Earlier this week, a belt with an attached black dinosaur tail carried by online retailer Asos made headlines for two reasons: it was ridiculous looking, yet it had already sold out.
“Blame Burning Man, maybe?” asked the Daily Mail. The festival discourages brands from capitalizing on the event, and Asos didn’t respond to a request to confirm if its dinosaur tail was released for the desert community festival. But the timing seemed more than coincidental: Found in the “festival edit” tab of Asos’ website, the product came out about two weeks before Burning Man began on August 28.
In terms of brand sponsorships and activations, Burning Man has passionately resisted becoming a Coachella, which is just as much a playground for the brands as the attendees. The very concept directly clashes with one of its philosophical 10 Principles, Decommodification. According to the Burning Man website, this represents the idea that its social community will be “unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions and advertising.”
That, of course, hasn’t stopped fashion brands from trying to grab a piece of the Burning Man action, even if indirectly. Brands may not be setting up camp on the playa (the stretch of desert on which Burning Man’s temporary town, Black Rock City, is built). But they’re still targeting the Burning Man attendees, or burners, who descend upon the festival in costume with desert-ready attire.
Burning Man fashion is as critical to the scene of the festival as are the giant art structures that dot the desert during its run. On ePlaya, Burning Man’s official online community messaging board, “Clothing and Playawear” has a dedicated discussion forum. First-time burners head there to ask questions around topics like when it starts to get cold at night and how many costume changes are feasible in one day. When it comes to finding costume pieces, seasoned burners direct newcomers to underground garage sales, and sometimes costume and cosplay boutiques, mostly in the San Francisco area. But for the most part, they’re encouraged to make their own costumes.
“Seriously, all you need is a pair of scissors & an open mind,” wrote one user in response to a commenter who confessed not being handy with a sewing machine. “You can buy fabric-glue sticks for any gun. And if you can sculpt wood then clothing is not a big leap. Select colors and textures you like, and sculpt for comfort & utility.”
But while the maker-mindset around the festival has prevented it from following the same mainstream explosion as the Coachellas, Lollapaloozas and Bonnaroos, Burning Man is still attracting high-profile attendees. Models including Cara Delevingne and Suki Waterhouse, celebrities like Katy Perry and social media stars including Alexa Ren have all walked Black Rock City, bringing glimpses of the festival to their followers.
In kind, online brands like Revolve, Asos and Urban Outfitters have all sold products to target the festival attendees. Revolve brand Jen’s Pirate Booty was selling a $143 “Burning Man dress” in the color “Purple Hippie.” (It’s now sold out.) Urban Outfitters was carrying a “Burning Man” shade of its desert-collection nail polishes, which has also sold out. Beyond the dinosaur tail (which is still available in green), Asos’s festival collection include leather chokers and belts.
Even Vogue, the ultimate arbiter of fashion, has offered its style help to burners. In an article titled “You’re Definitely Wearing the Wrong Shoes to Burning Man,” published on August 25, Vogue listed stylish utility boots to wear to the festival, mixed in with photos of celebrity models in the desert. One suggestion was an $815 pair by British designer J.W. Anderson.
A Burning Man outfit, suggested by Vogue.
If there are two platforms that burners both new and acclimated support, they are Etsy and Pinterest. For Etsy, a search for “burning man” products turns up 37,000 results, from shops that sell things like elaborate feather-and-leather headdresses, utility belts and pouches, and one-piece bodysuits in bright colors. On ePlaya, people are pointed to Pinterest as a place to search for DIY costume ideas.
No matter how much a brand wants to get involved in the festival — even at Home Depot, where Nevada locations see sales of desert camping gear spike before Burning Man — they’re wise not to use it as a marketing ploy. Burning Man tweeted as much in 2014.
A number of brands have been using Burning Man as their marketing backdrop lately. Unless you’re eager to infuriate our community, *don’t*.
— Burning Man (@burningman) September 11, 2014