Project Cobalt, a new culture platform from Pepsi, will unveil its first clothing collection this week.
This story first appeared in the April 13, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The spring line is designed by a group of young designers. Project Cobalt’s style initiative is led by All Beuys Club, a New York-based consultancy and collaborative studio, and pairs aspiring designers with industry veterans. The initiative is financially supported by both Pepsi and All Beuys Club. There is no Pepsi identification on any of the products, hangtags or marketing.
Known as the Craft Class, the young designers work together with mentors to create seasonal collections. The first Craft Class consists of Olu Alege and Edgar Garrido of Street Level Culture; Alexandra Kennedy and Samantha Giordano of Dolores Haze, and Drew Villani of Dreu. The mentors were Jeff Staple, owner of Reed Space; Liza Deyrmenjian, founder of Fashion Business Accelerator 360, and Parke & Ronen, a men’s contemporary swimwear brand.
“Project Cobalt is an overarching initiative to engage the young creative community within the fashion space, the design space and the experiential space,” said Anthony Flores, project manager of Project Cobalt Style. He said that Pepsi noticed a cultural shift and wanted to change their approach to it. Instead of “answering it themselves and asking the people inside of their doors, they reached out to our agency [All Beuys Club] that put together a strong community of fashion veterans to begin engaging on this program for them,” said Flores.
“Even now, as we roll out this inaugural program, we’re still in the infancy of defining this project. We want to spend the first year organically growing and treating this as a discovery year before we put in a hard definitive foundation of what this is. They need to really invest a longer calendar to this. This isn’t a turnkey marketing activation for them. It’s very easy for the outside public to see it’s some sort of ploy for Pepsi, but the executives we’re working with have genuine intent to engage, empower and inspire this creative class. How they leverage it can be defined later down the line,” said Flores.
Even though last year Pepsi’s parent PepsiCo beat profits expectations, the core product faces declining demand worldwide as consumers opt for beverages seen as healthier. But Flores believes Pepsi is more than just a soft-drinks company. “They have cultural relevance other than beverages,” he said. He declined to reveal how much Pepsi and All Beuys Club are investing in the initiative.
The Craft Class members were selected from Project Cobalt’s strategic partners such as Fashion Business Accelerator 360, Agenda and Liberty Fairs. The class rotates every six months and each group produces one full collection. There will be two lines produced each year. The items will be sold at a shop-in-shop at Reed Space on the Lower East Side from Wednesday through April 22. The line will also be available on Project Cobalt’s online Web shop, as well as the Spring mobile app, starting Wednesday. The collection, which will be unveiled Wednesday night at Reed Space, features topcoats, bomber jackets, unisex casual bottoms, knits, dress shorts, jackets, V-neck football tees, soccer shorts, T-shirts with zippers, polos, graphic Ts, embroidered hats, retailing from $40 to $150. The apparel is made in Nepal and New York.
So what does Pepsi get out of it?
Pepsi officials weren’t available for comment, but a spokeswoman for the project said that the new creative platform — a first-of-its kind Pepsi initiative and a unique business model for the brand — is about “seeking out today’s young mavericks in film, fashion and technology and empowering and supporting these creative partners through collaboration and resources in order to execute their creative visions. “This is the reason you do not see any Pepsi branding on any of the Project Cobalt initiatives, as it’s about giving the creative partners their voice, enabling them to experiment, innovate and create,” said the spokeswoman.
Asked why a major beverage company would connect with fashion without any identifiable logos or marketing, ad expert Trey Laird, owner of Laird + Partners, said, “To me, it only makes sense when there’s some connection or reason to be. To me, it just seems like a sponsorship thing or underwriting thing. It’s always nice for any brand to support creativity but I’m sure they want to be seen as youthful and creative, but I feel like it’s a real stretch. The brands that try to do this stuff that has nothing to do with their reason for being, I question if it’s the right fit. Why Pepsi and fashion?”