Once you start noticing them, it’s hard to stop.
There have been several trending articles about the phenomenon in recent years. And NASA’s multimedia liaison, Bert Ulrich, who oversees the use of NASA logos in film, television and apparel, confirms that demand for NASA-branded apparel is far from exhausted, at least based on the number of logo deals which he approved. He’s been in his role for more than two decades and has seen the trends up and down. (mostly flow)
Some of the recent sales booms can be traced to a surprising place: American luxury fashion house Coach, which released a NASA-branded clothing line in 2017, Ulrich told CNN Business.
Coach originally reached out to NASA to ask if they could use the “worm” logo, the retro design the space agency used from 1975 to 1992. NASA, which banned the use of the worm after its retirement in the ’90s, changed its mind on the matter, allowing Coach to use the logo, Ulrich said.
And the “worm” has since been officially back in use, cementing its widespread veneration, at least among die-hard space fans.
After the line of Coach clothing came out, things exploded.
“Before 2017 we did five or ten [logo approvals] one week. We’ve gotten so far that we’re getting an average of 225 a week,” said Ulrich.
Last year there were “over 11,000 inquiries,” he said — an all-time high.
Not all of those requests will be 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 these companies not having to license the logo. It’s all free and NASA doesn’t make a penny from it.
That’s not how licensing deals typically work, but because NASA is a government agency, many of its assets — including photographs, logos, and even technology designs — are in the public domain. According to legal requirements, if a company wants to print NASA logos on t-shirts or coffee mugs, all they have to do is email NASA’s merchandising department. It usually ends up in Ulrich’s inbox.
Ulrich’s job is simply to ensure that the logo is used in a way that conforms to the aesthetic guidelines approved by the space agency. For example, do not use unapproved colors. And of course, NASA wants to make sure their trademark isn’t used on any unfavorable Purposes, such as in a way that suggests NASA endorses a company or product. When a company misuses the logo, NASA’s legal department often sends out a cease and desist letter, Ulrich said.
After Coach released his NASA clothing line, high-end designers including Heron Preston and more recently Balenciaga released their own lines. Pop singer Ariana Grande had a song and a whole line of merchandise about NASA. In the last decade there have also been Adidas, Swatch, Vans and countless others.
Through this lens it is possible to explain the phenomenon through the so-called “Miranda-Preistly effect”. Remember that scene in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada where Priestly, Meryl Streep’s character, verbally teases her young, fashion-forward intern? She explains that the blue sweater she’s wearing is actually “cerulean” and is as much a product of fashion-obsessed tycoons as anything else on the runway. Essentially, Priestly argued, designers and the fashion media curate trends, and even the most fashion-agnostic consumers are influenced by those choices.
But according to Jahn, that is only half the truth Hall, the creative director of Brooklyn-based design agency Consortium, which works on set design and styling for various brands.
Before Coach, kids bought NASA T-shirts at vintage stores because they loved the nostalgic feel and nostalgia of a slice of classic Americana, Hall said.
“You start with kids in cities like New York buying old Disney products or old NASA t-shirts, and suddenly some people see it like ‘cool hunters’ in the fashion industry, like Urban Outfitters, and suddenly they’re like, ‘ We should flip some NASA T-shirts,'” Hall said. “It’s kind of like reverse engineering trends.”
It was probably only after the “cool kids” started wearing NASA t-shirts on the streets that designer brands picked it up and sold it back to them.
Hall, the Brooklyn-based creative director, said he thinks putting on the NASA logo is much more about showing what the logo represents than proclaiming his love for space.
It represents “that kind of American optimism that we can do anything,” he said.
It’s politically independent, he added, and can be marketed to both young liberals and rural conservatives to spread the same nostalgia.
“The people who work for brands like Heron Preston and Balenciaga are just as excited about the space fantasy as anyone else. No one is immune to this level of nostalgia, so it makes sense that these brands would want to incorporate that into their own collections. ” he said.
He notes that it has happened with other logos and franchises, like Balenciaga on projects with The Simpsons or Coach with Mickey Mouse.
“These enduring icons appeal to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Not everyone might connect with Heron Preston or Target, but everyone gets modern Americana from brands like NASA, Disney, Peanuts and The Simpsons,” he said. “Things like NASA act like this magic equalizer.”