Everyone's Making Money Using NASA Logos Except NASA
Government logos are free.
Like a kid getting ready for space camp, you could, if you wanted, throw on some NASA-branded tech pants by New York designer Heron Preston in the morning, pair them with a NASA t-shirt from Urban Outfitters, and maybe add a Coach letterman jacket with a NASA patch if you grabbed one last year. Or, assuming you missed the jackets, you could opt for a NASA parka from Heron Preston. Heads up, though: That parka will set you back $1,878, and the pants $1,265.
You’ll still need shoes, of course, but fear not: Vans releases its new “Space Voyager” collection Friday. The teen-loved skate brand will release classic styles, including its popular Old Skool and Sk8-Hi, as well as clothes and accessories, designed with NASA branding and space-age themes.
Vans says it’s commemorating NASA’s 60th anniversary, but over at least the past couple years, it’s become plain trendy to borrow NASA’s logos. The space agency’s well-known “meatball” and “worm” signifiers—the former being “NASA” over a blue sphere and the latter just the acronym in undulating typography—seem to be caught up in the waves of logo-philia and nostalgia washing over fashion, sweeping along disparate elements like old band tees, chunky Fila sneakers, and the flaming title of skate bible Thrasher.
“The collection is very nostalgic,” Coach’s creative director, Stuart Vevers, told Racked last year of the space-age limited collection he designed that incorporated the NASA logo. “There’s something about the time of the space program that just gives this feeling of possibility.”
Vans and Preston both claim inspiration from NASA’s original spacesuits—seen in Project Mercury, NASA’s first major undertaking in the late 1950s and early 1960s—which fits with some of fashion’s current repurposing of uniforms and utility items.
It also helps that, as Racked pointed out, anyone is free to use NASA’s logos. They just have to clear the designs with NASA.
“We don’t discriminate,” says Bert Ulrich of NASA’s office of communications. “Everyone from Walmart to Target to H&M to Heron Preston to Vans, anyone can basically make a request. And then we review it and make sure that the identities are being used correctly. We work with the merchandisers on that and the designers.”
The merchandising guidelines, laid out online, include regulations like this:
Logos and other trademarks or branding of the product producer/distributors should be separate from the NASA Materials used as decoration on the product, and should be limited to use on tags, insoles of shoes, and other areas of the product where product branding typically appears. For example, in the case of a T-shirt featuring the NASA Insignia as decoration on the front of the shirt, the logo of the company producing the T-shirt can appear simply on the collar tag, a hem tag, on the sleeve, or other location as typical for the company’s brand; however, company logos or branding will not be placed near the NASA Insignia, or in such location(s) as detracts from the NASA Insignia decoration on the front of the shirt.
NASA, Ulrich notes, makes no money when a brand uses one of its logos. “It is a government logo,” he says. “It’s not a brand per se by a private company, so we don’t ask for any sort of remuneration for that.”