Merch took over 2016.
While fast fashion companies, like Zara and H&M, failed us with predictable designs and a tired ‘70s aesthetic, celebrity merch had a moment. In fact, merch inspired fast fashion companies. Kanye Wests puts calligraphy on a couple shirts, and suddenly everybody is covering their lines in loopy “O”s and curly “G”s.
Celebrity merch in 2016 is paradoxically more accessible and fashionably limited. No longer do fans have to prove their love to an artist by going to a concert and buying a shirt with tour dates. Drake, Kanye, Kylie Jenner, Justin Bieber, Frank Ocean, and The Weeknd all launched temporary physical and virtual pop-up shops this year. Much of the outfits were limited to small retail batches and prohibitively high prices. Kanye West claims he made at least a million dollars on The Life of Pablo merch alone.
Pop-up shops generated and took advantage of the very 2016 trend of false scarcity. They also harnessed social media and its communities to build hype. Like we learned from Snap’s Spectacles launch, which involved temporary pop-up shops and vending machines, by making a product limited in its availability, fans are enticed to flock to temporary stores, form a line, generate more hype, and spend more money.
And so merch is more popular, more fashionable, more available, and yet more exclusionary than ever. Which is to say, merch and fashion have all but melded into one.
With 2016 going down as the Year of Merch, I figured I should create a highly scientific and definitive ranking, from best to worst, of this year’s top merch. Yes, The Verge’s merch is included on this list, too. Duh.
Kanye’s Life of Pablo merch and general merch
I know Kanye’s the fashion designer of the bunch, so maybe putting him first is unfair. But you have to admit, the man understands how to launch a trend. Pablo merch is inescapable on New York City sidewalks, and wherever else hypebeasts live.
I’m separately obsessed with this Kim Kardashian-centric shirt that Kanye released while on tour this fall. It’s a beyond good shirt. Don’t @ me.
Kylie Jenner’s self-promotional merch
Yes, Kylie Jenner is famous for being a member of the Kardashian fam, but she’s legitimately more well-known for profiting off her own face and lewk. She’s a lipstick mogul because she has good lips and people want to emulate them. Now she’s selling shirts with her face on them for the exact same reason. Life must be nice when you’re famous enough to sell your face.
Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour merch
Our sister publication Racked detailed Bieber’s merch releases over this year. At first, only the most dedicated could get their hands on an exclusive shirt, but by the end of the year, even H&M was carrying his line of clothing. I hear people went crazy for Bieber’s line, but I stopped paying attention to him after I heard “Sorry” for the thousandth time. Sorry. The merch looks nice, though, and Bieber successfully got both cool bloggers and normal folk to rep his brand. That’s success.
The Weeknd’s StarBoy merch
Moody about sums up The Weeknd and his merch. I dig it. Plus, jackets are always a desired merch item, as is a black and red color palette, so for that, The Weeknd gets a high ranking.
Frank Ocean Black Friday merch
Frank Ocean came out of hiding this year with two new albums. The latter of the two, Blonde, was initially previewed through a temporary pop-up shop. On Black Friday, he launched a “Boys Don’t Cry” 24-hour online store. The simple merch design and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it retail approach worked for an artist who keeps a low profile. Bonus points go to Frank for the air freshener.
John Mayer’s “Love On The Weekend” merch
Yes, even John Mayer got into merch this year. It’s not even bad? It’s a fine shirt? John Mayer is very good at recognizing what a John Mayer fan would wear.
The Verge merch
The Verge released merch this year! Check out those thin lines and that gradient. Plus the cotton on these shirts — wow it’s soft. Anyway, good job with the merch launch, team.
Drake’s Views merch
I’m sorry, Drake, but your Views merch was boring. Granted, these shirts were given out for free so who can complain. Well, I guess I can because I never received a free shirt. Thanks a lot, Drake. For that, and your boring shirts, you get last place in the definitive merch ranking.