DIP 035: Caps! Caps for sale!

Plus, a digital solution for PCOS care, Gustav Klimt-inspired vacationwear, and room service ghost kitchens

👋 Hi. You may have noticed that I don’t send this newsletter frequently. Publishing only when there’s something that I really want to unpack keeps it fun for me and ensures that whatever you’re reading is something I’ve thought a lot about. I also recognize that some people are eager for more insights into consumer products, brands, and cultural trends. To give you more to read, I’ve updated my subscription confirmation email and about page to include newsletters that are sent more frequently than mine and/or ripe with mind-expanding ideas. Find them here. And as always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

This issue features 22 brands. Fifty percent are white-led, 18 percent are Black-led, and 27 percent are led by non-Black people of color. You can find the complete Chips + Dips inclusion index here.

The Chips 🔮

  • Yuns is an online hardware store.

  • Brutus Bakeshop now sells ready-to-bake dough for its much-hyped miso chocolate chip cookies.

  • Tea company The Qi partnered with Sophie Lou Jacobsen on a teapot.

  • Namu sells gallery-worthy Korean woodwork.

  • Between the launch of Two Two and Outdoor Voices’ partnership with pickleball company Recess, racquet sports are having a moment. Will bocce, pétanque, and boules be next?

  • Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade are launching Proudly, a skincare company for babies of color.

  • Manifatura makes really good-looking Turkish towels.

  • Allara is a digital health platform for PCOS.

  • Rachel Khong, formerly of Lucky Peach and author of Goodbye, Vitamin, is launching a podcast about recycling called Trash Slash Treasure.

  • The Broccoli magazine team is publishing a special edition on mushrooms.

  • Hello Updo sells scrunchies designed for textured hair.

  • Ita is positioning beach chairs as design objects.

  • Brightland’s partnership with Oishii is a great example of how core products can be used as vehicles for collaboration.

  • Attersee makes lounge-y clothing inspired by Gustav Klimt's summer travels.

  • Butler Hospitality is a ghost kitchen for room service.

  • Conscia makes package-free shampoos.


The Dip 🛍️

In late June, when Insider published an article about Great Jones, a lot of the secondary analysis centered on the company’s products. I saw tweets seeking to remind readers that Le Creuset and Staub exist and can be found on sale throughout the year. In the New Yorker, Kyle Chayka wrote about direct-to-consumer and its disappointments. But the product itself was never the point. It’s about how it gets sold — not just for Great Jones, but for the majority of digitally native brands.

The pressure-cooking appliance

In 2017, I interviewed the founder of the Instant Pot for a story that never came to fruition. Instant Pot was a first-of-its-kind multicooker, and higher-end appliance companies like Breville were rolling out their own iterations. The product launched on Amazon and developed a fierce following, particularly among food bloggers.

I remember scrolling through patent and trademark filings and seeing that the patent on an electric multicooker nearly identical to Instant Pot’s had expired at about the same time that Double Insight, now Instant Brands, launched its flagship product. Had Robert Wang, the company’s founder, spotted an opportunity to slap a label on an existing product and introduce it to a new market? Or had he created the Instant Pot from scratch, as early press coverage suggested?

The answer is, it doesn’t matter. Very few digitally native companies can actually cite product as a differentiator. More often, it’s brand or price point or marketing strategy or customer experience that makes a company stand out. It’s not about what’s being sold, it’s about how it’s sold.

The digital Costco

Working with a co-manufacturer allows brands to make small customizations to an existing product and call it their own. It’s common practice (Casper did it at the outset), but it’s not often talked about because in most cases, it would degrade a product’s perceived quality.

Italic is an exception to that. The membership-based company works with factories that produce goods for luxury labels like Gucci, Frette, Prada, and Hermès and sells products at cost. In the case of Italic, working with a co-manufacturer lends its products credibility and perceived quality. It doesn’t matter that Hermès uses different leather or might have a stricter quality control process; for Italic, the fact that its products are made in the same facility is a strong enough selling point. 

