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Branded Merch is the New Symbol of Luxury

Welcome to the age of obsessive marketing and branding, where even your corner shop can now have its own line of branded merch. If you haven’t realized it yet, just take a scroll through your social media feed and you’ll see the many influencers and celebrities sporting their favorite restaurant tees, hotel sweatshirts, and magazine baseball hats everywhere they go. 

With the pandemic, our propensity towards dressing and buying more casual than formal has definitely heightened, but not necessarily the hypebeast way. On the contrary, it seems like the present-day wave of comfortable style has given birth to a modern niche of consumer, one who’d rather support their favorite neighborhood spot and smaller brand of choice over a famed, luxury fashion house. Style today means donning a dad hat from renowned Parisian coffeeshop and celebrity haunt Café de Flore, or rocking a “Pink as Fuck” t-shirt to the gym from New York’s all-pink-everything Italian restaurant Pietro Nolita.

Branded merchandise has become the latest athleisure trend to signal the new age of consumers’ status symbol and local affiliation. The so-called Zizmorcore phenomenon, coined by writer Stella Bugbee in The Cut magazine in March 2021, plays exactly into this growing fad. Named after the dermatology doctor whose subway ads and commercials dominated New York City in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Zizmorcore has been defined by Bugbee as “wearing merch from places that feel truly authentic to New York,” a “hyper-specific” embracing of the city itself that doesn’t have to feel glamorous at all. Think the greasy 24/7 diner or the Chinatown bodega on Canal Street. In the latest release of Sex and the City’s sequel And Just Like That.., the main protagonist Carrie Bradshaw is filmed sporting a branded New York or Nowhere canvas tote bag on the streets of Manhattan. The Downtown New York-based lifestyle brand founded by Quincy Moore in 2015 praises The Big Apple and its “slickers” through the design and production of art, apparel, and accessories trademarked New York or Nowhere, and it has been endorsed by actress Sarah Jessica Parker herself in support of her beloved city.

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Sarah Jessica Parker wearing the New York or Nowhere tote in the new series “And Just Like That…”

Whether it’s an emerging home decor store like Abbode, a more established beauty label like Glossier, or a hip Lower East Side restaurant such as Russ & Daughters, non-fashion related brands have resorted to the power of merchandise to foster both their online and offline presence as well as to better cater to their communities, customers, and fans. Their ultimate goal is not only that of creating a sense of belonging but also one of exclusivity—because you are 10 times cooler if you own that specific t-shirt from that particular place instead of a fashion legacy house tee everyone else could easily have access to.

What was once a tacky way to support your cherished small business has now become a fashion trend and exponentially growing sector in the athleisure and loungewear market. Especially Gen Zers—best known as the TikTok generation—function as the spokespeople for this movement, constantly buying into the idea of wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves through their clothing choices. What you decide to wear shows what you stand for, what you enjoy the most, and what you best relate to, all concepts that go way beyond the sole product or service offered by a brand. Ultimately, branded merch is a visual representation and extension of a certain lifestyle a label wants to create and nowadays, also an indicator of style and coolness—the new luxury.

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