(CNN Business) — On any given day, a thirty-minute walk through New York City can throw up at least a few NASA logos. They’re on backpacks, t-shirts, sneakers, hats, sweatshirts, phone cases, bags, and jackets.
Once you start noticing them, it’s hard to stop.
In recent years, several fashion pieces have been published on this phenomenon. And NASA media liaison Bert Ulrich, who oversees the use of NASA logos in film, television, and clothing, confirms that demand for NASA-branded clothing is far from exhausted, at least based on number of logo deals you have approved. He’s been in his position for more than two decades, so he’s seen trends ebb and flow (especially ebb).
Some of the latest sales boom can be traced back to a surprising point: American luxury fashion house Coach, which debuted a NASA-branded clothing line in 2017, Ulrich told CNN Business.
Coach originally approached NASA to ask if he could use the “worm” logo, the retro design the space agency used from 1975 to 1992. NASA, which had banned the use of the worm after it was retired in the years 90, changed his mind on the matter, allowing Coach to use the logo, Ulrich said.
Since then, the “worm” has been officially used again and cemented its widespread adoration, at least among die-hard fans of the space.
After Coach’s clothing line came out, things blew up.
“Before 2017, we were doing five or 10 (logo approvals) a week. Now we’ve gotten to the point where we’re getting an average of 225 a week,” Ulrich said.
Last year, there were “more than 11,000 applications,” he said, an all-time high.
Not all of those requests are approved, Ulrich added. But the reason there’s 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 dime from it.
Licensing agreements don’t usually work that way, but because NASA is a government agency, much of its assets — including photos, logos, and even technology designs — are in the public domain. If a company wants to print NASA logos on T-shirts or coffee mugs, they just need to send an email to NASA’s merchandising department, as per legal requirements. It usually arrives in Ulrich’s inbox.
Ulrich’s job is limited to ensuring that the logo is used in a manner consistent with space agency-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 in ways that suggest NASA endorses a company or product. If a company misuses the logo, NASA’s legal office usually sends a cease and desist letter, Ulrich explains.
After Coach launched his NASA clothing line, high-end designers like Heron Preston and, more recently, Balenciaga, launched their own lines. Pop singer Ariana Grande had a song and a whole line of merch about NASA. She also Adidas, Swatch, Vans and a host of other brands in the last decade.
Through this lens, it is possible to explain the phenomenon through what we will call the “Miranda Preistly effect”. Do you remember the scene The Devil Wears Prada2006, in which Priestly, Meryl Streep’s character, verbally berates her young intern, who doesn’t know fashion? She explains that the blue sweater she’s wearing is actually “cerulean,” and that she’s as much a product of fashion-obsessed industry moguls as anything on the runway. Essentially, Priestly argues that designers and the fashion media create trends, and even less fashion-conscious consumers are influenced by those decisions.
But that’s only half the story, according to Jahn Hall, creative director of Brooklyn-based design agency Consortium, which works on sets and styling for various brands.
Before Coach, kids bought NASA T-shirts at vintage stores because they loved the nostalgic feeling, the longing for a piece of vintage America, Hall said.
“Kids in cities like New York buy Disney stuff or NASA t-shirts and all of a sudden some industry ‘fashion hunter’ like Urban Outfitters sees it and says, ‘We should change the NASA t-shirts.’ Hall explained. “It’s a kind of reverse engineering of trends.”
Probably only after “cool kids” started wearing NASA t-shirts on the streets did designer brands pick them up and sell them back.
Hall, the creative director from Brooklyn, says that in his opinion, wearing the NASA logo is much more a way of showing off what the logo stands for than declaring love for outer space.
It represents “that kind of quintessential American optimism that we can do anything,” he said.
He added that he has no political affiliation and can be marketed to both young liberals and rural conservatives, eliciting the same nostalgia.
“The people who work for brands like Heron Preston and Balenciaga are as enamored with the fantasy of space travel as anyone else. No one is immune to that level of nostalgia, so it makes sense that these brands would want to incorporate it into their own collections.” , it states.
It has already happened with other logos and franchises, such as Balenciaga, which has done projects with The Simpsonso Trainer with Mickey Mouse.
“These enduring symbols speak to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Not everyone may connect with Heron Preston or Target, but everyone understands American modernity from brands like NASA, Disney, Misery Y The Simpson“, he says. “Things like NASA act like a magical equalizer.”