Again, what Italic is selling matters less than how it gets sold.

Barney’s (RIP) took a similar approach to selling its in-house products. I remember trying on a pair of shoes and a sales associate telling me, “they’re made at the Ferragamo factory.” Whether it was true, I’ll never know. But at that moment, it did a lot to enforce the shoe’s quality.

A granfalloon

The allure of DTC is not unlike the allure of the girlboss. A recent Vox article about the girlboss phenomenon references Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” extrapolating that “putting these women in powerful positions was never going to buck the capitalist and patriarchal system because there was never an intent to change it — just wield it.” It feels different because it looks different, but what lies beneath the surface is exactly what has always been there.

It can be hard to identify the source of a reputation. In saying “Instagram’s favorite pan,” many of you will know exactly what company I’m alluding to. But favorite according to whom? And favorite in what way? The phrase “Instagram’s favorite pan” sounds good — it suggests mass appeal and some sort of aesthetic value. But it’s also incredibly, and possibly intentionally, vague. Without explicitly referencing quality, the collective favoritism suggests a particular standard — one that customers may latch on to and perpetuate, only to be met with disappointment later on.

Earlier this year, the clothing company Dôen issued a statement clarifying that it is not sustainable and doesn’t describe itself as such, despite being a word that both consumers and media have used to label the brand. Dôen rejects the term because of the vastness of its definition and the many facets of a brand that contribute to overall sustainability and integrity. But for Dôen to say that it is not sustainable led customers to feel like the rug had been pulled out from beneath them. After all, the brand has all the trappings of a sustainable label.

A company can lead consumers to believe a particular thing about its product without saying it outright — that a dress is sustainably made, that a plant-based meat is healthy — simply in how it gets marketed. It’s a dangerous game — one that, in the end, sets the brand up to counter a consumer’s disappointment with some version of “but we never said that.”

Still hungry?
  • Web Smith’s perspective on the DTC backlash is worth reading.


Real Dip 🔋

Savory pistachio butter (adapted from Six Seasons).

Shell pistachios while watching Borgen on Netflix. Put one cup of pistachios, two three-finger pinches of salt, a big glug of red wine vinegar, and a couple of big splashes of water in a food processor. Pulse it until the pistachios are the size of large sand crystals. With the food processor running, drizzle in olive oil until everything starts to emulsify. It should be about the same texture as hummus. Taste and add more salt or vinegar, if needed.

Plays well with roasted beets, green beans, and local sourdough.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🔭

DIP 034: Hand over the keys

Plus, doulas on demand, whipped coffee concentrate, and solution-oriented skincare

👋 Hi. I don’t share much about work-work here, but I’ve been heads-down for the last month working on a podcast miniseries that’s now live and — this is something that I don’t say lightly or often — I’m really proud of it! You can listen on Spotify here, or by searching “Self Studies” wherever fine podcasts are streamed. As always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

This issue features 20 brands. Fifty percent are white-led, 15 percent are Black-led, and 25 percent are led by non-Black people of color. You can find the complete Chips + Dips inclusion index here.

The Chips 🚕

  • I never thought I’d covet a sponge, but here we are.

  • Poppy Seed Health makes it easier to connect with a doula or midwife.

  • Ikea hack company Pretty Pegs partnered with ceramicist Helen Levi on a set of knobs.

  • Whip’d is an Indian whipped coffee concentrate. (Related: A white-owned Dalgona coffee company faced backlash after claiming to… invent Dalgona coffee?)

  • Plunge makes limited-run, artist-designed towels.

  • Guess what Only Salt sells.

  • Homiah makes Southeast Asian recipe boxes.

  • It was announced last year that Marie Claire EIC Anne Fulenwider was leaving to launch a women’s health start-up. Some sleuthing revealed that she’s heading up Alloy, a Kairos company dedicated to helping women age better.

  • Leon & Son, my favorite wine shop, built choose-your-own-adventure cocktail kits.

