Return to Cities Fuel New Lifestyle Brands

By Roberto Ramos, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Communications at the Doneger Group
October 26, 2015

Americans, for the past decade or so, have put aside their centuries-old skepticism about cities, and have been moving back to urban centers. According to the U.S. Census, close to 270 million Americans now live in cities, a number that has been increasing steadily. It seems like a growing number of us want to enjoy the benefits of city life, including shorter commutes, more entertainment options, and a stronger sense of community, this latter attribute, a particularly nice one to balance our hyper-digital lives. America's greater urbanity bodes favorably for the creation of the next generation of American fashion and lifestyle brands. Urban centers have a unique power to fuel creative ideas and to spread them quickly, generating viable market conditions to bring these ideas to full scale. American brands are now more poised than ever to leverage the power and momentum of cities beyond New York to shape and share lifestyle experiences.

Many of the most dynamic American brands are being borne out of a new urbane mindset. Uber, for instance, transportation disruptor, came to life from the urban pressure point of consumers wanting to get around the city but not wanting to invest in a car, or wait for a taxi. The solution was a simple interface that put the customer in control to have a car, easily when they wanted it.

Shinola, the maker of beautifully crafted rustic apparel and leather accessories, has enticed luxury consumers as much for the quality of its materials and its craftsmanship as for the unique brand story connected to its Detroit home. The city's own journey of reinvention has added storytelling gravitas to the brand, resulting in a new Americana classic. And it is this theme of Americana that our new urbanism borrows from and makes more contemporary for ongoing relevancy.

Take for instance, the timeless relaxed appeal of the West Coast, and apply to it the new energy of a revitalized, more creatively fertile, Los Angeles to come up with exciting lifestyle brands like Reformation and James Perse. These two brands, along with their host city convey a new relaxed American pragmatism that is also stylishly confident.

Like Los Angeles, other American cities have been able to craft a lifestyle movement and nurture brands around it. Portland and Seattle for instance, embody the spirit of the great American outdoors while Austin represents the new American fusion of independent arts and technology. San Francisco and the bay area, long center of American counter-culture, have leveraged the timeless American rebel spirit in the creation of what is perhaps the most powerful brand ever, Apple.

Urbane Retail Implications

Our new urban mindset poses great further possibilities for fashion and retail, including:

  • Ability to engage local creative class (designers, artists, musicians, etc.) as inspiration and as collaborators for new product ventures
  • Leverage power of cities to attract the best talent; think of what corporate leadership presence you can have in some urban centers
  • Rethink physical retail spaces, as new urban sensitivities require smaller, more experiential environments more like boutiques and galleries. Explore the marketing power to make visual statements with urban flagship stores.
  • Explore the power of regionalized merchandise approach addressing the unique style and lifestyle influences of major cities
  • Explore the storytelling potential around provenance related to brand roots around a given city
  • Take a fully lifestyle-focused approach inspired by the city, including culinary, hospitality, technology and more

The return to cities serves as a reminder that while technology facilitates many aspects of our lives, we're still physical beings wanting to connect to others and to engage with engaging environments. The city can be one of the most powerful brand platforms yet. So, go ahead and let your brand travel and find a home in the city, or cities of its dreams.