opening one in New York later this summer or early fall.
“What an amazing platform [Instagram is] to explore the depth and see how our fans are wearing the clothes and interacting with it all over the world.”