Take a closer look at four brands that have reinvented themselves and become sensations for a new generation of purchasers.

The fanny pack. What used to be the avoided accessory, shunned unless you were required to wear it on a long hike, is now labeled “belt bag” or “hip pack” by the most popular brands. Athletic-adjacent explorers, teens and even chic parents have donned them. All for a price our grandparents would scoff at.

When fashion trends change (and they often do), many brands struggle. But those that can pivot to a new lane may find consumers willing to engage. Melissa Akaka, a professor of marketing at the Daniels College of Business, explains how brands can make the move from dying to thriving, looking at four brands that made the switch.

Turquoise Stanley-style tumbler1. Stanley

Stanley started in 1913 with the intent to arm adventurers with water bottles. Its primary audience was those in hands-on jobs—construction workers, pilots and more—who needed to keep their coffee hot for longer. The price to pay for that luxury was a bulky, insulated tumbler that didn’t exist on the market. And for years, the company served few other audiences.

Then, in 2020, three bloggers struck a deal with Stanley for their Quencher—a tumbler with a handle and straw. The influential “Buy Guide” began to promote the product, and the Quencher became a viral success. And while there was ample competition for an insulated water bottle by the time Stanley made its comeback, the company saw an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of promoting a healthy lifestyle through hydration.

Now, Stanley collaborates with brands completely outside the drinkware space (like with FRGMT, known as “the godfather of streetwear”), event-based products (like for Mother’s Day and Earth Day) and specialty collections.

Akaka believes part of Stanley’s success is its broad appeal. “Stanley is a brand that can fit into a wide variety of consumer life journeys. The brand’s strength lies in its ability to insert itself into the daily activities of consumers of all ages and life stages,” she said. “From fashion trends to functional tools, Stanley and its diverse product line reach across generations of customers.”

2. Costco

Costco has not always been synonymous with cool apparel and great food. An entire generation would argue that clothes from Costco were more embarrassing than getting called to the principal’s office. But over the last decade, Costco has made it cool to be part of the Kirkland club. Students on college campuses can be spotted wearing branded sweatshirts, and food court dates for the $1.50 hot dog and drink are a thing.

How’d the brand make itself relevant? “Costco has long been a practical brand, known for low prices for quality bulk goods. The company also has a reputation for satisfied employees and customers. However, making Costco ‘cool’ is an outcome of social media and the viral spread of great deals or desirable products, like the Costco sweatshirt,” according to Akaka. Chatter in the social media sphere changes the meaning of products and brands, and it can be hard to tell if the popularity of some Costco products is driven by quality, style or humor. Regardless of the reason, Costco has capitalized on it.

3. Crocs

Crocs recently posted a job for someone who will manage their Jibbitz line. No, this isn’t a typo. There’s now a word for the shoe charms Crocs-wearers can sport to show off their passions. And what used to be embarrassing shoes your dad wore while taking out the trash is now a brand synonymous with fun fashion. Proof is in the company’s collaborations with stars like Lil Naz X and Simone Rocha, and brands like McDonald’s.

So how did Crocs reinvent? In 2016, the No. 3 Google search for Crocs was “Crocs memes.” Heidi Cooley, the company’s chief marketing officer and executive vice president said in a recent panel that the brand pivoted to cool because it listened to fans and innovated for them. A digital-first mentality helps too.

4. Swatch Watch

This iconic watch has been spotted on the wrists of musicians in concert photos and on album covers, on skaters and creatives, and on business power players. Not bad for a brand that saw its peak in the 90s.

Originally, Swatch disrupted the market as an accessible alternative to traditional watches, with a lower price point and anti-establishment designs, Akaka said. Today, Swatch has channeled that same spirit of innovation in its products but, more importantly, the company has tapped into nostalgia, collaboration and customization to re-capture audience attention.

“A recent partnership with Omega revived the ‘Speedmaster Moonwatch,’ which tagged along with Apollo 11 and became the first watch on the moon,” Akaka said. “The partnership connected Swatch with a major moment in history—a moment that occurred before the brand was even born. This is one of many throwback products and campaigns that Swatch uses to make connections with meaningful past experiences and integrate nostalgic undertones into its marketing and branding efforts.”

Surviving and thriving

So, whether you’re picking out your neon Swatch to wear to your next big event or grabbing your Stanley from the kitchen counter before hitting the gym, remember the history of the brands that were once on the verge of extinction.

“In an increasingly competitive market landscape, brands must evolve to survive and thrive. They do this by paying attention to new generations of consumers, recognizing socioeconomic shifts and driving cultural trends,” Akaka said. “They also communicate the value of their brands by collaborating with other companies, influencers and even customers. Ultimately, the brands that last are those that align their core values with those of their customers and leverage opportunities to co-create the brand together.”