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Skull and Bones finds creative expression in blending marketing and fashion

Auckland-based digital media agency Skull and Bones is breaking new ground with a new venture – its own fashion label.

Released at the opening night of Fashion Festival this week, the Skull and Bones clothing line – eight months in development – will focus initially on street wear, and is broken into two collections – Originals and Perennials. The inaugural Originals range is based on the zodiac, while the Perennials range has more of a skate culture feel.

A singular point of difference for the brand will be its marketing, according to creative director Matt Zwartz.

The studio has produced videos for every single design, accessible through QR codes on garment swing tags, at the online shop, and the label’s YouTube channel.

"While it’s true that other labels are using QR codes, no other label in New Zealand or Australia that we’re aware of has attempted anything of this scope or ambition,” Zwartz says.

The range is only available for purchase online at the moment, with free shipping within the lands of colonialists and convicts, New Zealand and Australia, but discussions with retail distributors are underway.

“We’re in this for the long term,” he says. “We’ve already got over 4000 people following us on Facebook before the label has even launched. Our intention is to use everything we’ve learned as a digital media agency and push the limits as hard as we can to put growth in the label ... I’d like to see it represented worldwide within three years.”

Since its launch in 2009 Skull and Bones has worked on projects for the likes of Mercury Energy, Air New Zealand, Bank of New Zealand, and Pip Fruit New Zealand among others, as well as supplying to other agencies like Colenso, 99, FCB, Whybin and Droga 5.

It was also appointed preferred video supplier to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise last year.

Skull and Bones has an agency reputation for creating beautiful work, Zwartz says, and aspires to be a great brand in its own right.

"That's difficult to achieve doing only agency and client work," he says.

Branching out allows them to "create work that is free of client imperatives, which means we can find a pure form of creative expression, and that's very important for a good creative agency if it's to be truly contemporary".

And it's another way to show clients what the agency is capable of.

"We can recommend things because we've tried them, or counsel against them for the same reason. It's a cliche for sure, but skin in the game allows us to talk in a more relevant way, and particularly about electronic commerce and social media."

Plus it offers opportunities for exporting into new markets.

"They're just very complementary business models," Zwartz says. "We like to innovate – truly innovate – and not just pretend that we do."

He's not aware of any other agency branching out into fashion lines anywhere in the world ("extensive Google searching failed to find any") although one sharp Twitter follower has now alerted us to London digital agency Brandnew, which created its own street label, Money Clothing, back in 2000.

"Most don't have the brands to lend themselves to it. DDB or FCB or Omnicom probably doesn't have the same ring to it as Skull and Bones, and I'm guessing they don't see it as their core business either.

"Conversely, I don't see any fashion labels starting marketing companies. Very few fashion labels could afford to put on the show we did at Fashion Festival on Monday – and we only can because we have the internal resource and expertise."

Design is all handled inhouse, naturally, and raw product is sourced and screen printed locally.

The initial launch includes T-shirts, hoodies, beanies and caps, and new ranges including denim, jewelry and other accessories are already in development.

Zwartz says once the label gets some traction, they'll probably look to source overseas to capitalise on economies of scale.

"On the other hand I like keeping things local and supporting local businesses as they have supported us. We'll see how it goes, I guess."