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Copyright 2006
Cornell University.
All rights reserved.


Developing a brand (or not)

You can conduct a trademark search online or hire a trademark lawyer to help you. You can even register for a trademark online ( (This process is discussed further in the Intellectual Property module.)

Trade marks will establish your right to use the name exclusively for your company or product line. If no one else has trade marked a name in a similar product and industry, you can start using the name with a ™ after it. If you choose to legally register your use of the name - a better choice - you can use the ® symbol after it has been registered.

After you have trademarked your company name or a product line, here are five questions you should ask yourself about branding.

1. Should you develop a brand at all?

In today's marketplace, the power of the brand dominates.

  • Customers like to relate to a designer or trade name that represents their fashion image, lifestyle choices, or dreams.
  • Brands can develop loyal customers and attract new customers.
  • Brands can also build a strong corporate or company image that can be extended to future products.

blue jeansA brand name makes it easier to identify and describe the core selling points of a product. It also provides a distinguishing symbol (name and logo) that customers can remember. A trademarked name is legally protected from use by others.

The downside to developing a brand is the cost in time and money. The large consumer product manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing and marketing brands.

For a designer entrepreneur, it is best to think small. Use the trademark to identify and promote the product in your chosen distribution channel.

Don't worry about competing with the Ralph Laurens and Donna Karans of the apparel industry. As your business develops, so will your name recognition. Then you can advertise and market your product line as a brand with its distinct image. At the beginning you are selling the product, not the name.

2. What does the brand identify - a manufacturer's brand, a private label or retailer brand, or a licensed brand?

To most consumers, all brand names are alike. But you should have a very clear idea of the business organization behind a brand. If you trademark several names over a period of time, you should define the relationship among them.

Brands identify the qualities of specific products with specific manufacturers. For example, the names Brooks Brothers, Pendleton, and Malia Mills all evoke images of the companies as well as of their products.

In the past 30 years or so, brand-named apparel has come to represent much more than items produced in manufacturers' factories.

  • Some manufacturers no longer own factories. They contract production with others.
  • Retailers have developed their own brands, such as Gap, Land's End, Nordstrom, and Arizona for JC Penney. They often contract design, product development, and production with others. These are called private labels or retailer brands.
  • Designers, manufacturers, and retailers sometimes license the rights to products designed by others or sell the rights of their designs to others to produce. Licensing is a legal action where the licensee pays for use of the trademarked name under specified conditions. (More in the Intellectual Property module).

These business distinctions become important as you develop multiple brands. For example, Malia Mills has trademarked her company name and uses it as the brand name for her swimwear products.

She does not own a factory. She contracts with other businesses to produce her swimwear. At one time, she was developing a fragrance line with a fragrance company. She could:

  • License the Malia Mills name to be used on the product and be paid for the name, or
  • Pay to have the fragrance made and only sell it herself, just as the swimwear.

As you develop your brands, you need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of these business alternatives. You should seek legal and financial advice as you proceed.

Mills photo


The swimwear industry was a pretty small industry - $1.5 billion at retail. And because we make our swimsuits like lingerie anyway, it was a natural brand extension for us



3. Should the brand name indicate a

  • company and all of its products?
  • family of products?
  • line of products?
  • single item?

This is a decision that warrants thorough consideration. It's possible to establish a company brand name as well as a number of product-specific brands. The connections or relationships among a set of brand names and their logos must be consistent, so that customers make the connections easily.

It's fairly common for entrepreneurs just starting out to brand a single item. It is just as important to plan ahead for a line and family of products. What brand would represent what the company might become in the future?

Some well-known examples that indicate different product types and price points are:

  • Ralph Lauren - Polo, Home
  • Calvin Klein - CK, Calvin Klein Jean
  • Liz Claiborne - Lizsport, Elizabeth, Claiborne

Peggy Hart Earle is one of the guest entrepreneurs. Her company, Hartstrings, has a number of brand names under the company brand, including

  • Kitestrings
  • Hartstrings Baby
  • K.C. Parker, and
  • Hartstrings Newborn.

Large companies own multiple brand names that consumers may or may not recognize as belonging to the parent company. These portfolios of brands are developed to complement a company's core competencies in product type, production capacity, or target market. For example, Vanity Fair or VF has more than 40 brands grouped within five product areas:

  • Jeans (Wrangler, Lee, Gitano, etc.),
  • Intimates (Vanity Fair, Lily of France, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.)
  • Image wear (Lee Sport, Red Kap, Penn State Textiles, etc.)
  • Outdoor (The North Face, Jansport, etc.)
  • Sportswear (Nautica, John Varvatos)

Notice that some of these are brands in their own right, such as Tommy Hilfiger. This represents a licensing agreement that allows VF Intimates to produce and market the intimate lines for Tommy Hilfiger.

4. Does the brand name allow for future branding strategies? Here are some possibilities.

  • Cobrands: brands bearing two or more brand names, e.g. Gore-Tex and Patagonia on the same garment
  • New brands: a new brand for a new product category, e.g., Claiborne to perfume
  • Multibrands: new brands in same product categories e.g., Levi's Dockers
  • Brand extensions: existing names extended to new product categories, e.g.,
    • Nike to apparel, and
    • Malia Mills to cosmetic products.
  • Line extensions: existing names extended to new sizes, colors, fabrics, e.g., petites line with same name

A broad approach to brand names is more likely to encompass future items and line development. For example, a catchy, futuristic name like Techie Tee's works very well for T-shirts. But a brand name like Cyber Wear or Hot Links Clothing Connection could describe a broader range of products that the business will develop over its life cycle.

Mills photo
"We position the company as a beauty company to promote self-esteem and our products are always designed for you..."

Malia Mills Swimwear was a seasonal business within a small industry. Malia Mills describes how the pursuit of two brand extensions - lingerie and cosmetics - matched the swimwear product and the company mission.


Branding strategies are growing in importance as established firms work to increase market share. New entrepreneurs need to plan ahead for possible growth strategies as they choose an initial brand name for their product.

5. How could the brand be repositioned in the future with this name?

Consumer preferences change. A competitor could cut into your market share. Your initial product or service might become outdated.

In all of these cases, you can save the brand name by repositioning.

  • Design entrepreneurs may need to reposition their innovative product as a basic product once the unique features become available from other companies.
  • Design entrepreneurs who develop a method of low inventory, such as mass customized production, might be copied. When many businesses adopt the same method of low inventory control, the brand may need repositioning to add value in another way.

Crooke photo
"Our company...has evolved. "

Michael Crooke describes the repositioning of Patagonia as consumer demand shifted.


Constant reevaluation is required. Repositioning is called for when customers' underlying needs changes.

1. List 5 advantages that a brand name can bring to a business.
2. Can you develop a brand name for a product you don't produce yourself? Describe an example to illustrate your answer.
3. Think of a brand name that indicates
a) a single product
b) a family of products
4. Describe 3 strategies that can build a brand from its initial form to encompass more products.






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