Wiloh no more – The death of a brand
Friday, March 2, 2012
In early '09 I was commissioned to create a brand identity for an exciting new US-based eco-apparel business. The budget was tight and my original start-up identity package offered a lot of value at a relatively low cost. This was my first direct client project where I found myself in a position to create an entire consumer-facing brand experience.
After two rounds of naming, using a name generating presentation format that I invented for this project (and still employ today), we were excited to discover that the name Wiloh was available to trademark and also available as a 'clean' website address with no need for an extension to the name to secure a URL. In addition to this evocative name I conceived of the brand-idea 'Ecosocial' to give the brand a distinct sense of purpose.
The idea behind the business was to draw on, and encourage, a global network of designers to create graphic eco-oriented messages and then to print these works onto environmentally friendly fabrics with environmentally friendly production techniques and printing processes. This was about more than selling t-shirts, this was about creating a movement, an 'Ecosocial' movement that was to be led by Wiloh.
However, as the budget was extremely tight and my client had no previous experience of running this type of business and/or of building a brand from scratch my services as a consultant weren't retained to ensure the brand remained 'on message' beyond developing the core branding elements. Instead, a less experienced designer with a fashion background and only cursory brand identity and marketing experience was taken on as the operational designer and overall art director.
As the identity I envisioned for Wiloh in my portfolio testifies (click on the image above), the brand was intended for an upmarket mass audience with a clean-cut image and offered a brand story in alignment with the environmental impact and sustainability narrative to which we are all now subject. The brand was intended to deliver casual and edgy street wear; not thrifty and bargain basement fashion but low cost, high value and ethical fashion for an affluent youth market across cultures.
The name Wiloh provided us with an opportunity to draw on and emphasise the sustainability aspects of the willow tree in a modern and contemporary way – and away from the potentially sinister association of willow trees of medieval folk lore. However, under the direction of a young and verifiable 'fashionista' art director Wiloh ventured into this darker side... and therein, I believe, lay its inevitable and ultimate demise.
Wiloh went 'dark' by not only literally abandoning colour almost entirely but also in subject matter. Instead of aiming at a mass audience where economies of scale would make the business model viable, an attempt to create a high-impact niche brand image by appealing to the novelty-hungry world of fashion, Wiloh went for street fashion in what looked to me like a pouty, punk-y and slightly smutty fit of youthful rebellion. More importantly, instead of committing to the 'Ecosocial' idea as a core message that would have provided a clear sense of purpose, eco-oriented issues and the sustainability narrative became peripheral and the brand-idea was marginalised in what appears to be lip-service environmental impact and sustainability concerns, limited almost exclusively to the production of t-shirts.
Wiloh only enjoyed a brief spell under the hyper trend conscious spotlight in (mostly) US-based online fashion media circles. Perhaps instead of spending valuable resource on what look to have been indulgent photographic shoots, resources were spent building, promoting and genuinely living the 'Ecosocial' idea the brand might have stood a good chance to carve out a unique place in a cluttered and noisy market.
Wiloh – Ecosocial Apparel, 2009-2011 – R.I.P.