Ever since he was a teenage tennis fan watching great rivals Björn Borg and John McEnroe play those memorable matches in their Fila and Sergio Tacchini kit, Gary Burnand has been fascinated with sports, fashion and lifestyle brands and how our bonds with them can last a lifetime.
“Brands are about identity and connection and I find that really fascinating,” says Burnand. “Fashion is a big part of how we express ourselves and, as much as we like to think we’re individuals, we’re very tribal, certainly in our early years before we find our own way.”
Burnand, 55, is Studio Graft’s new commercial director and arrives at the company having enjoyed stints at prestigious brands such as Barbour, Levi’s, Coca-Cola and Osprey Packs. “All the brands I’ve worked on have had great products,” he says, “but that’s just the starting point for a story that engages and endures.”
A seasoned branding consultant, Burnand is relishing the opportunity to work with Studio Graft’s team and use his considerable experience to enhance and build its portfolio. “Teamwork is very important to me,” he says. “What I enjoy most is working with a really tight group who are super passionate about their very specific areas of expertise. We want to work with brands that make a difference and are renowned for their quality, craftsmanship and sustainability.”
Making better choices
Passionate about the environment, Burnand believes brands have the power to create meaningful change in how consumers make purchasing decisions. “We cannot continue to consume in the way we have been,” he says. “We can encourage people to make better choices and use better materials for products – we need it for the planet. People today are moving away from the obvious brands and into more sustainable products, they’re not shouting through their association with a big corporation. With sustainability, often brands don’t know where to start. But it’s not about being perfect, it’s about going on a journey together and being transparent, which is a really interesting learning process. Look at Patagonia, who have been leading the way since the 1970s and have been very transparent about sharing their best practices to encourage others to get into that sustainability space.”
One of the ways Burnand intends to develop Studio Graft’s sustainability programme is to work with companies like The Mills Fabrica, a London based platform aiming to improve innovation in sustainability through its work in the clothing/lifestyle and food categories. “There are some fantastically smart people out there who are turning their creative brains to solving some of the bigger global challenges.” He picks out ISTO, a Portuguese brand exploring with Studio Graft, who are focused on organic, sustainable clothing made with a transparent approach. “In many ways, ISTO embody what the model should move towards, which is a brand making incredible, classic styles in a transparent way. They aren’t chasing the fashion cycle, these are well-made, enduring, classic products”.
As well as engaging with the Studio Graft team, Burnand is excited to venture into new regions such as the Middle East where the luxury market is particularly strong. “Driving a sustainable manifesto with luxury brands that have a presence in the Middle East is going to be really interesting,” he begins. “Luxury has often meant excess and gilding the lily but I think going forward sustainability will bring a lot to the luxury segment with, for example, the innovative manufacturing of garments and how the materials are sourced. Luxury is also about perspective, halfway up a Himalayan mountain even a cup of instant coffee can feel like an absolute luxury.”
Stepping back for a moment and looking at Studio Graft’s client portfolio, one thing is clear for Burnand. “They all take incredible pride in the product and have a sense of craftsmanship,” he explains. “Studio Graft want to work with pioneers in their spaces who are moving forward about how they engage with consumers and how they make their products. Brands we work with have a very strong emotional bond with their user.”
Studio Graft collaborates with many brands that have impressive heritage. Christys’ hatmakers, for example, chalked up 250 years in 2023, Edward Green began making shoes in 1890, Valstar Milano came into being in 1911, while Mackintosh have been making fine clothing since 1823. “It’s great to have a heritage, but you shouldn’t let it define you and straitjacket you,” explains Burnand. “Heritage is something that needs to evolve, even with the most classic parts of your range. I worked at Barbour where their jackets have endured for more than 125 years because they are incredibly well engineered and fit for purpose, but you have to keep it relevant, tweak the design and be playful with silhouettes. Heritage is usually based upon a previous innovation.”
Telling brands’ stories successfully will be a central pillar of Burnand’s role and, in his view, comes down to one thing: clarity. “Fundamentally it’s about storytelling and that hasn’t changed in decades,” he says. “Knowing what you stand for and what makes a difference versus your competitors, showing how you are moving forward in your behaviour, showing that you are in touch and relevant to a modern audience – all that is essential. A brand is a set of values that consumers hold in their head. You can tell people what you want them to believe, but ultimately it’s whether they really believe you – that’s the strength and truth of a brand. A brand must put out messaging that is relevant, engaging and provocative, but equally look at how people are feeding content back to you. That interplay, I think, is incredibly exciting.”
Get that part right, and the rest will follow. “Brands have a cultural connection to us,” adds Burnand. “I like seeing communities and generations express themselves in different ways and part of that is their relationship with brands. I was lucky to work with Levi’s in their heyday when their advertising with BBH [leading advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty] rewrote a lot of the rules. When those first ads with Nick Kamen dropped in the mid-1980s, I was very inspired by the American Dream but also how they were weaving in the product.”
Burnand pauses and once more casts his mind back to his childhood growing up in Sheffield, England. “Aged 10, I was obsessed by Adidas trainers,” he smiles. “Brands have the power to become really dear to your heart. There’s nothing quite like putting on your favourite pair of jeans or trainers; they put you into a certain frame of mind and give you enjoyment and emotional support. The brands that help you fit in and also stand out… those are the brands that stay with you.”
“Studio Graft want to work with pioneers in their spaces who are moving forward about how they engage with consumers and how they make their products. Brands we work with have a very strong emotional bond with their user.”