Skip to main content
main content, press tab to continue

Luxury brands: how to do fashion collaborations without a reputational backlash

By Alexandra Walker | December 7, 2023

Collaborations with mass market fashion can help luxury brands entice the high end consumers of tomorrow. But they also run the risk of diluting the brand and damaging its reputation.
Direct and Facultative

Unlike heritage brands that trade on timeless elegance and craftsmanship, many newer luxury brands need to generate excitement around their products to stay relevant and attract new customers.

Collaborating with mass market fashion firms can help them expand their appeal and reach out to younger consumers, who may not have the money to buy luxury items today, but will later on.

Offering a taste of high end at an affordable price can help to advertise the brand and win the hearts and minds of aspiring luxury shoppers.

But such collaborations also come with risks, especially given the bad press fast fashion has received in recent years on everything from labor exploitation to clothes dumping in third world countries. Far from helping a brand to shine, a badly planned association can be a stain on its reputation.

To reap the benefits of a successful collaboration while avoiding the reputational pitfalls, luxury brands need to be sure of their partners and their environmental and social footprint, retain control over design and production and have a clear plan to exit the association.

Benefits for the brand and bottom line

Fashion collaborations often involve making affordable versions of luxury items that have been popular on the catwalk and worn by celebrities or influencers, and selling them through the mass market retailer’s outlets.

This can help to democratize high fashion and bring benefits to the business. Luxury brands gain access to a global retail platform, showcasing their designs to a much wider audience than they could reach alone.

Rather than targeting collections to certain countries and cultures, as is normal in the luxury space, there is usually one global release, creating a much bigger, more immediate impact.

Collaborations can be lucrative too as sales of the items can help to boost revenues.

Balancing the risks of a backlash

But this can be a short-lived hit and once the initial buzz of the release is over, consumers can be quick to move on to the next collection. Nor will they hold back if they perceive any flaws.

Just like collaborations with influencers, luxury brands have to balance the benefits with the risk of a backlash.

There is also a risk that luxury brands could damage their environmental and social reputations if the mass market versions of their clothes are shown to be made in low wage countries from environmentally unfriendly materials, such as plastics.

How to avoid the risks and protect your reputation

How to avoid the risks and protect your reputation

Know what you want from the collaboration

Brands need to have clear objectives and be sure that the collaboration can deliver them. Carry out thorough due diligence, measure the risks and rewards and don’t go ahead if the balance is on the wrong side of the scales.

Don’t compromise on your standards

Retain control over the design and know how and where the items will be manufactured. Make sure the materials are fully traceable through the supply chain and that workers are being fairly treated. 

Consider smaller local collections

Not sending the collection worldwide can not only reduce the environmental footprint, but also lead to more interest and demand as the pieces are considered a limited edition. 

Monitor social media in real time

Track everything that’s being said about the collaboration on social and news media in real time. It could help you pick up on signs that something is going wrong before it turns into a crisis.

Have a clear exit plan

Don’t let the collaboration drag on. Make sure you know when it will end and what you will do next to reset your brand image and break the association in people’s minds. 

How we can help

How we can help

WTW has partnered with some of the global leaders in this field to develop a holistic solution that can help prevent a reputational crisis happening and help you recover if an incident does occur.

Prevention: to get ahead of events and prevent potential reputational issues escalating into a crisis, the powerful Polecat platform offers real-time horizon scanning. AI-powered algorithms synthesize data from online and social media channels into dashboards and risk alerts for relevant media.

Reputational risk benchmarking: our Reputational Risk Readiness Review provides a detailed picture of your company’s resilience against reputation risk. By completing a simple questionnaire, you’ll get a report detailing your reputation risk maturity score, benchmarking your approach against some of the world’s leading companies, and best practice recommendations on how to improve.

Risk quantification: reputation risks can be hard to quantify. Our Reputational Risk Quantification Model gives you an evidence-based value for the potential reputational damage likely to follow incidents most relevant to your business, based on statistical analysis, events data and our experience of reputational risk.

Risk transfer: our reputational risk insurance solution offers up to $50 million cover for loss of gross profit as a result of significant adverse publicity event. Perils covered include damage by association with an affiliated business. Immediate interim payments are available to get through the crisis with support spread over up to 12 months to help you stay afloat in the aftermath.

Response: WTW offers access to experienced crisis communications experts who have managed crisis situations of all types around the world, from advice on media handling and strategy to leadership statements and speeches.

Rehabilitation: our experts will work with you over the longer term to develop campaigns and communications to help you turn the tide of public opinion back in your favor.

To find out more about our Reputational Crisis Insurance and Risk Management Solution, please get in touch.


WTW offers insurance-related services through its appropriately licensed and authorised companies in each country in which WTW operates. For further authorisation and regulatory details about our WTW legal entities, operating in your country, please refer to our WTW website. It is a regulatory requirement for us to consider our local licensing requirements.


Broker Assistant, WTW

For further information, please contacts

Richard Sheldon
Head of Specialty Broking & Senior Director

Kevin Velan
Director, National Product Recall Team

North America Retail & Distribution Division Leader


Reputational Risk Quantification Model

Quantify, manage and mitigate reputational risk more effectively with our robust framework.

Contact us