  • I’m eager to watch Soft Services grow.

  • Secateur Me Baby makes wavy furniture from Australian wood…

  • … and Dave’s Clubhouse makes super weird tables and lamps.

  • This travel pillow with a built-in silk bonnet went (justifiably) viral on TikTok.

  • Bored makes cutting boards in collaboration with chefs.

  • New York-based Ayurvedic restaurant Diviya’s Kitchen makes kitchari mixes tailored to each dosha.

  • Oneg makes fun mezuzahs.


The Dip 🚙

Community has been touted as a golden ticket for digitally native brands. While it’s true that community can bring loyalty, revenue, and engagement, what most brands mean when they say “community” is simply “user-generated content” and “digital buzz.” The problem is that UGC isn’t a sign of community, it’s a Pavlovian response. True community elevates customers to the position of partner. It requires customers to have agency and to shape the brand’s image, but most brands won’t allow that.

No backseat drivers

I caught the East Fork bug earlier this year — four purchases in eight weeks (in my defense, two were gifts). Diving into East Fork’s world illuminated for me a different and truer interpretation of “community.” While nearly every digitally native brand touts community as a differentiator, what they really mean to say is “customer.” True community invites customers into the brand-building experience and allows them to mold the brand to their needs.

For East Fork, that manifests in the form of collectibles and a customer-led barter system. There’s @that_east_fork_friend, which invites people to share pictures of their East Fork collections, and there’s @eastforktrade, where fans trade colors and silhouettes or simply post “ISOs” to complete their collection. All of these allow customers to engage with each other — and outside of the brand’s purview.

As a dinnerware company that operates slowly and intentionally, East Fork has gained a strong following through what I think of as quiet hype. It releases products in small batches, introduces limited-run glazes, and sells in-store exclusives. And, most importantly, its products are good (East Fork is one of the only digitally native brands that consistently exceeds my expectations). Those who know and recognize East Fork products will hype it up and will get excited about, say, the return of Taro as a seasonal glaze.

A similar phenomenon emerged around Elizabeth Suzann, a made-to-order slow fashion label that briefly shuttered in 2020 and has since relaunched. @selltradees functions as an independent secondhand marketplace for the brand, allowing fans to buy, sell, and trade gently worn products, many of which are no longer in production. In this, and in the instance of @eastforktrade, customers are taking the brand’s values and running with them. 

The slow fashion movement believes in buying less, buying things that last longer, and buying secondhand whenever possible. We’ve seen brands launch their own secondhand marketplaces, and while doing so may allow them to generate a bit of revenue and have greater control over products, quality, and inventory, handing the reins to consumers opens up a world of possibilities.

A sharp right turn

Like many Extremely Online people, I claimed an honorary role at Vacation Inc. when the company first launched. At first, the title generator seemed like a clever means of building buzz and a mailing list. But when the company launched its “VACATION” by Vacation fragrance, I realized there was more at play.

For the uninitiated, Vacation Inc. is what you’d get if a 1980s corporation teleported to 2021. The copy is stiff and sales-y, like a late-night infomercial or telemarketer’s script. But in transposing that onto a hyper-connected digital space, Vacation Inc. has invited consumers to role play with the brand. Instagram comments address predictable mundanities, but do so in a way that’s infinitely more engaging. A recent inquiry into international shipping read, “As Head Chairman of Sauna Towel Services, I’d like to know when you will be shipping to Europe?” 

Vacation has invited customers into the brand and into its world. And while there aren’t yet opportunities for customers (... or employees) to engage with each other, it wouldn’t be a stretch for Vacation to introduce conference calls. It reminds me of the viral “A group where we all pretend to be boomers” Facebook group. Vacation’s marketing facilitates digital LARPing, and does so in a way that makes people feel like they’re contributing to the company.

Come on in

In a 2PM practical, Nate Poulin expanded on his belief that trust is essential for a brand to succeed, and that companies earn trust through well-designed logistics, operations, marketing, and service.

