Hannah Aspey of Oxford Limited talks the rich history of the University of Oxford

Sports are at the forefront of the University of Oxford, where over 80 sports are played, which has resulted in a female sports collection with VS PINK, growing the university’s rich heritage. Here, Hannah Aspey, head of brand and comms at Oxford Limited, reveals why the adult apparel category performs so well for the brand and details plans of an upcoming Oxford children’s character.
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The University of Oxford is a global brand known for its academic excellence. How does that translate into a heritage lifestyle brand?

The Oxford of today and its global reputation for academic excellence and intellectual engagement is always where we start the conversation with prospective licensees. However, to understand the Oxford of the 21st century, there are many aspects – traditions, architecture, language – that have taken centuries to develop. Oxford’s timeline spans over 900 years and this rich historical detail supplies the foundations for the Oxford brand licensing programme.

The visual identity that was developed for the brand licensing programme focuses on the university’s belted crest trademark. Key dates such as ‘Since 1096’, which refers to the earliest written reference to teaching at Oxford, and ‘Established 1231’, which highlights when the masters of Oxford were recognised as a universitas, help to underpin Oxford’s place as the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Having set the historical backdrop, additional layers of relevance can then be added to further enhance Oxford’s provenance and heritage. These include a portfolio of college coats of arms and sports club crests, as well as pattern inspired by the university’s archives and collections.

A second more collaborative approach to product development is to work with individual licensees to draw on the rich variety of content found in the university’s museums, libraries and botanic garden for creative inspiration and product development.

Finally, mutual brand values such as excellence and aspiration link the brand licensing programme with the university’s academic work, as does the relevance to Oxford of the product category to be licensed.

What do you look for when choosing to work with a new licensing partner or retailer? 

There are a number of factors that we consider when reviewing a prospective licensee or retailer, for example relevance of the proposed product category to the brand is a ‘must have’.

Personal fragrance for instance doesn’t have an obvious link to the Oxford of today or centuries past so wouldn’t be considered. Where there is a strong case for association such as apparel, back to school, toy and game, home décor and the category doesn’t present a conflict with either the university’s academic core competencies or its publishing arm OUP, then the decision is much more clear cut and positive.

We also look for retail success, prior licensing experience, design and product development resource and an ethical supply chain.

Oxford’s timeline spans over 900 years and this rich historical detail supplies the foundations for the Oxford brand licensing programme.

Why is it important to offer licensees access to Oxford’s collections and archives?

Some licensees only ever have the intention of using key brand elements – the university’s belted crest, colour palette, college coats of arms and sports club crests. Whereas for others the content that can be accessed from Oxford’s diverse archives and collections is central to their interest in the brand.

A great example of this is our wallpaper licensee, Paper Partnership, who has been working with Oxford for three years and is now marketing their second volume of wall coverings that feature collaborations with the Botanic Garden, the Oxford Mathematics Institute and the Bodleian Library. Bauhaus, our adult apparel partner in Hong Kong and China, has also taken the Botanic Garden as the collection theme for SS17; drawing on existing pattern designs incorporating flowers and birds to provide decorative highlights on key pieces in the range.

Is the sporting sector an important category to you guys?

Over 80 sports are played at Oxford many of which were at the forefront of their sport’s foundation. The club crests are often used by apparel and back to school licensees, as well as providing styling inspiration for photo shoots, VM and marketing collateral.

Our collaboration with VS PINK has resulted in female sports collections focused on a basic colour palette of Oxford Blue, white, silver and grey, embellished with sequins, appliqué, print and embroidery on sports-tech fabrics. In recognition of this success, we are currently working with female sports teams at Oxford to bring our portfolio up to date.

What is your most successful category?

In terms of sales around the world, Oxford’s most successful category is adult apparel, however if we were to think more about success in terms of brand direction it would have to be Paper Partnership’s Oxford wallpaper patterns, which have been shared with other licensees in categories such as stationery to create continuity across the ranges. 

What else can we expect to see from the brand this year?

Deals are currently in the pipeline for optical, gifting, toy and game and apparel and fashion accessories.

We are adding to our existing portfolio of prepared, pattern drawing on the archives and collections for creative inspiration. An Oxford children’s character is also in the early stages of development.

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