How A British Rock Star Used a Loan From Mum & Retro Collaborations to Grow an Apparel Brand

How A British Rock Star Used a Loan From Mum & Retro Collaborations to Grow an Apparel Brand

Drop out of school.

Realize you don’t really want to work for anyone.

And then ask your mother for a loan.

Sound like a recipe for fame and fortune to you?

Probably not.

But for Oli Sykes, it’s a combination that made him both rich and famous long before he turned thirty years old.

“I just wanted to avoid having to get a real job,” Sykes says.

With little more than that goal and plenty of creative passion, Sykes, a British teenager at the time, used a 500-pound loan from his mother to launch an apparel brand.

Little did Sykes know at the time, but the fates of countless troubled teens rested on whether his two ventures would succeed.

Monetizing Rebellion

It started with four shirts.

Sykes had designed each of them himself and would continue the practice over the next six years and build Drop Dead Clothing, an alternative line targeting teens and young adults who care less about rules and more about not wearing what everyone else has on, into one of the premiere players in its niche.

“Oli designs clothing he wants to wear,” says Anthony Donbavand, Drop Dead’s marketing chief. “It’s a line that offers an alternative to the masses powered by Oli’s passion for design.”

Remember, though, Oli also has another passion.

As Drop Dead Clothing began to take off so too did the band Oli formed, Bring Me The Horizon, a deathcore style band that boasts of seven albums, a #2 hit on the U.K. charts, and a history of selling out venues worldwide. While Sykes doesn’t do much cross-promotion, his music and clothing designs are complementary and appeal to the 14-28-year olds Donbavand is targeting.

“Oli isn’t one of those singers pumping an apparel brand just to make money,” Donbavand says. “He wants the brand to be separate and able to stand on its own based on the strength of his designs.”

Those designs are plenty strong.

The apparel brand Sykes launched with a small loan from his mother now generates between 4-5 million British pounds a year. Celebrities and pop icons like Britney Spears and Justin Bieber have even been spotted in Drop Dead Clothing items.

“It was incredible seeing Justin Bieber with our clothing on,” Donbavand says. “There’s always a risk when teens seeking an alternative to the mainstream see someone like Justin Bieber with your shirt on, but it was amazing because he’s such an influencer.”

Sykes is now a rock star on stage and in business.

But the band and the apparel brand are working together in ways that may not have been anticipated when Sykes launched both at the age of seventeen.

“We get hundreds of letters from teens who say we’ve saved their lives,” Donbavand says. “These are kids who are going through difficult times at school or home and the combination of cool new clothing designs and lyrics from Oli’s songs help them through their difficult times.”

The result is the formation of a community of Bring Me The Horizon and Drop Dead Clothing lovers who once thought they were alone in their struggles but have discovered friends with whom they can lean on and form tight bonds.

“We’ve created something that means a lot,” Donbavand says. “It’s important to see that we’re much more than just a fashion brand.”

But separately, a potential problem was looming and couldn’t be ignored.

As Sykes approaches the age of thirty, how long might an apparel brand aimed at younger people who don’t want to dress like a traditional nine-to-fiver remain relevant to an aging target market?

Retro Gaming Collaborations

Let’s face it…

Some of Drop Dead’s designs are created to offend:

It’s not something a majority of thirty-year-olds might consider wearing if they’re trying to fit in with a more traditional working crowd.

So how do you remain relevant with an aging target market?

“Just like Oli’s music, the clothes have become more mature with time,” Donbavand says. “The audience is growing up with Oli and is at the same stage he is.”

That maturation is on display when you consider how Drop Dead’s latest collections harken back to its target market’s childhood. “Oli grew up playing the Sonic the Hedgehog video game with his brother, and it was one of his favorites,” Donbavand says. “So when we came up with the idea of collaborating with Sega to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Sonic’s release Oli was like, ‘Oh yea, that’s an amazing idea.’”

The idea was to blend the brands in ways that were both authentic and nostalgic:

  • Shipping containers that include game features & meant to become collectible items
  • Inserting one of the seven emeralds Sonic gamers collect to earn mystical powers with each order
  • Clothing tags shaped like the game cartridges Sonic was originally distributed on

“It’s a great thing to be able to partner with a company like Sega that made one of Oli’s favorite games,” Donbavand says. “It’s amazing being able to collaborate with a massive piece of your childhood and then share that with others who feel similarly.”

How did the collaboration go?

Several of Drop Dead’s Sonic products sold out within 48-hours of the launch. “Sales have gone really well,” Donbavand says. “It’s appealing to Oli’s fans who also grew up playing Sonic but also intriguing to younger fans who are just now being introduced to Sonic thanks to Oli.”

Intelligent collaborations that resonate like this one are only possible because Drop Dead overcame a challenge several years back that could’ve been extremely costly or even damaging to the brand; the company’s only developer quit and no one else at the company could write code.

The solution?

Don’t hire a developer at all!

It Makes Life Easier

The news came rather abruptly.

“Our internal developer since day one left,” Donbavand says. “Other people tried to step in but it’s really hard to take over for someone who had been with us from the beginning.”

Instead of spending money to hire a new developer, Drop Dead Clothing opted to migrate to Shopify in 2013 and ultimately upgrade to Shopify Plus, an enterprise ecommerce solution for high volume merchants, which houses a robust applications store that offers merchants flexibility and functionality without the burden of time-consuming development.

“From a marketing perspective, Shopify makes my life easier,” Donbavand says. “Instead of waiting on a developer we’re using applications that are saving us money and presenting us with marketing opportunities we didn’t know existed.”

One of the applications Drop Dead easily integrates with Shopify Plus is Klaviyo, an email marketing software maker that helps merchants earn, on average, $75 for every dollar spent on targeted email marketing campaigns. “It’s really powerful, and we would have missed out on sales without them,” Donbavand says. “Our email marketing ROI is substantially higher since partnering with Klaviyo.”

The ability to quickly upload products along with Shopify’s intuitive platform has freed Donbavand to do what he and his team do best; create compelling customer experiences that drive real value. “It has helped us increase the lifetime value of our customers,” Donbavand says. “We’re getting people back to the site and now have more contact with our customers which we wouldn’t have without Shopify.”

Customers will soon have more reasons to visit Drop Dead’s site. Besides additional future collaborations, the company is also planning on smaller but more frequent releases of apparel. “It’ll create more excitement for customers,” Donbavand says. “It’ll also be better from a cash flow perspective.”

While Donbavand acknowledges Shopify as a powerful tool, the lynchpin at Drop Dead is the woman who made it all possible with that initial 500-pound loan; Sykes’ mother, Carol. “Especially when Oli is out on tour, she’s the rock that keeps it all together.” Donbavand says. “We call her the mum of Drop Dead.”

But what about the loan that launched a brand and a rock star?

Has mum been repaid?

“I actually don’t know,” Donbavand says while laughing. “What I do know is Oli is so creative and driven he may never be fully satisfied with the success he achieves which is why I suspect he’ll never be finished building this brand.”

Here’s betting he won’t need any additional capital from mum.

About the Author

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog & founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best know brands, businesses, and marketers. Get more from Nick here.