(CNN Business) – On any given day, a thirty-minute walk through New York City could throw up at least some NASA logos. They wear backpacks, T-shirts, sneakers, hats, blouses, phone cases, bags, and jackets.
Once you start noticing it, it’s hard to stop.
In recent years, many fashion articles have been published about this phenomenon. Bert Ulrich, the NASA media coordinator who oversees the use of NASA logos in films, television and apparel, stresses that demand for NASA-branded clothing has not been exhausted, at least based on the number of logo deals it has approved. He’s been in office for more than two decades, so he’s seen tidal trends (especially the tides).
Some of the latest sales boom can be traced back to a surprising point: luxury American fashion house Coach, which debuted a NASA-branded clothing line in 2017, Ulrich told CNN Business.
The trainer originally called NASA to ask if he could use the “worm” logo, the old design the space agency used from 1975 to 1992. NASA, which banned the worm’s use after its 90-year retirement, changed his mind, Ulrich said. -Allow the coach to use the logo.
Since then, the “worm” has been officially used again and its widespread adoration has solidified, at least among ardent space enthusiasts.
After the Coach clothing line came out, things just exploded.
“Before 2017, we were doing five or ten[logo approvals]a week. Now we’re getting to the point where we get an average of 225 a week,” Ulrich said.
Last year, he said, there were “more than 11,000 orders,” an all-time record.
Not all of these requests were approved, Ulrich added. But the reason there is so much interest in putting NASA logos on everything from Vans sneakers to trucker hats may have something to do with the fact that these companies don’t have to license the logo. It’s all free, and NASA doesn’t make a cent of it.
Licensing agreements don’t usually work that way, but because NASA is a government agency, a lot of its assets—including images, logos, and even tech designs—are in the public domain. If a company wants to print NASA logos on T-shirts or coffee mugs, it just needs to send an email to NASA’s Commerce Department, in accordance with legal requirements. You usually arrive at Ulrich’s inbox.
Ulrich’s job is to ensure that the logo is used in a manner consistent with the space agency’s approved aesthetic guidelines. For example, do not use unapproved colors. And of course, NASA wants to make sure its mark isn’t used for undesirable purposes, such as ways that suggest that NASA supports a company or product. Ulrich explains that if a company misuses the logo, the NASA legal office usually sends a cease-and-desist letter.
After Coach launched its own NASA clothing line, high-end designers like Heron Preston and more recently Balenciaga launched their own lines. Pop singer Ariana Grande has a song and a whole bunch of products about NASA. Also Adidas, Swatch, Vans, and a host of other brands of the past decade.
Through this lens, it is possible to explain the phenomenon through what we will call the “Miranda Priestley effect.” Do you remember the scene The devil wears a hoodie, 2006, where priestly character Meryl Streep reprimands her young, out-of-fashion apprentice? He explains that the blue jacket she’s wearing is actually “Cerulean,” and that it’s as much the product of fashion-obsessed moguls as anything else on the runway. Essentially, Priestley argues that designers and the media make trends, and even the least fashion-conscious consumers are influenced by these decisions.
But that’s only half the story, according to Jahn Hall, creative director of the Brooklyn-based Design Agency Consortium, which works on collections and design for various brands.
Before Coach, kids bought NASA T-shirts from vintage stores because they loved the nostalgic feel, longing for a piece of old America, Hall said.
“Kids in cities like New York are buying things from Disney or NASA T-shirts and suddenly some of the ‘fashion hunters’ in the industry like Urban Outfitters see it and say, ‘We should change the NASA T-shirts. “It’s a kind of reverse engineering of trends,” Hall explained.
Perhaps only after “cool kids” started wearing NASA T-shirts on the streets did designer brands pick them up and sell them again.
Hall, a creative director from Brooklyn, says, in his opinion, that wearing the NASA logo is a way to showcase what the logo represents more than a declaration of love for outer space.
He said it represented “the kind of quintessential American optimism that we can do anything.”
He added that he had no political affiliation and could be marketed to both young liberals and rural conservatives, evoking the same nostalgia.
“People who work for brands like Heron Preston and Balenciaga are as fond of the space travel fantasy as anyone. No one is immune to that level of nostalgia, so it makes sense that these brands want to incorporate it into their own collections.”
It has already happened with other logos and franchises, such as Balenciaga, which I have done projects with The Simpsonsor coach with Mickey Mouse.
“These enduring icons speak to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Not everyone can connect with Heron Preston or Target, but everyone understands American modernity from brands like NASA, Disney and Peanuts s The Simpsons“He says.” Things like NASA work like a magic equalizer. ”