Trust is also the nucleus of community. In order to invite customers in, a company needs to trust its own positioning and products. As an extension of that positioning, it needs to trust that it has attracted the right consumers — customers who will contribute positively, hold the brand accountable, and ultimately shape its future.

Still hungry?
  • DIP 003 looked at the Glossier and Outdoor Voices’ community-building strategies.

  • Marianna Gose Martinelli wrote about building strong communities, comparing and contrasting her work at The Wing with mutual aid.


Real Dip 🏎️

Allium-anchovy dip.

Heat a three-second glug of olive oil over medium heat, add 4–6 anchovies, and stir until they dissolve. Cut the heat and add 3 sliced scallions and two sliced cloves of garlic. Stir for a bit until everything softens, then let it cool. Maybe stir in a heaping spoonful of grain mustard.

Plays well with smashed potatoes, gem lettuce, and fried eggs.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🚎

DIP 033: Cross-pollination

Plus, size-inclusive footwear, tarot-inspired cooking, and the new Nutribullet

👋 Hi. I started writing this in February but it fell to the wayside after I adopted a dog. We’ve both now settled into a routine, for which I am grateful. I’ve also been stuck on something Roxane Gay said on a recent episode of Brené Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast. Speaking about the challenges of managing expectations as a creator, she said: “I hope in the next few years … to be able to do more of the creating and less of the hamster in the wheel of sustaining visibility.” That concept — the hamster wheel of visibility — has been ping-ponging around in my brain for weeks. Visibility and recognition matter, but doing something for oneself regardless of how it might be received matters so much more. As always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

This issue features 26 brands. Forty-six percent are white-led, 15 percent are Black-led, and 31 percent are led by non-Black people of color. You can find the complete Chips + Dips inclusion index here.

The Chips 🔮

  • Warmth sells vintage lighters.

  • On the first of each month, Savoy drops a nine-item collection of vintage housewares.

  • Marly makes products for nourishing houseplants.

  • Loquesea is making gender- and size-inclusive footwear.

  • Witzig is a dachshund-specific pet care company owned by Mars, while Occam specializes in whippets and Italian greyhounds.

  • Adding a Merve Kahraman armchair to my list of living room grails.

  • 50Hertz makes Sichuan peppercorn oils.

  • Another day, another well-curated marketplace. Meet Your Other Left Ear.

  • I love what Tadka Tarot, a deck of cards designed to foster intuitive cooking, stands for.

  • Keep an eye on Dynasty George.

  • Dendwell is a directory of vintage furniture dealers.

  • Alula is a digital community for people living with cancer.

  • Lota makes clothing from discarded fabric.

  • Brooklyn bar Ode To Babel is bottling its house gin.

  • Nutribullet’s founder made a Nutribullet competitor.


The Dip 💎

For all the “it’s time to build”-type chatter we saw at this time last year, it’s surprising how little has changed. For those who are privileged enough to work from home, the projects we work on and the processes through which we operate are largely the same. Tech-backed grocery solutions are still deeply flawed. Educational systems have stayed the same, if not gotten worse. Logistics solutions, specifically returns, are still clunky as ever. It got me thinking about what it takes to catalyze real, out-of-the-box change.

Art and Technology, 1971

From 1967 through 1971, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) facilitated what was known as the Art and Technology Program, pairing up-and-coming artists with companies like IBM, Disney, and Lockheed Aircraft. The program was intended to culminate in an exhibition, but few collaborations actually yielded tangible artworks. In spite of this, Art and Technology had a lasting effect — for many artists, the concepts they were exposed to during their collaborations would shape their thinking in the decades to come. 

James Turrell and Robert Irwin, both artists whose long careers have centered around perceptual phenomena, were paired with Edward Wortz, a physiological psychologist who studied ergonomics at NASA. Their project focused on sensory deprivation in the form of anechoic chambers and Ganzfelds, or visual fields that induce a loss of depth perception. Ganzfelds are now one of the categories of art for which Turrell is best known. Irwin, too, employs human perception as a medium in his art and has called Wortz one of the most important people in his life. 

