For years, NBA players have showcased their unique styles and fashion sense. From Lebron James' classic baggy suit to Trae Young pulling up in shorts, the options are endless. One fit that stood out belongs to that of RJ Barrett at the 2019 NBA Draft.
Some people don't know that the suit was designed by INDOCHINO and was the start of an incredible partnership between the former 3rd overall draft pick (represented by SBX Group) and the custom suit manufacturer.
Fast forward a few years, and the partnership still continues to evolve. We had a chance to connect with Aly Habib, Director of Corporate Sales & Partnerships at INDOCHINO, and Danny Fritz, CEO of SBX Group, to get the inside look on how the partnership came to life and what elements allowed it to become successful.
How The Partnership Started
In 2019, INDOCHINO needed a way to ensure their products would stand out amongst the clutter of online fashion brands. Habib's two main goals were to drive revenue and brand awareness and to accomplish that, his team started investigating the world of athlete marketing. Compared to traditional marketing efforts, they felt the strategy could put the product in front of an entirely new audience through the vehicle of someone with deep ties to their target consumer. In addition to the massive reach these athletes have, it allows brands to own a unique storyline through the athlete.
"If you do it the right way and the partnership is meaningful to the audience then ultimately you can drive curiosity from their audience." - Aly Habib
Curiosity leads to conversion which is a means to accomplishing the goal of increased revenue. Habib and his team saw the opportunity to find authentic and unique ways to promote their message to customers. INDOCHINO then prioritized what traits it was looking for from prospective partners, including who the athlete is (values, story, character), who the athlete’s audience is, the athlete’s social presence (content needs to have a genuine and authentic feel), and if the athlete had a passion for fashion and lifestyle.
While the brand figured out its marketing strategy in Vancouver, Fritz at SBX Group worked with his team to grow and develop Barrett's brand. When Fritz looks for partners, he analyzes the brand’s positioning and whether it aligns with his client. He wants to know who exactly the brand is to ensure the connection is real and authentic. How the partner will leverage the athlete is also essential – it is one thing to invest in the partnership, but SBX Group must ensure the brand will put forward a plan to promote the partnership in the market, whether it be through their media buy and how often/when/where they will use the athlete.
Barrett himself is very tuned into style so Fritz researched lifestyle and fashion-focused brands. After narrowing down the list, INDOCHINO made its way to the top. It is a solid Canadian brand with a solid leadership team that has grown to be a global player – Barrett himself is a Canadian who wanted to grow his presence globally. As luck would have it, Fritz was introduced to INDOCHINO CEO, Drew Green, through Drew’s sister, Katie, with who he worked previously. From there Green and Fritz had several conversations and discussed how the partnership could benefit both parties. The rest is history!
Due to the deal’s magnitude, each party had to be diligent and specific on the deliverables. INDOCHINO had to figure out how to take advantage of Barrett's massive platform in a unique way. SBX Group sought to accomplish several goals: develop Barrett's brand positioning in the market, ensure INDOCHINO could fully leverage Barrett to push sales with its products, and then push media spend against the partnership so the consumer can connect the two parties.
Even if INDOCHINO and SBX Group thought this partnership was good to go, it still required Barrett's approval. Luckily for everyone, he was involved in the ideation behind the partnership. And not only RJ, but also his father Rowan, were presented with the qualities of each brand, who they are, their business focus and strategy, and how the partnership could work.
NBA Draft Night
Now that there was a partnership in place, where would they start? Well, the NBA Draft Night was around the corner, and with Barrett being a projected lottery pick, this was the perfect moment to introduce the partnership. Both he and INDOCHINO are loud and proud about their Canadian heritage and showed it through his Draft Night suit.
This was INDOCHINO’s arrival onto “the big stage” and the media coverage across North America was incredible. Barrett was asked where the suit came from, what the process was to make it, and so on and so forth.
"While Draft Night was Barrett's moment, it was also INDOCHINO’s moment – INDOCHINO made it." - Aly Habib
Not only did Barrett wear the suit, but he also opened his jacket all night long in front of the media to showcase the outstanding product INDOCHINO customized for him. The brand didn't ask him to rehearse anything – but instead, Habib knew that if the team created a strong product that Barrett would bring it up organically an it worked, as Barrett's love for the suit was on display the whole night.
From there, the partnership soared – the brand dropped a collab collection with Barrett's favourite colours, liners, and signatures, as well as creative photo and video shoots. An added benefit is that New York City, where Barrett was drafted, became INDOCHINO’s largest market with 7 showrooms in the area. Barrett was signed to the deal before he was drafted and could have easily been drafted to any team. Who knows how the partnership would have been executed had that been the case – what the public does know is that Barrett helped put INDOCHINO on the map in one of the largest markets in North America.
