Since Burberry was founded in 1856 by the 21-year-old Thomas Burberry, the brand has secured its position in the fashion zeitgeist with its invention of the trench coat. But it’s really their beige, red, black, and white tartan pattern that has reached worldwide status as a symbol of the wealthy.
But overexposure can be dangerous for a brand that’s typically associated with exclusivity.
So what is a brand to do when it’s trademark starts gaining popularity on a worldwide level—by becoming the central focus of a growing counterfeit culture?
The Rise of ‘Berberry’
London-based photographer Toby Leigh began to see scores of fake Burberry items on the streets in the early 2000s. The “Logo wave” of that era saw lower classes get their hands on clothing with luxury logos on them, with little regard for whether they were authentic or counterfeit. Luxury logos were being loudly worn by lower income demographics and hordes of tourists.
This captured a cultural phenomenon, showing how people will wear a recognizable symbol of a design house, even if it isn’t authentic. Burberry was caught in the center of this whirlwind.
“The dominant fashion accessory in this phenomenon was fake Burberry — a.k.a. ‘Berberry’ — clothing. This meant that ‘Berberry’ check was suddenly in the public domain and seen as more than just the preserve of the rich. It was really funny watching the luxury brand squirm as the pattern gained more popularity and was used in more ludicrous ways.”
For a short time, Burberry rode the wave of this logo craze with financial success. In their 2000 Spring ad campaign led by Kate Moss, the entire cast was dripping from head to toe with the pattern. Sales increased in the UK and US after this campaign.
Mass Distribution and Mass Consumption
But when a high-end fashion house plays the game of mass-distribution and mass-consumption to reap in profits, this usually costs the brand more in the end. There’s a delicate balance between a company’s ability to increase awareness of its brand and expand its reach without sacrificing their reputation.
So this mainstream brand recognition came at a cost for Burberry—their international sales skyrocketed, but their UK sales began to fall. And Burberry’s tartan print became one of the most copied trademarked designs in existence.
Then the replicas got crazier— think mugs, toilet seat covers, and full apartment building façades. These illegally produced items were an indication of a larger shift in the brand’s image, where the pattern became a ubiquitous symbol for anyone wanting access to luxury.
As a result, the Burberry brand was left overexposed and with dwindling sales. So when Angela Ahrendts became the company’s new CEO in 2006 she decided to go on the offense. To rebuild their exclusive reputation, they aggressively bought back licenses of its tartan pattern and limited its use.
Restoring the pattern to being more of an embellishment on the inside of a garment, helped lift the brand’s revenue 27 percent in 2011.
However most recently, the brand was still working the mass-consumption route with their streetwear collaboration with Gosha Rubchinskiy for fashion week in 2018.
But their efforts seem much more calculated this go around, having weathered and bounced back from the loss of their brand equity. Burberry is brought back its balance.