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, California was a manufacturing hub. Resins and plastics and seemingly infinite new materials were being developed for industrial purposes, and were equally well-suited to art-making. While corporate constraints and resource cuts were the primary cause of Art and Technology’s failure, the concept of pairing right-brained individuals with left-brained individuals and encouraging collaboration across industries, simply for the sake of collaborating, was brilliant.

One x One, 2020

I previously wrote about collaborations in DIP 015, focusing on ways in which brands pair like with like. Most collaborations are enacted for acquisition purposes. Art and Technology sought innovation, and Slow Factory’s One x One applies a similar line of thinking to circular design. The program pairs scientists and designers with the intent of creating new, more sustainable, more equitable ways of working.

Phillip Lim worked with researcher Charlotte McCurdy to create a sequin dress made from carbon neutral, algae-based bioplastic. Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of Public School worked with materials scientist Theanne Schiros to create sneakers that leverage waste as a resource, growing fake leather from microbes. Mara Hoffman and Ngozi Okaro of Custom Collaborative created an equity-centered, non-patriarchal training program for low-income and immigrant women that strives for economic empowerment and independence.

Knowing that the fashion industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and global wastewater, there’s a need to create new and better systems. One x One allowed designers to run wild in that regard, working with experts in their respective fields to imagine the future of fashion. And while none of the One x One projects is scalable yet — the materials are currently too time- and resource-intensive to produce en masse — they each validate an idea and prove what’s possible.

Companies like MycoWorks, Bolt Threads, Werewool, and Evrnu are developing sustainable materials solutions. Yet real change won’t happen in a vacuum; in order to be proven out, those materials need to be applied to tangible, sellable products — something MycoWorks and Bolt Threads are already doing. In a similar vein, I've posited that Allbirds has the potential to turn itself into a materials company, having already made its SweetFoam material open source.

Buddy up

Knowledge is siloed. Digital communities tend to be echo chambers. Slow Factory’s One x One program makes me eager for more out-of-the-box collaboration — partnerships enacted not for acquisition or hype, but progress and betterment.

The problem is that they’re slow and expensive, and businesses today want to see money, fast. But change can’t and won’t come naturally, and it won’t happen without thinking outside of the box. What might it look like for companies to set aside resources for solving actual problems? Along the lines of Google’s famed 80/20 policy, but for company-wide initiatives that look toward the future — and not just the next quarter, but the next decade.

Still hungry?
  • If you want to dig into LACMA’s Art and Technology Program, the original exhibition catalog is here.

  • The New York Times dug into the nerdy side of sustainable fashion

  • The Phillip Lim x Charlotte McCurdy collaboration made me wonder what Glossier’s now-defunct Glitter Gelée could have been had the company partnered with a materials scientist to create its own bio-glitter.


Real Dip 💡

Sqirl-inspired creamed greens.

Heat a chopped onion, a pinch of salt, and some olive oil in a pot. When the onion starts to soften, add about a cup of coconut milk (or equal parts coconut cream and water) and simmer gently until the liquid starts to reduce. Cut the heat, add two large handfuls of spinach, and stir to let it wilt.

On the side, add one bunch of de-stemmed kale to a food processor and pulse it to get things moving. Add the onion-coconut-spinach combo to the food processor and blitz it until everything is combined but not fully puréed.

Taste and see what’s missing. You might want garlic powder, paprika, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, or lots of salt and pepper.

Pairs well with fried eggs, roasted potatoes, and onion jam.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily ⚙️

DIP 032: Is it ingenuine or ingenious?

