London Underground brand travels to retail and fashion

Transport for London is embarking on a series of ambitious brand extensions and branded services, spanning food, bars and fashion. The plans to develop the company’s Underground intellectual property kick off with a move into fashion retailing early next year.

A range of private partnerships will license the Underground identity and unlock the wealth of design equity from the TfL archive. The Underground roundel is one of the most widely recognised logos in the world, perhaps the ultimate signifier of London.

For David Ellis, head of intellectual property development at TfL, this presents a host of opportunities. He has teamed up with Birmingham brand development consultancy Keane Brands to set up Underground Projects, through which the consultancy is handling the conceptual and strategic process, as well as creating interior designs.

Retail concessions and boutiques featuring Underground-branded ‘urban’ apparel will open in Italy, France, Germany and Spain next January. Plans are underway to extend the business to the Middle East, Asia and North America.

The Underground Outfits clothing is designed by the Italian fashion houses Style Lab, Dressing and Ethica. The range will be pitched as ‘edgier than Gap, but less pricey than Diesel’, says Ellis. The Underground logo will be applied discretely to garments (pictured).

According to Keane Brands chief executive Aidan Keane, ‘It is about extending the brand in a very select way and about keeping its integrity.’

Ellis and Keane are anxious to control the development of the brand and have consciously avoided launching in the UK until it is well established. ‘We are trying to control the launch and distribution. We don’t want a measles approach, where these things start popping up everywhere,’ says Ellis.

Keane concurs: ‘We’re not going to just give licenses away willy-nilly and spend the next ten years trying to control the licensees. First we will establish the range, which will take anything up to four collections, and then we will look to moving into own-brand stores.’

The group has produced interior concepts for standalone stores and has received interest from operators in Europe and the Far East. Interiors will leverage TfL’s design archive, referencing everything from Tube station benches, to signage and architecture.

Keane has also developed the name and identity for Tubes, a food brand that will be sold in Underground stations. Work is underway on packaging and retail environment designs.

Tubes is part of a plan by Ellis to extend the company’s services to customers by offering Underground-branded facilities in stations. He cites dry cleaning as an example. Such services would run under a licence partnership with private companies, avoiding the use of public budgets.

These plans are currently under consideration and Ellis will take the concept to TfL senior management in the next few weeks. If approved, the services could be rolled out ‘pretty quickly’, he says.

Also in the pipeline is a bar concept, likely to launch in Singapore. Keane-conceived interiors will be subtly decorated with Underground designs. However, branding will be far from overt, says Keane. These concepts are also to be approved internally by TfL.

Ultimately, if successful, Ellis would like to bring these formats back to their point of origin: London and the UK. ‘The dream situation is that I pick up the paper one day and read that consumers are wanting to get hold of Underground gear in the UK. Then I may consider launching here,’ he says.

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