When I received a short announcement about the launch of DDB FRESH in Prague, a line describing the operation caught my eye. “The world’s first fashion innovation agency for non-fashion brands.” What could that mean? A few days later, Darko Silajdžić, executive group chairman of DDB Prague, was on my screen cheerfully explaining the project.
The bottom line is this: the agency is going to create clothing and accessories for brands that have nothing to do with fashion. He cites the likes of McDonald’s or VW, but hastens to add that these are theoretical examples, as no clients have been officially announced.
“Fashion is one of the biggest elements of cultural marketing, which is one of the keys to a brand achieving fame. And of course we know that brand fame equals business growth.”
The agency’s vision is to create imaginative, high-quality products – we’re not talking about baseball caps with logos on them.
“We don’t and will not do merch,” underlines Darko. “We’re not going to print T-shirts. There’s a ton of that in the world and you don’t need an agency to do it. What we will do is create products that come from fashion – garments, accessories, footwear – and that have two elements to them.”
The first of those, he says, is functionality. “Every product we create needs to have something about it that goes beyond ‘just fashion’, beyond aesthetics. For example, for a retail brand we’re currently working on a pair of hiking boots that recharge as you walk, so you can use them to charge your phone or other devices in the middle of the forest.”
Another innovation involves extracting CO2 from the air, turning it into ethanol and then transforming it into polyester, which becomes a high-end fashion collection. “Creating clothing from thick air,” as Darko puts it.
Then there’s a project that uses the insulation properties of cigarette butts to make a line of ski jackets. You can see awards juries – and future clients – lapping up the case films. “We’re doing things where people ask, ‘Is that even possible?’”
He mentioned two elements. The second? “High level fashion design, which means we’ll always work with a prominent designer, regionally or globally, or a leading fashion studio. When you put the two together, you’ve got something that goes beyond merch, beyond regular fashion, into innovative fashion for brands where you least expect it. And the more unexpected it is, the more you get the ‘wow’ factor that translates into brand fame.”
The element of surprise
A belief in the power of the unexpected is part of DDB’s creative philosophy, he adds. “Something highly surprising has an impact both from both a brand value perspective and a business perspective. It can deliver effectiveness at a fraction of the cost of a more conventional approach.”
These concepts are highly share-worthy and therefore catnip for social media. “They have lots of potential for content creation,” Darko affirms. “We can share them with influencers, with friends, with families, to see how they wear them, use them and talk about them. It opens up a whole new universe for the brand.”
It certainly sounds a lot of fun. So how did the idea come about? I can imagine a conversation during a long night in one of those cosy Prague pubs. “You know what, guys – this is what we should do!”
Turns out Darko has history when it comes to creating unusual agencies. A lifelong gamer, four years ago he brought together some other passionate gamers at the Prague agency to launch DDB For The Win, which at the time was the first gaming agency network. Still run out of Prague, it currently covers 20-plus offices around the world.
“Recently we decided to explore our next shared passion. We discovered there were quite a few people across the network who were involved in fashion and very aligned with trends, even to the point of studying innovative textiles.”
While he’d seen fashion-driven cases at awards shows, and knew that clients were attracted to those projects, he realised there wasn’t an agency devoted to them.
“We recruited some very interesting experts from the fashion industry, we sat them down with professionals from the advertising industry, and watched what happened. What came out of it were some amazing products that we couldn’t have come up with on our own – and I believe they couldn’t have come up with on their own. You have a connection between brand expertise and fashion expertise, and that’s where I see the uniqueness of the team.”
The agency is staffed with both existing agency people and new recruits – with new recruits outnumbering internal hires. There are 14 staffers at the moment, operating as separate unit out of DDB’s Prague office, working with a wider support community.
The first products, Darko reveals, will be from the finance, retail and automotive industries – but the agency is in discussion with other regional and global brands. While it has access to a range of potential clients within DDB, it will also be open to brands from outside the network. “We’ve found that brands are enthusiastic about it because it’s something they haven’t seen before.”
I point out the irony that, in the world of high-end fashion, brands seldom work with traditional advertising agencies. They rely on an elite group of photographers, stylists and make-up people, brought together for single projects. So how is the meeting of two worlds working out?
“Within the chemistry of the team, you can see two different approaches coming together. And while they’re different, they’re learning from one another. Their passion for fashion is the connecting tissue. I always like to bring opposites together,” he adds, “because something completely new comes out of it.”