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From Zippers to Pixels: The Surprising Overlap Between Costume Design and Branding

Back in middle school, I took sewing classes. But there was a twist. My sewing instructor was a theater costume designer. Cue the Cinderella dresses, Ghosts of Christmas Pasts, and the Wizard of Oz ensemble of characters. And we won't even get into Les Misérables...

With every costume, she faced a challenge: The design had to fit the actor's body while meeting the functional requirements of the show.

Some examples of what she had to account for:

  • Twenty-second costume changes.

  • Harness-friendly for flying. (Remember what I said about ghosts?)

  • Originality held in tension with tipping her hat to iconic looks. (Because you can't have Dorothy in anything but a blue, checkered dress and ruby slippers.)

  • Adaptable designs that could fit actors of different shapes and sizes for productions to come.

And I'm sure if she were writing this post, there'd be dozens more on that list. But you get the idea.

So what does all that have to do with branding?

You could be launching a business selling a new kind of phone charger. Or you're starting up a bakery. Or doing something with AI you're not allowed to tell anyone about. And you might think that theater costumes have nothing to do with the logo you etch on the front door of your establishment.

Here's the unexpected overlap:

Theater costumes have to meet two criteria: Fashion and Function. Your branding has to do the same.

Like my sewing teacher had to hold the tension between creating original costumes without veering too far away from classic looks, branding represents another point of tension between you and your audience's preferences.

Make it all about you, and what expresses your business without accounting for your audience, and you might miss them. However, if you try to pull a people-pleasing move and go with "Whatever they want," you haven't represented yourself honestly either. You've just become whatever they wanted.

Oddly enough, it's a bit like being back in middle school. Do you dress in a way that rebels against the group because "You don't care,"? Or do you cave and buy the brands everyone else is wearing because it matters more to you to fit in?

That is the dilemma.

When I do branding work with my clients, this is the tension we sort through.

To borrow a line from the Great British Baking Show:

Branding should meet both, "style and substance."

You don't have to compromise.


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