At the helm of PacSun, Brieane Olson has focused on the intersection of the virtual and physical spaces, along with community impact, which is at the core of the brand. Over the past two years, PacSun has announced partnerships with ASAP Rocky, Jerry Lorenzo, the Los Angeles Rams, and, most recently, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and ComplexCon. Here, she shares the brand’s evolution from retail into virtual gaming spaces and beyond.
TELL ME ABOUT THE CULTURE OF PACSUN AND THE IMPRINT ACROSS CULTURE FROM
MUSIC, SPORT, DIGITAL, AND INNOVATION.
I’ve been at PacSun for 16 years so it’s been a unique journey of reinvention and a fluid evolution of our customer. I would be remiss to talk about our brand without first talking about our consumer as we consider our consumer to be at the forefront, as the cultural pioneers of the future. Our brand is right at the intersection of culture from sport to fashion, so anything relevant to that Gen Z consumer is our mission to cultivate and create these really powerful moments for our brand. Not only is the PacSun brand representative of that, but you can see that across our brand partners and the collaborations that we bring to life. The consumer is at the heart of what our PacSun purpose is and what propels our values and decision-making. Creativity and innovation are key, along with a keen focus on the sweet spot of our consumer demo being 16 to 24.
CAN YOU SHARE HOW THE BUSINESS CHANGED AND YOUR PLANS COMING OUT OF
We all had to pivot and adjust plans, but there were some real growth opportunities. From a leadership standpoint, COVID was trying for a lot of organizations because you had your teams fully remote. For PacSun’s leadership team, we had a core advantage of having our team working together for over a decade. These close relationships that were already in place both professionally and personally helped us improve our performance and created a closeness despite being fully remote. Having a close-knit and tenured team that had worked together for years made it more manageable to motivate, inspire, and lead a team through what was a very challenging chapter of the pandemic. Our results in 2020 and 2021 were quite humbling because, despite what was happening globally, we had some of the best revenue performance in years. I think a large part of it was that there was a large macro push towards athleisure and casual clothing with everyone at home. Also, there was a real focus on culture and being able to connect from a digital standpoint, which we had a head start on.
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH ACROSS DIGITAL AND EXPERIENTIAL LANDSCAPES?
We are ensuring that we create experiential moments with the customer, whether we are building on Roblox or at retail in our stores. We realize how important identity is in the virtual space. Social interaction and academic engagement all became digital during the pandemic. I’m fascinated with the evolving relationship between identities in the virtual and physical spaces as a brand and the corporate and social responsibility and role brands play in helping to navigate the space.
HOW DOES PACSUN UTILIZE SOCIAL PLATFORMS AND HOW DOES THIS ENHANCE THE
PACSUN BRAND’S STORYTELLING?
Our PacSun team flourishes in moments where there’s reinvention or a real need for creativity and innovation. We did a lot of experimentation and exploration into new spaces. We grew our TikTok platform in 2021 to a million followers. After 18 months we had 1.6 million followers, and recently in 2022 eclipsed the 2 million mark. We think about it as a way to engage, whether it’s from an entertainment standpoint, product focus, or community engagement where we can amplify the voices in our community. For the majority of the pandemic, we focused on evolving and extending our brand voice—whether on Pactalks, TikTok, Snapchat, or gaming—allowing the amplification of our brand voice through brand ambassadors and going well beyond the traditional approach with influencers.
CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PHYSICAL VERSUS VIRTUAL
SPACES AND HOW YOU ARE STAYING AT THE FOREFRONT OF THESE TRENDS?
The metaverse can feel overwhelming for a brand trying to navigate their voice in the space, but how and why you determine how to make moves, with which partners and being true to what your resources are, are all key questions as you begin. For Pacsun, we looked to our consumers, as young as Gen Alpha, as we made some progressive moves in this space. I think a really important point of delineation is that PacSun is not trying to chase the metaverse because it is a trendy thing to do. Our desire to enter the metaverse actually came from our in-depth consumer research over the past few years, and a recognition that many young consumers are really into gaming. The pandemic accelerated the growth of digital, but PacSun had already strategically invested in our long-range plans towards digital integration and acceleration, so our growth was well prepared. Many luxury brands have done a phenomenal job leading the way. PacSun is in a really exciting stage of exploration, innovation, and experimentation. When things don’t work, we use it as a learning and evolve, because we know growth comes from exploration and that means success and failure. In order to see growth and pioneer the future, you have to push boundaries and get a bit uncomfortable.
TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR ROBLOX INTEGRATION.
We were one of the first brands to have our catalog of PacSun-branded clothing on Roblox. We saw such amazing engagement from the consumers and replication of styles and I see that as a great honor when the consumer is replicating your styles because they want to get that look. We fondly coined that “product emulation,” and it is a true testament to brand affinity for us.
CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF THE UNEXPECTED BRAND EXTENSIONS PACSUN HAS BROKEN
INTO, INCLUDING CREATING ITS OWN GAME?
The expansion of the PacSun brand into gaming was more challenging than we had anticipated. We anticipated a shorter timeline, but when we went to build the game, we were working on it for far more months than anticipated. Our brand expanded beyond gaming this year. In our spring 2022 campaign we bridged the concept of the physical and virtual worlds with [social media influencer] Emma Chamberlain, and marked a key milestone for Emma’s first virtual avatar; similar to ASAP Rocky in his first NFT, she chose to keep her identity similar to her true physical self when debuting in the virtual space.
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