M&S x Sojo: here are the other big brands that found success with startups

Marks and Spencer has partnered with fast-growing clothing alterations startup, Sojo. Here are four more partnerships between big-name brands and new businesses.

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Helena Young
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Creating a platform is one of the biggest challenges for startups. So why not borrow someone else’s? Many new businesses are doing just that, by forging brand partnerships with compatible companies for boosted credibility and awareness among consumers.

That includes the godfather of the UK high street, Marks and Spencer. In August, M&S will deliver a new clothing repairs service in collaboration with UK startup, Sojo. Sojo uses a Deliveroo-style model to fix worn-and-torn items and then send them back to the owner.

Like all worthy brand partnerships should be, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. While Sojo gets to be the retail giant’s support act, M&S can diversify its sales and gain access to a growing audience that’s grown disenchanted with today’s fast fashion industry.

Inspired by the new Sojo x M&S collab, here are four more examples of successful startups which partnered with established brands to grow their business, and why they gelled.

1. Netflix x Immersive Gamebox

Back in 2022, things were looking shaky for Netflix. Rivals Disney+ and Apple TV were eating up their slice of the streaming pie, and the Stranger Things producer was in desperate need of revenue and subscriber growth.

In answer, Netflix decided to lean into a largely untapped portion of the TV and film industry: gaming. To do this, it partnered with Immersive Gamebox (IG), an interactive, Augmented Reality (AR) startup from Southwark that lets fans play out their favourite show in real-life.

For Immersive Gamebox, it was a huge win. IG gained access to Netflix’s huge Intellectual Property (IP) library of original shows, including Squid Game and Paw Patrol, making its gaming experience instantly recognisable to audiences and endlessly marketable.

It’s a tried and tested technique also utilised by Greta Gerwig’s film, Barbie, which can be cynically viewed as a 3-hour long commercial commissioned by another corporation, Mattel.

But in this case, it’s IG that has made the concept possible for Netflix, exemplifying the benefits that futuristic, tech-led startups can bring to older businesses. IG is now looking to form new international partnerships to reach 100 million players across 1,000 sites by 2028.

2. Oh Polly x Packfleet

Eco-courier, Packfleet has twice appeared in our Startups 100 Index thanks to its innovative, tech-enabled mission to Make Deliveries Green Again.

Given this mission statement, its partnership with Scottish global fashion powerhouse Oh Polly last year might have raised a few eyebrows. Oh Polly has been labelled an “unsustainable fast fashion model” by the brand rating website, good on you.

So is this latest collaboration at odds with Packfleet’s ethos? It depends on your viewpoint. But many sustainable activists argue that working to decarbonise offending brands has more of an impact than working with small, independent boutiques with minimal carbon footprint.

Through the collab, Packfleet will use its all-electric fleet to set a new standard within the sector, while Oh Polly has taken real action on its commitment to clean up its act. Combined, these two outcomes will service the demand for more sustainably-sourced fashion items.

When the partnership was announced, Tristan Thomas, CEO and co-founder of Packfleet said: “Fashion is often considered to be one of the worst industries for the planet. It’s welcoming to see Oh Polly implementing positive changes.”

3. Greggs x THIS™

Where were you when Greggs launched its vegan sausage roll? In 2019, the bakery chain’s first ever meatless and dairy-free product was swiftly followed by a viral vegan steak bake in 2020. It was marketing gold; and an opportunity that plant-based startup, THIS™ jumped on.

In 2022, it partnered with Greggs to deliver its first Chicken-Free Baguette. Next came a smartly-timed festive Vegan Turkey and Stuffing Baguette. As the story went viral, it brought with it a surge in brand recognition for THIS™, catapulting it closer to leaders Beyond Meat.

“Having such a huge operator and admired brand as Greggs want[s] to work with us is massive. It’s a statement on the quality of the products we’re producing,” co-founder of This, Andy Shovel told Grocery Gazette at the time.

Greggs has also gleaned a lot from the collaboration. After decades with a slightly tired market reputation, working with THIS™ has helped Greggs to cater for the diets of younger audiences, and reinvent itself as a trendy, modern brand capable of rocking the boat.

4. Uber x Everyone

Ride-hailing app called Uber is one of the best-known examples of a startup. But the firm has itself ridden the coattails of many successful companies to get there.

Let’s go back to a time when taxis were still a thing. When Uber first launched in 2009, it was a plucky, San Francisco-based startup that nonetheless, immediately began running near-constant marketing stunts with huge global partners.

These included an alliance with Pepsi, where Londoners could ride in a DeLorean on 21 October (known as Back To The Future Day), BMW, where users were given free trips in the new BMW 7 Series car, and Amex, where card holders could earn points on every journey.

Each of these antics helped Uber to get closer to its prime audience (affluent millennials who grew up with an affinity for Marty McFly). Meanwhile, its partners could reach and retain new customers from Uber’s sizable audience and real-time customer interactions.

As we all know, Uber became a unicorn within just six years, due likely in no small part to these early marketing efforts that saw it speed to the top of the ridesharing market.

What can startups learn from these partnerships?

The above list should give startups confidence that it is certainly possible for you to join forces with big-name brands, even as a little-known firm that’s just getting off the ground.

Setting up a successful partnership or joint venture requires a bit of strategising and care, however. From the case studies above, here are three key learnings that startup owners should take away:

  • Have similar goals – Oh Polly and Packfleet are both targeting more sustainable operations; the former in its own business, and the latter in the wider fashion industry
  • Timing is crucial – taking a seasonal food item like Gregg’s vegan christmas chicken baguette to market required THIS™’s products to be fully developed and validated
  • Think on what you bring to the table – partnerships are about give and take. Uber had a full roster of partners because it was bringing genuine customer value
Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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