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BoF Exclusive | Vice Acquires Starworks, Adding to Fashion Arsenal

Global youth media juggernaut Vice has taken a controlling stake in Starworks Group, creating a combined brand development and media offering targeting the fashion industry.
Vice has taken a controlling stake in Starworks Group | Illustration: BoF
By
  • Vikram Alexei Kansara

NEW YORK, United States — Global youth media juggernaut Vice has acquired a majority stake in Starworks Group, a brand development and creative agency specialising in communications and content creation in the fashion and beauty industries. The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

The deal creates a combined brand development and media offering targeting fashion clients with a full array of content-driven marketing services — from strategy, creative and data analytics to production and distribution — amplified through Vice’s global media network.

“The fashion industry contains incredible creativity, but in many ways is stuck in the past,” said Andrew Creighton, co-president of Vice. “We’ve long admired James [Grant] and his team at Starworks Group’s passion and vision to create a new business platform that represents today's consumer. Together, we’ll bring that vision to life through insights, data, innovation and the best content in the world.”

Fashion brands are struggling to meaningfully engage with young audiences.

“This partnership evolves the antiquated fashion agencies model,” said James Grant, co-founder and chief executive of Starworks Group. “Fashion brands are struggling to meaningfully engage with young audiences,” he continued. “The market has fundamentally changed. Youth are driving global consumer culture. Consumers know what they like, but brands are confused about how to give it to them.”

Indeed, millennials — one of the largest generations in history, comprising people born between 1980 and 2000, a key demographic for Vice — are entering their peak purchasing years, presenting a powerful opportunity for fashion brands.

“Fashion is obviously not just about clothes. It’s about identity — and identity is especially important for Gen Y and Gen Z as they navigate their social lives, their relationships, themselves,” added Creighton. “Vice wants to give them content that excites and inspires them, while ensuring that brands that want to talk to them do it in a language they understand.”

Vice, which operates in over 30 countries, said it would leverage its global footprint to expand Starworks — which currently has offices in New York, London and Los Angeles — in key markets around the world, working closely with existing Vice agencies Virtue Worldwide, Carrot and Pulse to enable clients to reach audiences everywhere Vice programming is available. Last month, Vice unveiled deals with seven media groups to distribute its content in new territories in Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East and India.

The Starworks acquisition continues Vice’s strategic push into fashion, which began in December 2012, with the purchase of the highly respected, but digitally unsophisticated British style bible i-D. Vice has since transformed i-D into a digital video brand with an online audience of over 9 million unique users per month, up from under 200,000 at the time of the transaction.

In July, Vice also acquired a controlling stake in Garage Magazine, an art and fashion publication founded by Dasha Zhukova, the wife of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and the company intends to deploy a similar video-driven strategy at the title.

"Fashion brands are crying out to tell their stories in a way that's relevant to young people, so we're going to offer that expertise and a place where they can do it," Creighton told BoF back in 2013, when the company first overhauled i-D's web presence. "People love Chanel, people love Louis Vuitton, people want to hear that story," he continued. "But to date, with a few exceptions, it hasn't really happened. Brands are just not programming in the right way and I think, with the mix of i-D's tonality and Vice's expertise and infrastructure, you are going to start to see some really interesting branded content."

Fashion is not just about clothes. It's about identity — and identity is especially important for Gen Y and Gen Z as they navigate their social lives.

Known for its brash outsider ethos, Vice initially struggled to crack fashion. But the company has since had some success in winning heavyweight fashion clients, notably Chanel's fragrance division with which it has signed a multi-year deal, brokered by WPP agency Plus, to create and distribute content targeting millennial women. Now, Vice has Starworks — which has deep roots in fashion and counts Calvin Klein, Kenzo and Chanel as clients — in its arsenal.

James Grant and Alana Varel founded Starworks in 2000. The agency soon established a reputation for connecting fashion and beauty brands with the entertainment industry and today comprises three business units: Starworks Fashion, Starworks Beauty and Starworks Talent.

Founded in 1994 as a print magazine, Vice now operates a global network of digital channels, a television and film production studio, a record label, in-house creative agencies, a book-publishing division and a television network, Viceland, launched in partnership with A&E. Vice has attracted investment from media giants like Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and Walt Disney, which last year raised its stake in the company to $400 million in a deal valuing Vice at about $4.2 billion.

Related Articles:

Refinery29, Dazed and i-D Battle for Millennials
Is Branded Content Buoying Fashion Publishers?
With New Launches, i-D and Dazed Embrace Digital-Age Dynamics

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