Saban Capital is shifting gears on the innovation front, moving from entertainment to fashion with the repositioning of its Paul Frank Kids’ brand.
The Saban Brands Lifestyle Group, a division of Saban Brands, is spearheading the fashion strategy for the brand, which is now known as Paul Frank Industries. The strategy is a game changer for the brand management business model, both because of how it plans to design and source the apparel line and the additional sourcing option planned for distribution partners overseas. While the latter gives the brand a hybrid-feel to the line, it allows for targeting of the local market.
Daniel Castle, managing director of SBLG, said, “Retailers get the cost savings by buying direct because we are doing our own sourcing and designing from our creative base in Sydney, Australia.” Retailers and licensees are buying direct from Saban’s factory partners that are doing the manufacturing. He added that distribution partners overseas don’t have to buy the entire collection from SBLG. He explained that in some locales such as China, character licensing of Julius, as the Paul Frank monkey is known, remains popular and is considered a premium label. In those markets, a component of the product for stores could be from the collection line while the balance of the merchandise can be tailored to include the Julius logo through approved licensees. There are currently over 100 Paul Frank standalone retail sites in China, all opened since 2010 while the brand has been under Saban’s ownership.
Stan Wan, the newly hired creative director for SBLG, is also responsible for designing the Paul Frank collection. Wan said the idea was to take the platform and pay homage to its Southern California roots, while using whimsical and bold graphics to bring a “street style” approach to the fashion perspective. Inspiration for the line comes from fashion trends at the adult level, with adaptations for kids between ages 4 to 8, where appropriate.
“The benefit of doing the entire line in-house, from design to sourcing and marketing, ensures cohesion in the quality and pricing structure for the brand, and that will help Saban distinguish its product from its competitors,” Castle said.
As for leveraging the brand with its sister division, Saban Brands Entertainment Group, Castle said, “Content [and character logo] takes away from the brand by making it too accessible by plastering it on any product possible. Fashion companies always do better when they are aspirational. The leverage with Saban Entertainment will be through product placement in its entertainment vehicles.”
Paul Frank moving away from its former reliance on character content to a true fashion brand with its own point of view is significant, as the brand now no longer relies solely on its Julius character, even though it will have a reduced presence in the apparel line. How the transformation is done could have implications for other successful, but possibly tired, characters on the entertainment front as owners look to new avenues — such as fashion — for growth and brand revitalization.
More importantly, on the brand management front, the new strategy envisioned by Saban turns the business model on its head, taking the design, sourcing and production in-house for direct and complete control over brand messaging and product quality on a global scale. That’s different from what most firms that own intellectual property assets typically do, which is to work with licensees, who design and source product for distribution, while the brand management firm is responsible for overall cohesiveness of the look and messaging.
And to prove its confidence in the model, Saban Capital has spared no expense in showcasing the new line, while keeping true to its entertainment roots. Its investment is said to be well into the six figures, according to sources, although some have speculated that the actual amount is closer to seven figures. That’s because the presentation of the collection, dubbed an “experiential runway show” called Circus Jumble on Thursday, is a family-friendly entertainment event that includes a DJ, aerialists, acrobats, stilt walkers, face painting, games, a candy bar and food.
The event brings to life the re-imaging of the brand concept for Paul Frank, according to Jennifer Wexler, the newly hired senior vice president of marketing at SBLG.
The line is comprised of over 25 looks, featuring three different stories behind the collection. Buyers and top executives from major retailers have been invited, and not just from U.S.-based companies.
David Tawil, chief executive officer of Comercio Excelente, a Mexican firm that’s the licensee for such brands as Calvin Klein for sportswear, Michael Kors and Kenneth Cole for dress furnishings and Izod for underwear, said his firm will be viewing the show, noting that the Paul Frank brand “will be transformative for the business here in Mexico….Paul Frank holds a special place in the global market. It is something we are missing in our territory at the department store level.”
A marketing strategy that is expected to include a celebrity ambassador, experiential events and complete digital overhaul, is slated for January.
Based on initial reaction to the brand from top retailers and wholesalers, the company is projecting double-digit growth over the next three years.