How to Build a Brand (Not Just a Label)

Lessons from The Academy Brand's company founder and creative director, Anthony Pitt

Anthony Pitt

There’s a lot of noise out there in the fashion industry. As the trend cycle becomes quicker than consumers can keep pace with, building a brand that stands the test of seasonal (and sub-seasonal) time is worthwhile work: no one wants to be yesterday’s news. The Academy Brand’s creator Anthony Pitt was aware of this gap between a brand and a label early on, bringing his background in advertising to his new focus – the timeless, long-lasting concept brand that now boasts five standalone stores across Australia.

Building the brand itself wasn’t the result of a traditional ‘light bulb’ moment: Anthony took clear decisive steps to create The Academy Brand – and it shows. “There was a lot of market research, a lot of product development and brand creation,” Anthony explains. “But at the core of the brand proposition was the aim to fill a gap in the menswear market for a good value product that didn’t compromise on brand appeal.”

That brand savvy and experience came in handy not just in the strategy department but also in being able to create the financial stability to even start the process of building the business. “The initial funding needed wasn’t that much as I was working full time in the advertising industry. So I was able to cover the bulk of funding needed for the early development phase,” Anthony explains. Then, when push really came to shove, Anthony was well-prepared to take the plunge. “Once I left advertising to dedicate all my time to Academy, that’s when things got more serious. I was able to secure a smallish bank overdraft to get things started. Of course I had planned for this day for some time and that included financial planning. I had savings built up to draw from and I was prepared to spend it all.”

To make his investment worthwhile, he made certain he was developing a strong, identifiable brand by taking these steps:


Focusing on timelessness.

The ‘Label vs Brand’ analogy is something I speak about regularly. It’s a good way to help understand the difference between a brand, and something that isn’t. And it’s a good way to explain the philosophy behind The Academy Brand.  And the distinctions are important. I believe everyone who starts a fashion line should aim to build a brand. They need to think like a brand, plan like a brand and act like a brand. That means building for the future and making sure the idea behind your business will be relevant in years to come. I see far too many ‘labels’ start on a trend and the focus is all about today, all about what’s cool now and very little thought is given to tomorrow. Building a ‘brand’ starts with standing for something. It’s having a depth to what you do so customers can be a part of your culture and your story. The product is obviously very important. But it’s what’s behind it and around it, that will truly give it longevity. This level of thinking is too often forgotten and it’s more often than not what closes a business. A brand, not a label, will always be the last one standing.


Maintaining a sense of what’s current.

Whilst we are well known for our more clean styling and classic pieces, that definitely doesn’t mean we don’t cater for seasonality. The brand launched in Winter 2008 with collection comprising of jackets and sweats. Since then, the brand has developed a comprehensive winter and summer range that spreads across all categories. We also delivery a series of trans seasonal collections that help fill the void in between seasons. When designing product, our first focus is on the customer. Our brand ethos is all about accessibility and versatility. Nothing should be too hard and nothing should be alienating. We will of course tip our hat to a flash trend when necessary but we’ll do it in such a way that’s more accessible to more people. I regularly say we  don’t reinvent the wheel, but we keep it spinning.


Not resting on laurels when it comes to making lasting relationships.

Through my advertising work I was fortunate to have built up some contacts within the rag trade. I used them to assist with introductions to factories. That was fairly simple. The hard work started after the introduction! One thing that became apparent was the benefits of contacts didn’t extend much further than an introduction. It’s hard for suppliers in China to do you a favour.  So use every introduction wisely and be prepared.


Choosing brand representatives carefully.

When it comes to brand ambassadors, we do need to be selective. For us it’s not about quantity, it’s all about quality. We need the ‘right’ people representing us. We seek out people who reflect our core customer and our product. That is; down to earth, driven, confident but understated and above all… likeable. We’ve had our fair share of well known celebs popping in to store but we don’t really seek them out. Don’t get me wrong, we are grateful that they like out brand but the ‘uber’ celeb isn’t someone we seek out.


Realising (and pursuing) the full potential of your business.

Opening our first stand alone store in Bondi was a huge thrill. It was a big step, but hugely rewarding. I had seen our product work so well at the wholesale level and it was always frustrating thinking ‘if only I had more room on their shelves’. So the thought of being able to deliver a full brand experience on a large scale was really very exciting. And I must say, once it happened I found the retail bug to be quite addictive. Obviously there were challenges: getting the right rental deal, financing the stock, fitting out the store but really in the end, the confidence I had in the product to perform all those challenges were never overbearing. It’s all about right product, right place. Looking back at the journey so far, what I am I most proud of? That I have loved every single day. That means something is going right.

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