Plus, anti-hustle culture workwear, water-activated haircare, and slow fashion in the Midwest

👋 Hi. How’s everyone doing? In my experience, January is consistently horrible and this year is no different. Last week’s insurrection was both terrifying and the logical conclusion of four years of violent, inflammatory rhetoric. I’ve been tethered to Twitter for days — doomscrolling and finding moments of awe, like learning about Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman’s split-second decisions that very likely saved lives while putting his own at risk. It’s felt like we’re on the precipice of something for a while now. I’m wondering where the edge is. As always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

This issue features 22 brands. Fifty-nine percent are white-led, 18 percent are Black-led, and 23 percent are led by non-Black people of color. You can find the complete Chips + Dips inclusion index here.

The Chips 🐰

  • New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner unpacked the politicization of pitches.

  • Skincare company 54 Thrones is launching an Instagram series in which it spotlights and celebrates each of Africa’s 54 countries.

  • Kind Regards is a forthcoming workwear company that’s anti-hustle culture.

  • Paynter is making a minimal-impact t-shirt that travels just six miles throughout its production process.

  • Everist makes water-activated haircare concentrates, similar to OWA.

  • I’m liking the thoughtfulness of Rhea.

  • Rebundle makes plant-based synthetic braiding hair…

  • … and Rad Swan makes high-quality, recyclable synthetic wigs that mimic the volume and weight of natural hair.

  • The Sibling is focused on bringing slow fashion to the Midwest through small, seasonal, multi-brand capsule collections.

  • Borobabi is a circular marketplace for high-end baby clothes.

  • Nyssa makes postpartum undergarments that can hold both ice and heat packs.

  • Better Rhodes is a no-ABV marketplace.

  • Fitness influencers Sweats and the City launched Sweats with Sweats, which bundles live-streamed studio classes.

  • I'm intrigued by Farther Farms, a company seeking to improve food processing and preservation as a means of reducing waste.


The Dip 🐱

Over the summer, Aja Singer (no relation!) and I spoke about the patterns we were seeing in the consumer brand space. The conversation turned to the way that products like adaptogens were being marketed and how it felt icky and misleading and appropriative.

Given last week’s outcry over The Mahjong Line, the white-owned company seeking to quote-unquote reimagine mahjong (you can read about it here and here), the topic of appropriation and commoditization feels especially relevant.

There’s a lot to unpack, and this is in no way comprehensive or definitive. There’s a lot that I left out and a lot that I’m likely unaware of, but my hope is that this can spark conversation and encourage more critical thinking…

It’s a bird, it’s a plane...

Over the summer, I tweeted the following: “superfood” is a term used by companies to make traditionally non-white foods more palatable to white people send tweet. The word “superfood” has always bothered me (from a copywriting standpoint, it’s hollow and jargon-y), and based on the reaction to my tweet, I wasn’t alone in feeling that way…

As much as “superfood” is synonymous with “nutrient-rich ingredient,” it also suggests “non-Eurocentric ingredient that’s actually pretty cool.” The “superfood” label was applied to quinoa, a longtime Andean staple, and its price tripled between 2006 and 2013. In 2017, the New York Times dug into the complicated side effects of açai’s newfound fame.

The complexities of marketing foods as “functional” is an essay unto itself, but what I’m more interested in right now is how a single word acts as a permission slip. “Superfood” not only signals to consumers that something is new or different, but also tells them what to think of it. This isn’t to say that people wouldn’t, or couldn’t, otherwise care or know about the ingredients, but rather that the barrier to entry drops to zero once something has been labeled a “superfood.”

Here’s another example: Indian food is often wrongly perceived as unhealthy because it contains ghee or coconut milk or full-fat yogurt. Ayurvedic diets are trendy because they offer a balanced, healing-focused framework and signal virtuousness (see also: “Buddha bowl”). While I’m not an expert in Ayurvedic nutrition, it’s my understanding that Indian food often adheres to an Ayurvedic framework and uses Ayurvedic ingredients. So why is one more palatable than the other?

Who gets to be healthy

There’s an undercurrent of appropriation in the “superfood” stamp of approval and in the stateside popularity of Ayurvedic nutrition. