Backstage 1: What's in a Name?

The “Backstage” series will take a look at what goes on behind the scenes, offering analysis and advice on setting up and running a clothing company/brand.

Upon returning to Cameroon in January 2015, I noticed everyone and their grandma was calling themselves a “designer”, often with nothing more than wax prints plastered on everything. I'd like to dive deeper into this but I'll save it for a future post.

While I'm happy to see my fellow Cameroonians finally embracing the creative industry, the sheer number of clothing “brands” with utterly ridiculous names struck me like a baseball bat to the leg. Rather than name and shame folks, I'll try to offer some advice on naming your brand.

So what's in a name? Simple answer; everything

A brand's name says a lot about who they are and potential customers and business partners will judge your brand off nothing more than your name, without ever having seen any of your products.

With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when choosing a name


1 Brand positioning

Are you positioning your brand as streetwear? Sportswear? Haute couture? Your name should reflect the image you want people to have of your brand. Most luxury fashion houses go after the founder's name e.g. Armani, Versace, Margiela, Raf Simons etc. As a sportwsear brand, Nike was named after the Greek goddess of victory, which ties in with their positioning as a brand for elite athletes. Perfect. Don't position yourself as a luxury brand and name yourself “Eyinga Fashions”. No.

*Sidenote: to be considered a luxury brand, you HAVE to use high end fabrics and focus on impeccable tailoring. Slapping a high price tag on average products DOES NOT make you a luxury brand.


2: Geography/Culture

You definitely want to consider your immediate environment when picking a name. It's never a bad idea to pick one that reflects your local culture/history. Take French label “Pigalle”. Named after the neighbourhood where it was founded, the brand's success owes a lot to the strong sense of pride it evoked in those from that area, who bought into the brand as a way to show pride in their area. Another perfect example is New York label “aNYthing”, which is a play on the phrase “ a NY thing” and the word “anything”.


3: Think global

while your initial concern could be your immediate surroundings, don't forget to think global. Your potential customers/business partners/competition lives on the internet. Your name should have an international appeal. This is a major flaw in a lot of Cameroonian brands. “Mboa237” might work well as a brand name locally, but definitely lacks international appeal.


4: How does your name sound?

This might be a little bit technical but how your name sounds is another important factor to consider, and could heavily influence the success or failure of your brand, especially when considering the international scene, where customers may not share the same language sensibilities as you do. Using myself as an example, “Alexander II Akande” may seem long, but it rolls off the tongue easily. Why? The first word “Alexander” ends with a consonant that shares the same vocal range as the second “two”, which ends in a vowel, allowing a smooth transition into the last word “Akande” (I won't get into the super technical aspect of alliteration and vowel groups etc).

Think of other brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Salvatorre Ferragamo, Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavalli etc. All are extremely easy to pronounce regardless of your native language. If your brand's name has more than one word, you should probably pay attention to how that name flows.


5: DON'T add “collection”, “brand”, “fashion” or “clothing” to your brand name. It makes your brand sound incredibly amateurish. We already know you're in the clothing/fashion industry so adding that to your name is pointless and outdated. Way too many Cameroonian brands (African brands generally) make this mistake. Despite what your friends may tell you, “DaphneFashions” or “QuartierStyle” is NOT a good name.


6: Legal

There's a reason so many designers choose to name their labels after themselves: if offers legal protection from copycats and imitators. It also helps avoid the danger of naming your brand, only to find out another brand has a similar name.


7: Lastly: cool factor

Pretty simple really; how cool does your name sound. Think of global brands like Supreme, Palace, Comme des Garcons, Trapstar, etc. How cool your name sounds is a pretty important factor to consider.

So there you go! Your brand name should convey certain values and have some story behind it. You should have something to say if you're asked in an interview where your name comes from. Hopefully this post has been helpful.

Next week, we'll discuss the importance of styling and creating a strong visual identity.

Until then, stay focused, stay humble, work smart.