The industry continues to experience change at a frenetic pace — and fashion companies are racing to adapt as they overhaul strategies, acquire brands and tap into new categories. In the face of increased competition from flashy startups, many legacy fashion players are changing their corporate names to stand out in a crowded climate.
In the past two years alone, Coach Inc. became Tapestry Inc., Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. transformed into Capri Holdings Ltd. and DSW changed its name to Designer Brands. Other high-profile examples include the birth of Caleres in 2015 when Brown Shoe Co. changed its moniker — and PPR’s 2013 rebranding into Kering. All of the companies had the same reason for rebranding — they had grown into multi-faceted operations with several distinct nameplates.
“Changing a name sends a signal,” said Lillian Pontius-Goldblatt, senior strategist at Carbone Smolan Agency, which worked with Tapestry on its new corporate identity unveiled in 2017. “In the case of Tapestry, we we wanted to be inclusive and authentically represent the diversity of their brands.” (Under CEO Victor Luis, the New York-based company embarked on the name change after it acquired Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade in 2015 and 2017, respectively. The Coach name, of course, lived on through the brand itself.)
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Designer Brands — which trades under the ticker symbol DBI and comprises the DSW retail chain, Camuto Group, The Shoe Company and other affiliated businesses — also wanted a name that would fit its growing ambitions. “DSW was only attached to about 20 percent of the footwear market,” said CEO Roger Rawlins in March, when the company announced the move. “We now have access to 80 percent of the footwear market. And it’s not just about us running stores; it’s us playing in the wholesale space, it’s playing in the direct-to-consumer space.”
Having a clear reason for crafting a new identity is key, experts said. In addition to a broader business focus, another impetus might be a significant leadership departure, though it is less common.
But Pontius-Goldblatt emphasized that firms shouldn’t embark on the process lightly. “If you don’t have a real reason that’s important, it’s hard to do,” she said. “We rarely recommend a renaming.”
In addition, the process can be complex, with many intricate steps. “It’s very complicated,” said Kristin Krajecki, strategy director and head of the global brand experience practice at Frog, a global design firm. “The name is the most important way a company sets up an impression and the identity they’re they’re trying to portray.”
Here, experts offer advice on how to successful evolve your corporate identity.
Where to Begin?
When Tapestry embarked on its name-changing process — which took nine months to complete — the first step was to rally team members around the company’s story, values and future vision. Through focus groups with leadership and other key employees, the group determined that it wanted a name that was “intuitive, simple and expressed craftsmanship,” according to Jennifer Leemann, VP of communications.
Pontius-Goldblatt said it was important for the corporate parent, then called Coach Inc., to communicate an inclusive message. “They wanted to make their new brands feel welcome, and it was also super important to communicate their values to people looking to invest in the whole company, not just Coach,” she said.
David Placek, president and founder of Lexicon Branding, teamed up with Caleres on its rebranding in 2015. Placek said Lexicon generally kicks off the process with each of its clients in a similar way. “We talk about where they see the company going and [issues they might encounter] to get there. We look at the competitive landscape, the business problems and opportunities,” he said.
After those early critical conversations, the name game officially begins.
Leemann said hundreds of ideas were initially on the table at Tapestry. One thing she learned early on: “Don’t fall in love with something, because you don’t know if you can clear it. The art of finding a name is working through the trademark process,” she said. “You have to be willing to accept small changes. Do you spend time trying to get a certain name or do you let it go and move on?” One major advantage for Tapestry, Leemann said, was the fact that Luis was highly engaged in the process, and also realistic.
In addition to trademark issues, firms might face other unexpected problems along the way. “Companies that don’t do their homework can encounter cultural issues,” Placek said, noting that monikers mean different things in different countries. (Lexicon partners with 90 linguists around the world on language clearances.)
Sometimes, names are easy to digest, like Tapestry, which by definition means “an intricate or complex combination of things.” For many people, Capri conjures up images of the glamorous seaside Italian island. In other cases, a moniker might not be as obvious. Caleres, for example, is derived from the Latin word “calere,” which means passionate and “to glow.”
You Have a New Name — Be Prepared for Feedback
While corporate name changes don’t carry as much risk as consumer rebrands, there is a good chance a new monogram will incite some debate.
“It’s about knowing you’re going to get a bit of backlash and having answers,” Pontius-Goldblatt said. “With Tapestry, it opened up this conversation about the difference between Coach and Coach Inc. There was a little bit of confusion with consumers [about the future of the Coach brand]. We armed the internal folks at Coach and Tapestry [with tools] for how to talk about it. They were thorough, smart and strategic in how they were doing it. They were thinking about every detail.”
By the time the identity was unveiled to employees at a Town Hall in October 2017, Tapestry had already operationalized the name with new email addresses, a retoooled website, a distinct logo and a fresh stock ticker.
Inside the company, the name was universally embraced, according to Leemann. Investors also clearly understood the strategy. “I’ve done some other naming work, and this was one of the easier ones, in part, because it was led from the top,” she said. “We loved the name and the meaning behind it.”
The most important part of any rebranding is communicating the full story, Placek explained. “Consumers accept name changes. They might not like them, but they’ll move on. What they’ll listen to is the story,” he said.
As effective storytelling becomes a more crucial part of connecting with consumers, and as more consolidation occurs throughout the fashion world, experts predict that name changes will become an even bigger trend.
“Across the board, companies are being more savvy about how they’re talking about themselves publicly and what their brands mean,” said Pontius-Goldblatt. “It’s how you connect with your audience.
Krajecki said rebranding is the primary way tried-and-true companies can modernize their images. “We’ve seen more legacy brands in fashion and apparel space looking to stay relevant as they have a lot of disruption from new startups,” she said.