By guest author Maghan McDowel from Vogue Business
In a first-of-its-kind partnership, Ralph Lauren and Snap have created 12 digital pieces designed to be worn on Bitmoji and bought in real life.
Ralph Lauren has begun a “long-term partnership” with Snap, starting with the first-ever mix-and-match, branded wardrobe designed for Bitmoji, the personalised cartoonish digital avatars, in a bid to attract a younger customer.
Snapchat users will be able to shop for their Bitmoji in a Ralph Lauren-branded store within the Bitmoji app and Snapchat. They will then be able to dress their character in Ralph Lauren attire and mix it with other non-branded apparel, purchasable as physical versions in stores and online.
The collection includes 12 total pieces, including a rugby shirt, a racing jacket and a double-breasted navy blazer. The partnership will also include 3D Bitmoji Lenses that show users’ Bitmoji wearing a Ralph Lauren outfit. The Lens includes a “try now” feature that navigates to the wardrobe to see the full collection.
This is the first time that a brand’s design team has designed garments starting with the Bitmoji, says Snap head of fashion and beauty Selby Drummond, which took six months to develop. Apps and platforms that let people interact with fashion have reported surging usage in 2020, largely due to people spending more time on mobile devices amid the pandemic, particularly Gen Z. It’s an opportunity that Snapchat is harnessing to commercialise its technology while allowing fashion brands to leverage the engaged younger audience.
“Bitmoji are important vehicles of self-expression in the digital and social space. As the world of digital avatars continues to accelerate, it’s interesting for us to test and learn how audiences respond to fashion in this space,” Alice Delahunt, Ralph Lauren’s chief digital officer says. This is the first time the brand has designed clothes for the digital space.
It also helps them recruit a new generation of consumers, Delahunt says. Snapchat has more than 238 million daily active users, and reaches 75 % of 13 to 34 year olds in the US. On average, more than 70 % of daily active users have linked their Bitmoji to their Snapchat account.
Bitmoji will also share metrics with Ralph Lauren about the collection and specific pieces, including the top-performing garments. She says that the brand will primarily measure success by how many people use the Ralph Lauren x Bitmoji Collection to dress their avatar. Beyond that, the brand will evaluate the overall performance of the partnership during the next two years. Snapchat users currently will not be able to link directly from Snapchat to purchase the items, Ralph Lauren will offer them online and in stores.
Snaphat did not share details on what the partnership would mean, other than additional “fun and forward-thinking collaborations”.
“Fashion and beauty partners, especially now, are really enthusiastic and aggressive about finding new ways to reach their fans, their customers,” Drummond says. Drummond works on Snap’s fashion and beauty partnerships and is trying to increase content, like the Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior augmented reality projects and a partnership with Gucci to create branded Spectacles. This year, she says, “is the year of the Bitmoji”.
Gaming platform Roblox, for example, which lets users create, buy and wear garments, recently reported that its users had grown from 115 million monthly active users in February to 150 million. In April, fashion game Drest reported a 50 % month-over-month increase in installs, with Italy seeing a 400 % uplift in one week.
While Snapchat’s silly filters grew its popularity, the ephemeral messaging app has been working to enhance its commerce-centric features. Most recently, its efforts have centered largely on its sophisticated AR capabilities, which allow people to try on makeup, accessories and shoes. Snapchat also recently announced a shoppable TV show. Marketing through Bitmoji fashion would be another way to encourage interactions with a brand in the digital realm.
“People are existing in this digital world now totally in parallel with the way that they exist in the real world — and in some ways, they’re much freer, given the current restrictions,” Drummond says. “We think of digital life as an extension of our in-person life. In that way, it’s really important to feel like there’s a seamless connection. It’s something that you could buy and wear in the real world.”
Delahunt says that experimenting with ways Ralph Lauren can own the digital layer around physical goods is one of the most exciting developments she sees for storytelling. Recently, the brand promoted Polo shirts using murals in US cities that Snapchat’s augmented reality function could enhance. “Augmenting reality to inspire, inform and envelop our audiences in the world of Ralph Lauren is an opportunity that we’re planning for,” she says.
Bitmoji CEO Ba Blackstock says that a big trend among users has been “twinning” with their Bitmoji, including posting side-by-side photos. He also says that users sometimes dress their avatars aspirationally, and experiment with new looks through their Bitmoji. Bitmoji’s user demographics are “incredibly wide”, with people of all ages, although he acknowledges a large part of that is “the Snapchat generation”.
In 2015, Bitmoji offered items inspired by designs from brands, including Calvin Klein and Rodarte through partnerships with W Magazine and Bergdorf Goodman. Snapchat bought it for more than USD 100 million a year later.
Since then, the company has rebuilt its avatars. Previously, the physical versions of the clothes were not available for purchase, were not created by the brand specifically for Bitmoji and were not mixable or matchable. Users could only dress avatars in complete looks. Additionally, full-body versions of Bitmoji, versus just the face view, are increasingly being used through the app, Drummond adds, offering more of an opportunity for the clothes to be visible.
Drummond adds that for now, the Bitmoji fashion partnership is not a way for Snap to make money, but Snap will determine in the future how to generate revenue from this initiative. Also in the pipeline, she says Bitmoji may enable users to curate and save items to their own wardrobes.
She anticipates that consumers’ digital identities will become increasingly relevant to fashion brands. “If you’d asked anyone this question a year ago, it would have been much harder to imagine that your digital wardrobe could match anything like your real-life wardrobe,” she says. “It’s quite clear now that there’s so much the future could bring in which your digital wardrobe is as influential, as important, as relevant in your life as your physical wardrobe. We’re living in a unique time that illustrates what we once thought of as an exception to the rule, might become more and more the future.”