Last Sunday, I, along with 17.4 million other viewers, tuned in to the premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones. I didn’t cosplay for the occasion, but I did wear something special—a silver ring, with a braided, adjustable band and a wolf crest. From a distance, it’s not unlike the stackable jewelry you see any fashion person (or Meghan Markle) wearing. But if you look closely (and are a fan of Game of Thrones), you’ll recognize the House Stark sigil on its face.
The ring is from a collaboration between HBO and jewelry brand Alex & Ani, and it’s one of several Game of Thrones-inspired collections that have come out in the lead-up to the final season. There are Adidas sneakers, John Varvatos T-shirts, and even Urban Decay makeup palettes. And it’s not just the Seven Kingdoms inspiring big-name brands.
When Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released in 2017, it was met with limited-edition capsules from Rag & Bone, ASOS, Clarks, and many others. Coach is a frequent Disney collaborator, creating apparel and accessories embroidered with characters from different franchises. Opening Ceremony’s Spring 2018 collection was inspired by Mickey Mouse—and debuted at Disneyland in California. Alex & Ani has a page for all of its collaborations, called Official Fan Collection, where you can buy pieces inspired by Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and, yes, Game of Thrones.
Now, these partnerships are first and foremost a canny business move. The Wall Street Journal reported that HBO’s cumulative marketing partnerships for the final season of Game of Thrones are valued at $20 million. Fans of the show number in the millions, and they’re hyped for new episodes after a two-year hiatus. There’s a sense of nostalgia, too, knowing that the current season is its last, so the fans will commemorate it, and the checks will come in. It’s a matter of going where the money is—with a little help from licensing agreements and legal fees.
But as an avid fan, it’s more than just another way to support the shows I love.
I care about how I dress—I always have. I also get really invested in certain franchises: Outlander, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, I could go on. In the past, I’d want to combine the two, but I’d look at the merch that was available and be disappointed. I couldn’t justify spending the money on gimmicky pieces I couldn’t see myself wearing outside of the house or to a meet-up. I was so fed up with it, I started creating my own fan gear, transcribing my favorite quotes or symbols from a series onto blank T-shirts. Still, I wanted something a little bit more legitimate, something I’d feel proud investing in and could get excited about.
Fast-forward to 2019: Whenever a big-budget project with an established fandom premieres, I can expect a handful of inspired-by collections to drop with it. Finally, as both parties have wised up to the big business opportunity at the intersection of fashion and fandom, I have access to merch that looks and feels cool, not costume-y. I’ve graduated from DIY T-shirts and pins to sleek denim jackets and sophisticated leather bags, and it’s super validating. It legitimizes to me that fashion and fandom aren’t mutually exclusive.
The numbers show that the customer is there: The International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA)’s report on the global licensing industry for 2016 revealed that spending on licensed merchandise was up by 4.4 percent and valued at $262.9 billion, according to Deadline. More than half of those sales came from the U.S. and Canada, the group found.