In the last issue, we discussed how to design an effective color palette, using the analogy of creating a delicious, balanced rice bowl. [Missed it? Read it here.] A functional, successful palette is comprised of three key components – core colors, directional colors, and progressive colors – that can be equated to the rice, meat, and toppings in a rice bowl.
A quick recap:
Core colors = Rice: foundational, understandable, classic (3+ years)
Directional colors = Meat: modern, brand-expressive, sustenance (1-2 years)
Progressive colors = Accoutrements: experimental, flare, secret sauce (1-2 seasons)
Now, we’ll expand this metaphor and apply it to color application and color merchandising.

Color Application
As you apply your color palette to your products, continue using the core, directional, and progressive buckets to define your colorways.
Core colorways are your safest color options. These are long-term colorways that are well-executed and uncomplicated. Like plain, perfectly cooked rice, core colorways are not polarizing. They are solid, functional colorways that make easy investments. However, they do not need to be boring. Think elevated essentials rather than monotonous basics. On the flip side, don’t get carried away with creativity. Core colorways are not the place for wild pops of color and embellishments. Don’t add pineapple and bacon to your rice staple and expect it to appeal to your entire customer base.
Directional colorways expertly span the space between safe and too much. They are the crowd-pleasers that make you special. These modern colorways apply and combine colors in a way that is recognizable as your brand’s unique visual language. Define what that is for your brand and execute on it with precision. You need these colorways to engage your consumers, celebrate your product experience, and be both remarkable and approachable. Like the meat in our rice bowl analogy, directional colorways are the place you showcase what sets you apart and what you do well. That distinction marks your relevancy and maintains your popularity.
Progressive colorways make statements. Their purpose is to draw attention, increase exposure, and elevate your brand’s image by going beyond the expected. With progressive colorways, you widen your color guardrails, have fun, and take more risk. You want these colorways to be eye-catching and memorable. That could mean coloring a product in a solid, striking color. It could mean combining colors – a couple, a lot – in forward-thinking, fascinating ways. These will not be for everyone, but they should definitely be enthusiastically for some. Not everyone adds all or even any toppings on their rice bowl, but the offering creativity could be why they heard about you in the first place.

Color Merchandising
As you merchandise your product line, use the core, directional, and progressive descriptions to guide your process. A good starting place is to have the quantities of each equate to what is the standard amount in their rice bowl equivalent. Adjust from there based on your brand’s and consumers’ taste preferences.
At least one core colorway should be offered in all or most of your products. Depending on how deep your color assortments are per product, this could be more. Generally, 30-50% of a product line will be core colorways. This gives consumers a safe option, provides consistency in the line, and allows retailers to invest in a colorway they know will carryover. If a product is geared towards your more conservative consumers, skew the color offerings more core as well. Products that are big investments or only come in one colorway are good candidates for core colorways as well. A product’s colorway should be core if it will not be updated in ~3 years or more so that it continues to merchandise with the rest of your line as it evolves.
Directional colorways will create the common, intriguing thread throughout your merchandising plan. They usually account for a similar quantity as core colorways or slightly more – 40-60% of a line. Since directional colorways usually last a handful of seasons, plan to have them rotate in and out at different cadences. This creates compelling change season to season but no big resets – a win for sustainability, consistency, operations, and, again, retailers. Directional colorways will likely be appropriate and strong sellers for all products in your line.
Progressive colorways should be placed strategically in your line. The most obvious place for them is in your best-selling products – they keep the assortments fresh, drive new interest, and have low-risk, high-reward potential. Pinnacle, innovative products are another fantastic opportunity to use progressive colorways as they grab people’s attention and generate more buzz around what makes your brand stand out. If a product is more trend-forward or its target audience is edgier than your average consumer, it too is a prime candidate for progressive colorways. Progressive colorways will likely make up about 10-25% of your line.

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