Bringing The Execution To Life
Keeping the momentum going, all three parties recently combined for an amazing video shoot at an INDOCHINO showroom.
From INDOCHINO’s side, Habib ran point on the execution and working alongside experts in many fields, including photographer Kyle Boham, videographers Ben Agbeke and Nicole Shapiro, stylist Luanne Vassell and producer Brandon Chandler – all for the short videos and pictures seen online. In fact, at one point in the video below you can see at least ten people all behind the camera while Barrett answered a question.
In addition to that, custom suits take time to produce – each suit had to be chosen by a stylist, produced, shipped within two weeks, steamed, and transported. All this work led to only one second of content, but that one second of Barrett smiling is what makes it worth it. Habib mentioned that in advance of this shoot, he worked with each department to maximize the time they have with Barrett. They confirmed the exact number of images and videos, the length of each piece, the types of formats, the theme, the products they showcased - he could go on and on. For example, Barrett wore INDOCHINO’s Traveler’s Suit. While subtle, the content team made it appear as though he walked through an airport to enhance the suit’s qualities.
The amount of work involved is the main reason why INDOCHINO must limit its number of athlete partnerships. Every single little piece involves someone’s time and effort and to do each partnership justice, you must be dialed in 100% of the time.
"The way you manage is by giving the partnership the attention it deserves." - Aly Habib
From Fritz's perspective, SBX Group must operate with Barrett's best interest in mind. As his team is familiar with Barrett's style and personality, they worked hand in hand with INDOCHINO to ensure he was at the forefront of any content. As shown through each video, Barrett is the type of person who likes to have fun so they always showed that quality.
Once Barrett approved the creative direction, the parties moved onto the logistics – which is often the most challenging part given how busy and travel-intensive the NBA season is. Planning far in advance is always ideal and when it comes to shoot day, they executed as efficiently as possible – that is critical to keeping the energy high on set and getting the best possible content.
Now that the content was shot, it needed to be showcased and Instagram was the chosen platform. Instagram is the platform that INDOCHINO’s audience relates to – as a fashion and apparel company it is the perfect place to display short-form videos to demonstrate the whole story and experience.
Learning from Athletes
Looking back, Habib learned a lot from working with athletes. First, if you have four hours with an athlete, you better make the most out of four hours. Second, project management is an essential part of partnership marketing. You need to be able to lay everything out and execute at a high level.
"Athletes are just like us when it comes to fashion, some guys more than others. They need help to look amazing." - Aly Habib
If Barrett did not have a passion for fashion, this partnership would not have been successful. He could spend hours trying on suits and getting photographed and his energy was on display from the moment he walked into the showroom. The reality of league fits seen pre-game is that there is so much going on behind the scenes with an athlete’s stylist, photographer, social team, PR, etc. In Habib's case, it is important to treat your partner as a customer as well – now that they are working with you, it is on you to provide that extra value and guidance.
"The players walk with so much pride in an INDOCHINO suit because they feel so confident. They sometimes even FaceTime their mom and family to show them how they look." - Aly Habib
What can brands take away from the endorsement?
Traditional athlete endorsements are on display every day - insert famous athlete holding a product and that is the extent of the partnership. From Habib's perspective, while yes, it may work for a massive company whose goal is solely to drive awareness, smaller companies must think deeper.
Ultimately, the goal is to drive revenue through awareness and credibility. The key is to not fall into the trap of believing an Instagram post alone will drive sales. Unless you are super established, it is challenging to try and move the needle with just a logo and an athlete.
There is a lot of work that goes into bringing a partnership to life and often if you do not have the capacity to give it the attention it deserves, you will churn out ineffective content. Fritz boils it down to how the brand will measure the partnership. The brand should take a step back and analyze each goal – is it to drive brand awareness and media impressions? Is it to connect to a sales function and have the athlete provide brand credibility to encourage sell-through?
"Once those are identified, you build the plan, you identify the right athlete that will connect with the audience you are looking to build a relationship with, and you HIT IT!" - Danny Fritz
According to Habib and Fritz, athlete marketing is all about creatively telling your brand’s story. Brands should use these prominent figures to tell a unique story that is associated with the athlete’s personality and values. Athletes then need to be comfortable in front of a camera and must be involved. It is seen more and more as younger athletes are growing up in the spotlight. With social platforms being a major factor in connecting with an athlete’s fan base it is important to be active on these platforms. Athletes also need to give back to a cause they support – this too can help with brand partnerships and associations as brands may have the same cause objectives.
"Athlete marketing has always proven to be successful if the right marketing team is behind it." - Danny Fritz