Tour merchandise: The rise of the artist pop-up store vs traditional retail

After the success of his Views pop-up shop Drake is setting up shop again with new tour merchandise

Band tees used to fall into two camps, the preserve of extremely dedicated fans who were willing to part with money for slightly poorly produced printed t-shirts, and then the vintage reworked classics rocked by younger generations to celebrate classic acts like the Rolling Stones.
But not anymore, you can’t move without seeing a Justin Bieber Purpose tour hooded top or a Drake Views cap now. Tour apparel floods social media feeds and is starting to make its artists a reliable source of income, topping up the money they get from tours (tours are notoriously how artists make money right now, since album sales don’t equal big bucks these days).


But when we first reported on this trend back in May, it was a look at the rise of the pop-up stores that artists and their teams were curating to make their merchandise even more alluring to their key fans. It started with Kanye and his March pop-up which he tweeted earned him $1million, then Drake came next with a Bowery pop-up  in New York selling Views t-shirts, then Bieber followed with his Brooklyn pop-up for Purpose tour.
But it was the Strokes who took the idea of retail a step further, by launching an experiential retail experience, called ‘No Room’ in May, the NY pop-up installation offered coffee shop services, daily DJ sets and a midnight release of their new EP. This store concept was all about turning fans into fully fledged consumers.


Rapper Future is continuing the trend this summer and taking it up a notch. Currently on tour with Drake, he just announced a collaborative pop-up shop in New York’s SoHo neighbourhood with social media-driven e-commerce platform Fancy. In addition to tour merchandise, it offers Future’s Freebandz apparel line, a fan art gallery, products Future-associated streetwear label Cease+Desist, an exclusive Pintrill pin, a special Hennessy bottle, and exclusive scented candles from Wickd.


The collaborations don’t stop there. Future teamed up with artist Adam Bohemond on a selection of leather motorcycle jackets by noted menswear designer John Varvatos, and collaborative leather weekenders from Moreca feature luggage tags that say “Always Secure The Bag,” a nod to one of Future’s lines in the DJ Khaled-produced song “I Got the Keys,” and “NSFW.” The timing of the two-story pop-up coincides with when Future and Drake will be playing shows at Madison Square Garden. Coincidentally, Drake also announced his plans to open a second pop-up shop at the same time, nearby to capitalise on the success of the first one.


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“Fuelled by a streaming and Youtubing frenzy, concert gear is a crucial element in any artist’s business model now and pop stars are slowly realising that their merch needs to reflect what is happening in the youth market to reap the rewards,” says Faye Howard, WGSN Associate Editor, Retail & Buying.
“A simple band-tee isn’t going to cut it anymore and its brands like Yeezy who have spearheaded this movement. People aren’t bragging about the amazing experience they had at the gig anymore, they’re more concerned about how quickly they can snap up a piece of exclusive tour merch so they can compete with the high fashion pack, where the logo-infused Vetements fashion label is dominating the catwalk,” adds Howard.
From a retail perspective, even though this tour merchandise market just emerged, it is already evolving beyond mere concert promotion. Last month, Justin Bieber announced that his tour merch line of apparel was so successful that he’d teamed up with US retailer Barneys to sell it as a capsule collection in-store and through the site’s website. And now he’s gone a step further this month, you can now get Purpose merch at global Urban Outfitters stores. This is an interesting change in tactic from artist controlled pop-ups to a more traditional retail buying and selling route.
“A favourite for stocking original brands such as Adidas and Levi’s, this is an obvious step for Urban Outfitters, the youth retailer who clearly understands the relevance of tour merchandise as a category in its own right, stating “Music artists are now the new brand,” adds Howard.
This in-store idea is a savvy one, in that it exposes the artist to a whole host of potential new fans and consumers. But it’s also interesting to think of the benefits and/or pitfalls for artists switching to this method.


“This can be a really beneficial partnership, and while it depends from deal to deal – ultimately a capsule collection of this kind allows the upscale consumer, who might not have previously shopped from the artist or even been a fan of the music, to suddenly have the brand on their radar. Also looking at the Barneys/Purpose tour collab, this was a chance for Bieber to get valuable real estate in a high-end department store, with affluent city dwelling shoppers. Since the capsule collection cost between $95 at the lower end to $1,675 for the statement leather jacket, the Barneys partnership makes sense. Similarly the launch of a more affordable capsule collection for Urban Outfitters, with statement tour tees and more in-demand pieces is also very smart, ” says Petah Marian,  WGSN Senior Editor, Retail Intelligence.

So the question now is, is this latest effort a more sustainable way for artists to rack up their credentials and build the creditability within the fashion sphere? And will the consumer demand transfer from their own personalised temporary retail initiatives (pop-ups) to this longer in-store retail proposition?
“The rise of artist apparel merchandise shows that long gone are the days where a celebrity would simply license their name to a manufacturer, who would create a generic line of products with a celebrity’s named slapped on them. Celebrities are brands – and great tour merchandise and product helps build a strong, committed consumer who wants to be part of their world and invest in their brand.
From a design perspective ‘celebrity designers’ are often seen as fashion’s poor relation, so it will be interesting to watch as this sub-category grows and the products become increasingly complicated. What we’re also seeing is an opportunity for the designers behind these sorts of lines to gain their own notoriety too, particularly if the celebrity is willing to use their reputation to help the younger designer get a leg, up, as Selena Gomez has done with emerging designer Sami Miro, who designed her tour outfits,” adds Marian.
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