The power of collabs & navigating AI: Sofia & Tad talk about Aries x Malibu

The power of collabs & navigating AI: Sofia & Tad talk about Aries x Malibu

by Juliette Eleuterio
13 min

In today’s scene, where collaborations have become a sort of currency, especially for smaller brands, a streetwear brand hitting up a liqueur brand might seem strange, but in Aries x Malibu’s case, it just makes sense. For Malibu, this was a brave and bold choice led by Tad Greenough, the chief creative officer at Absolut, to hand over the summer sunshine and coconut-filled brand to Aries, a label known for its “disregard for authority”, as founder and creative director Sofia Prantera explains it.

Already bending the traditional approach to collabs, Sofia and Tad went all the way with this one. Malibu’s logo was remixed into a tongue-out smiley face, given a new DIY-style typical of Aries font, and to complete it all, the two directed a campaign created by AI. It was a choice based on the excitement of working with new technologies that seem to be becoming more than a trend, but a gamechanger in the fashion industry. We caught up with the two to discuss the importance of collabs, the difficulties of working with AI and the protection of creatives’ rights.

Aries x Malibu©

Aries has been popping off with its collaborations, and Malibu is the latest to join to create a capsule collection. How did this link up come about?

Sofia: I want to thank Priyesh Shah (executive director at Exposure) because it was Priyesh’s idea to start with. He got us to meet in the first place. It was through Exposure, they were in between. They introduced us.

Tad: I worked for Nike for many years and did a lot of work in the collab space, so I was certainly familiar with Aries. I admired Aries from afar, but I never got to work with Aries when I was there. For me, it was a dream because the Aries brand represents a degree of subversion. For us to work with a brand like Aries, it was going to take a lot of courage. It was an opportunity for us to really push the company to have confidence, and Sofia to have confidence in me. This is not a process that most marketers are comfortable with. Handing the brand over to somebody else, that it takes a lot to get there. I really felt like I had confidence in Sofia, she had no idea who I was, but I knew who she was. And honestly, I thought nothing could go wrong. I mean, there’s a lot of things that did go wrong. I don’t know if you’ve worked with AI, but it’s a mess, right? There’s a lot of opinions that get spit back. You really need to curate the material in a smart way. 

Aries x Malibu©

Sofia: Aries has collaborated with bigger brands before but it is always a challenge because what we do is very quirky. Most of the time when we are contacted, we are contacted for our quirkiness and our slight disregard for authority or disregard for rules. The people that we’re collaborating with are usually very worried about the stance that we might take. When Tad and I met for the first time, I was really clear that I would love to take something like Malibu on because it’s interesting. They have so much potential as a brand, and we knew we would like to take a risk on it. I was very grateful that I was allowed to do so. Tad taught me a lot about how to commercialise risk, which is not something that I do inadvertently so well. 

It was a collaboration on a brand and a human level.

Sofia: Especially when we sat down and worked on the video together. The creative direction that was given by Tad at that point was very helpful to make an idea that we were working on that much more understandable for a wider audience, which is an audience that we engage with less. We don’t normally get to work with the people on the top and I think it was really interesting for me to have that because you realise that you are able to take more risks and what is the best way to do that. And I really love the results that we came up with.

Tad: Have you ever written an article about Malibu before?

I can’t say that I have, no.

Tad: And that’s the story. I mean, to be honest, it’s a brand that has been doing extremely well commercially. It’s growing globally, it’s insane. But it’s been, I would say, somewhat of a banal existence. It’s very clear on what it stands for, but it’s very curated, and it doesn’t really push the boundaries of how people see the brand. What I’ve learned at Nike is courage is always the best offence. Don’t look at what everybody else is doing. Just do what you think is right, and go with your gut. And this is a case where finally, you redo the roof on a house when it’s shining outside, and this was the opportunity. The brand is taking off, it’s accelerating at meteoric speeds, and I felt like giving the brand over to somebody. It was a great statement around the courage that we should have. There isn’t a lot of swagger around this brand. This was an opportunity to do [change] that. To be honest, there’s a reason you haven’t written about it before. It’s because we’ve never done a collab.

To be fair, handing your brand over to someone can be quite daunting. But with Aries you were in good hands considering it has been popping off on its collabs, especially this year.

Tad: Excuse my language but it was a ballbuster trying to get people to have the confidence to hand it over. Absolut, it’s just an engine, right? But for Malibu, it’s a completely different situation. Because it was so curated, we started working with Widen+Kennedy. Widen+Kennedy is doing some insane work for the brand. We’ve been pushing it, but it’s been a journey.

Sofia:  Well Tad comes from Nike, so he understands why smaller brands take on bigger collaborations. It isn’t just a financial thing. All of a sudden you are exposed to an audience that you normally can’t reach or it’s much harder to reach. To take collaborations on is the best way for a smaller brand to be noticed. It allows smaller brands this new platform that they normally can’t play on. That’s why we will take a collaboration on. When I started working in the skateboarding world, it was all about appropriating people’s logos, and working with Malibu was really fun because it has such a fun logo anyway. 

Tad: Just imagine a very curated and brand-managed brand like Malibu letting somebody fuck with a logo like that.

