Black History Month in February of each year has not traditionally maintained as high a profile within the consumer product and collaboration space as Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place in September and October and has increasingly been seen as a time for licensors and their partners to create themed collections. IP owners and brands frequently put together programming or promotions honoring Black history. But themed product collaborations involving licensed properties, while not unheard of, have been relatively few and far between in the past.
That has changed this year, however, thanks in part to the renewed and ongoing conversation on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice spurred by the George Floyd killing last May. A number of retailers and brands are collaborating with outside IP owners on Black History Month collections, many featuring imagery created by Black artists:
- Under Armour worked with Devin Allen, a Baltimore photographer who is also an employee at Under Armour, for an Undr Armr x Dvnlln collection of footwear and clothing featuring photos of young Black athletes.
- Peloton worked with four Black artists on a fitness apparel collaboration. Monica Ahanonu, Sanford Greene, Hust Wilson, and Temi Coker each contributed an image for the collection of four pieces.
- Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs paired with Chicago artist Nikko Washington for limited-edition t-shirts and hoodies honoring Ernie Banks and Buck O’Neil, two pioneering Black athletes with long histories in the Cubs organization.
- Levi’s partnered with Fresco Steez, an artist and political organizer, whose graphic t-shirt collection highlights 10 different images inspired by Black heroes and political movements.
- Gap created an all-ages line of t-shirts, terry sweatsuits, and hats in collaboration with a group of Black artists and designers who are also Gap employees. The line, part of the Gap Collective series, includes hats and t-shirts by Courtney Minor, Tatiana Hill, and Dwayne Dupréy.
- Vans is working with four Black artists, Rewina Beshue, Sydney G. James, Chris Martin, and Tony Whlgn, each of whom contributed a pattern that can be customized on different Vans shoe and accessory styles.
- H&M worked with Ruth Carter, the costume designer for Amistad, Black Panther, and Malcolm X, to create a collection of shirts, totes, pants, and hats featuring the red, black, and green of the pan-African flag. The collection debuted during Black History Month but is not themed specifically to that occasion.
- Nyakio Beauty paired with jewelry designer Maya Brenner on a limited-edition Maya x Kio capsule of earrings and necklaces, highlighting the theme of unity and featuring phrases such as “justice” and “vote.”
- Forever 21 teamed with three artists, Stormy Nesbit, Henry Jones, and Ashley Sky Walker, on collections of graphic t-shirts, sweats, bike shorts, joggers, and pullovers for adults and children.
In addition to these artist-centric product collaborations, a number of companies with connections to licensing have honored Black History Month in other ways. Some have created collections internally, as Nike has done with a themed range inspired by 1990s streetwear. Others have curated collections of products that they already sell, as Target is doing with its Black Beyond Measure collection of apparel and accessories from Black-owned brands. Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Walmart have put together similar initiatives.
Some marketers are highlighting properties by Black creators, as Jewel Branding is doing with artists and designers it represents for licensing, including Kendra Dandy of Bouffants & Broken Hearts, Jessi Raulet of EttaVee, and Nikki Chu. Some are offering promotions and giveaways, as Hallmark is doing by distributing 1 million free cards from its Mahogany brand. Some are launching or touting long-term initiatives, as Ulta is by announcing that it is doubling the number of Black-owned brands it carries and featuring more Black models in its advertising.
Many of these ventures, as well as the product collaborations listed above, also include charitable donations to groups supporting causes that impact Black and Brown communities, from mental health to career development. Michaels is donating a portion of the sales from its exclusive Black History Month collection of DIY supplies and craft kits to Management Leadership for Tomorrow.
It should be noted that in-house-driven initiatives have been common during Black History Month for years; Target has done similar programs in each of the last six Februaries. In 2021, it is product collaborations with external IP owners, especially artists, that definitely seem to be on the rise compared to past years.
Some of the ventures discussed here involve Black employees and/or Black-owned companies that are regular suppliers. This is one way of calling out that the marketer supports Black workers, vendors, and customers on a year-round basis, not just during Black History Month.