Made by Hand

A number of deals of late have involved limited editions of handcrafted products. The increasing tendency to include handmade products as a component of a licensing program is not a trend that has arisen suddenly. Rather, the strategy has gained strength steadily and rather stealthily over several years. Recent examples cut across a variety of property types and product categories:

  • Last week, Universal Products & Experiences, along with Nintendo and Illumination, partnered with handmade beauty products retailer Lush for a global collection of cosmetics and bath bombs tied to the Super Mario Bros. Movie. One key product is a Question Block bath bomb that reveals a mystery power-up (fire flower, star, coin, ice flower, red mushroom, or black mushroom) when it dissolves, bringing back memories for adults who used to play the game. Other products include shower gels and jellies, soaps, and body sprays, each associated with a different character. Lush’s other recent collaborations involve properties ranging from streetwear label Lazy Oaf to Netflix’s Stranger Things.
  • Also last week, Oxford Pennant announced a capsule collection of handmade pins, patches, pennants, camp flags, and banners with Elton John. The assortment takes inspiration from other branded product collections the musician had done in the past, including 1960s- and 1970s-era pennants. The products are available through Oxford Pennant’s e-commerce site and select retailers, with a few exclusives available through music publication CREEM Magazine. Oxford Pennant also recently announced a collaboration with Sesame Workshop for a range tied to Sesame Street.
  • Studio Ghibli paired with Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten in February for a Ghibli and Crafts collection of gifts and décor based on the 1988 film My Neighbour Totoro. Nakagawa Masashichi is a brand founded in 1716 that specializes in traditional Japanese handcrafts sourced from around the country, each with a modern spin. One key product in the collaboration is the the Inami Sculpture Kusunoki Totoro, which is a carving made from camphor wood (the kind of tree Totoro lives in), using an Edo period carving technique called inami chokoku. The piece retails for ¥330,000 (US$2,491 at today’s conversion rate) and is available online by lottery only. Other products include a stenciled treasure box, a vase, porcelain plates, t-shirts, handkerchiefs, dish towels, and more, ranging from ¥880 ($6.64) to ¥5,940 ($44.84).
  • Last September, Perfetti Van Melle announced a pairing with Olympia LeTan for three handmade clutches, one each for its Chupa Chups, Fruit-tella, and Smint candy brands. The numbered, limited-edition bags are OLT’s signature book clutches, hand-embroidered with a printed Liberty fabric lining, and are available on the French fashion label’s website and at high-end retailers such as Capitol, Net-à-Porter, and Neiman Marcus. A frequent collaboration partner, Olympia Le Tan’s other recent collections include bags tied to Dr. Seuss, Marilyn Monroe, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and many more.
  • British art jewelry maker Tatty Devine paired with Frida Kahlo, also in September 2022, for a collection of statement necklaces, each made by designer Harriet Vine. Tatty Devine is another regular collaborator with licensed IP; recent examples range from cut-paper artist Rob Ryan to David Bowie to Chawton House, an English manner home known for its library of 10,000 books by mostly early women writers.
  • The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) released its latest heritage pottery collection with long-time licensee Moorcroft, focusing on orchids, in July 2022. The five pieces—clock, jug, ginger jar, vase, and plaque—were inspired by the work of the first RHS orchid artist, Nelly Roberts, timed to the 150th anniversary of her birth. The handmade pieces were created using the techniques of the Arts and Crafts period, incorporating watercolors Roberts created during her 56-year-long career, each of a different variety of orchid.
  • Last April, before its recent declaration of bankruptcy and subsequent purchase by BlueStar Alliance earlier this week, Dutch fashion label Scotch & Soda paired with Studio 189, a fashion brand and social enterprise, for 100 limited-edition, handmade raffia bags. Proceeds from the $179 item went to The Hunger Project. The bag was designed by artisans at Studio 189’s product development center in Accra, Ghana, and handcrafted by a community of weavers in Bolgatanga, Ghana, who produce goods in conjunction with a nonprofit called ASIGE that supports women and girls in the country’s rural communities. The bag was part of the summer 2022 Scotch & Soda “Born To Love” capsule collection.

The growth in handcrafted items as part of licensing programs has been driven by a number of significant changes in shopping and consumption behavior. These include the rise of the maker movement and many consumers’ desire to shop for artisans’ unique or rare products rather than mass produced items, both for themselves and for gift-giving. In addition, young adults in particular increasingly prefer to spend on experiences rather than merchandise, and when they do make a purchase they want it to be something high in quality, and meaningful. Sustainability is one, but not the only, consideration behind both of these trends.

Intellectual property owners, meanwhile, are always on the hunt for new concepts that attract consumers’ attention, and small quantities of handmade products can fit the bill. Conversely, the makers of handcrafted goods themselves are increasingly interested in tying in with properties that in the past may have seemed too commercial but now are perceived as inspiring creativity as well as attracting a new customer base. As long as they can negotiate deals that work for both collaborators, financially and otherwise, these partnerships can help expand fan loyalty and awareness, as well as generating some sales, for all involved.

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