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Retail brands making their archives deliver.

The past decade has seen an explosion in fashion brands exploring their archives to stay relevant and connected to their consumers. But it is not just luxury brands who are mining their heritage treasure chests.

One high profile example of a brand utilising its digitised archives is the recent collaboration between celebrity Alexa Chung and Marks & Spencer to produce the aptly named “Archive” clothing collection. Chung scoured the M&S fashion archives to identify classic designs, which have been reproduced for contemporary consumers.

And this is far from an isolated example.

Although the textile design archive at John Lewis was initially digitised for conservation purposes, with clever curation the benefits of the digitised resource have been felt across the brand, not just by those working directly with the collection.

Judy Faraday - John Lewis’ Manager, Heritage Services - explains: “We hold a wide variety of heritage material - from photographs and advertising, to company magazines - at our heritage centre in Berkshire. This includes 25,000 paper designs and fragile textile samples; dating back to 1795 and featuring patterns by well-known designers like Pugin, Voysey and Dresser.

“To us, digitising the original designs meant that they could be conserved, and we also liked the idea of opening up and improving internal access to the collection for partners - beyond Heritage Services staff.”

“We outsourced the slightly tricky task of digitising the larger designs and so far around 2000 textile designs have been scanned, with the digitised collection now accessible to relevant departments across John Lewis. Our Press and PR teams frequently use the digitised content, in addition to the Design teams who use the images to inspire new products and designs.”

Helping Archives tell their stories

Interestingly a recent survey conducted by TownsWeb has highlighted brands with archivists already in place can struggle to take the next steps required to really maximise their asset. Christine McCafferty, Archive Manager at Diageo explains that “often archivists like to work in isolation, focusing on preservation of artefacts and categorising bodies of heritage works. This can lead to the archive existing totally separately to the brand itself when in fact that archive is its beating heart”.

The Brand Archivists is the first company to recognise this fundamental divide and help marketing and innovation departments at long last to join forces with their archivists to unlock extraordinary hidden treasure.

It became clear that when connected, archivists and marketeers could feed off each other to deliver continuous relevant and powerful content on both a local and global level. “As we are such a global company, the Diageo Archives hold a vast amount of material, including advertisements and promotional items, minute books, recipes and 3D artefacts - like bottles. These are frequently used by other departments.”

“We adopted a demand-led approach and prioritised which materials were digitised based on popularity. So far we have scanned our company magazines, annual reports, minute books, and a variety of advertising material; including photographs and print adverts for the UK and Global market.” States McCafferty.

As Victoria Bridgeman from The Brand Archivists confirms, “Having archive material digitised and intelligently curated has definitely allowed brands like Diageo to respond to requests from M&I far more effectively. Through our work we see whole companies, not just marketing teams, astonished by the rich content that can be unlocked from their archives. The key is to unlock that archival content for the brand as a whole – whether for internal comms or consumer facing – making it easy to search, simple to use and most importantly continuously inspirational! The content is sitting there, unique and powerful, our job is to make it available, usable and most importantly powerful for any audience”.

For example, the Archive team at Diageo were recently engaged in a new brand project to create whisky embassies across the globe. Not only was the archive able to provide brand information and stories for these new spaces but thanks to intelligent curation it could also offer immediate access to vintage advertising designs relating to the specific countries and regions that could be used to create content from wallpaper to instore videos.

“Thanks to the work we have done with our archive all this content was digitally available and searchable. It’s great to see our heritage material being used in this way. Having the collections digitised and intelligently curated has transformed what we can offer to the business, opening up a real treasure trove of visual assets and new content to our brand teams.”


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