Sofia: The first issue with most collaborations is they’ll give you the logo and then would say “you can’t change it”. And really the fun is changing the logo, changing the colours. A lot of people do collaborations without realising that it’s more beneficial for the other brand to break the rules. Like Tad said, that is the time when you’re gonna get the most out of this, because I think that’s when people will really notice it.

When you are collaborating, that’s really the time to be open to new perspectives, may as well go all the way. With you guys though, it wasn’t just Malibu and Aries, you also threw in a third component in the mix which was AI with Omar Karim. Why did you choose to go down this route for the campaign?

Tad: Throw in a wild card into the mix, throw in AI!

Sofia: I’ve been actually wanting to work with AI for a while. I love tech and there’s been so much backlash on AI. I really wanted to have an opportunity to see how it works as a tool for creativity, rather than as a replacement for creativity, which is the fear that seems to be about. I worked with Omar Karim before, he’s an old friend. I just thought this [collab] is actually the perfect place to do it, because of the type of aesthetic that Malibu has would lend itself very well to that hyperreality look of AI. We had the idea from the beginning, but actually, it was a lot more challenging than we realised. Clearly, it’s not going to replace anyone’s job, at least no creativework, because there was so much work that had to go into it. We worked with a photographer, Douglas Irvine; we worked with a designer, Martin Wedderbur, who were all amazing. The reality is that AI can create a lot of things, but it’s extremely hard to control. It sort of felt like the beginning of Photoshop. If you don’t have the know-how on how to handle this machine, it’s probably going to bring more problems than solutions. The way we worked on it was that the original images were created by AI, and it took a while to even get the original images right. Then we plated the images using the same lighting. The process was super complicated, probably more complicated than going and shooting in Hawaii.

It’s quite similar to how I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT. You can’t expect to get a full blown article tailored to your own needs with just a couple of keywords. There’s so much feedback that goes into it and you still need a human editor to go through it.

Sofia: We actually did use ChatGPT in the process and Omar also has an AI assistant. So to create the imagery, we did go through three or four different AIs. We used AI to create the avatars in the video, which were photographs first. We put those into different programmes so that there’s a myriad of different AI solutions. 

Tad: I made this comment before but, especially in the creative community, AI gets demonised because people are fearful that they’re going to be redundant. I think that it can give you new ideas. It shows you different ways to express what you never thought was possible, and the tools are just gonna get better. Now they’re gonna get better in the short term, or it could get dumber, we’ll see what happens. But I think just as a tool now, it’s super exciting.

Sofia: Yeah, I feel that the conversation on AI is slightly veered off to being insentient. I think the real issue with AI is who owns the databases, because whoever owns the databases will actually own a lot of tools to produce. I think that’s where it’s more threatening.

Tad: It would be a commercial platform of some sort.

Sofia: It’s a monopoly of the databases. Not just in the creative world, but also in medicine. AI in the medical world has been so incredible, bringing a completely new way of looking at research.I think that’s where it becomes scary, because you don’t know who’s already on those databases.

This one’s a bit more of a personal opinion question but do you think AI will stay in fashion and the creative industries? Or is it a trend that will eventually die off, like NFTs did?

Sofia: No, I don’t think it’s like NF T’s at all. I think it’s a tool. I think the capabilities of AI will be integrated into our society more and more. It’s like libraries, databases, and I think the possibility that it opens up are too huge not to be not to be used. It’s like when the World Wide Web was born, that’s the kind of difference to our lives it will have. It’s about to revolutionise the way we operate with everything. It is quite terrifying in that way.

Tad: Right now, it is on trend, but at some point it will turn into a commercial platform. I mean, they’re burning money with the server farms, it’s not great for the environment. You’ll end up getting a paywall, it’ll be subscription-based. I think that part of it will change over time, but it’s utility as a creative enabler, I think will still remain. 

Sofia: I think so too, I think the real innovation with NFTs is the blockchain, and definitely blockchain will be used for banking, for contracts and things like that. The whole NFT trend was a little bit like a distraction. But with the blockchain, the value is still really relevant.

So having both used AI now, for this campaign, how would you recommend that other creatives use AI, whether it’s in fashion, or any other venture they might have?

Tad: There’s a responsibility that comes from using the tool, and that is all based on the person that’s doing the querying. At the end of the day, if you’re typing in Andy Warhol mixed with blah, blah, blah, and you get something that feels like Andy Warhol, and you’re not actually crediting the person who you’re querying, I have a problem with that. I think those are things that we just haven’t resolved. Right now it’s a bit of a wild west. Hopefully, there’s a little bit more regulation and responsibility around that just to protect creative people’s rights. I think AI will add a lot in terms of a vision. Let’s say around a garment, it’s not going to do all the work for you. You still need a creative director to push it in the right direction, but it will certainly serve up designs that you didn’t think of before.

Sofia: I agree. I think we will need a lot of regulation, but I think the actual tool itself will stay. There’s a physicist called Carl Sagan and he says “the world is raging regulated by technology, but no one seems to know how it works”. I think that is the danger. It’s better to understand how it works and understand how to make it work. It’s our responsibility to learn how to use them, how they work and how to respect them.

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