The origin story

The importance of material history in brand building

Ana Andjelic
3 min readNov 24, 2023

How to know the value of a thing?

On the most basic level, an ESPRIT rainbow tote is made for carrying thins, and is priced based on this performance and features like materials and labor.

Tote’s value = performance x price.

But if we were to know about the unique history and heritage of ESPRIT — and how its tote embodies it — a new valuation logic opens up.

Made known, material history gets to dictate a product’s value: ESPRIT totes are adorned with the John Casado’s famous logo and associated with adolescence of every Gen X person in America. They are reminders of wit and whimsy of Oliviero Toscani’s famous advertising campaigns, of Memphis Milan design school, and of the brand’s dialogue with culture through its Real People and “what would you do?” campaigns.

These brand origins make the tote a Trojan horse of culture: of the context, collective and individual intention, and social impetus that inspired them.

Some of the new forms of valuation are obvious (who made an item, who owned it, who sold it), but others are predicated on taste, knowledge, belonging, cultural savvy or investment in time and money.

Named after ESPRIT De Corps, or team spirit, ESPRIT draws its value from layers of meaning literally worn in the fibers of its products. These layers of meaning are communal: everyone who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s has an ESPRIT story. The customers’ memories of themselves wearing ESPRIT is what they are nostalgic about.

These coming-of-age stories are what gives ESPRIT history. They are ESPRIT’s biggest asset. This asset is tradeable to this day: even those who are growing up now gravitate towards the brand thanks to its history and storied aesthetic.

New forms of valuation are intangible and symbolic. The narrative that surrounds products is more valuable than products themselves. An embroidered logo sweatshirt was a staple of every high schooler who deemed themselves cool. Today, they are available only on secondary marketplaces (and in ESPRIT’s stores on Greene Street in NYC’s Soho and in The Grove in LA). When a person scours Depop or Poshmark for an ESPRIT logo sweatshirt, what are they bidding on? A sweatshirt? A sign of coolness? A support for a fashion sustainability? The item’s rarity? Price? History? All of the above?

Fashion, like other cultural products, is cyclical. As the new Ghostbusters are ready to hit the movie theaters this summer, so are the 90’s styles. In the age of reference, nostalgia is the mood.

Material history is important as it unpacks the dominant narratives of the time: who got to participate in making of cultural products? who was excluded? which ideas and values were mainstream, and which ones were marginalized?

Read the rest of this analysis on The Sociology of Business.



Ana Andjelic

Brand Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Writer of “Sociology of Business.” Forbes most influential CMO.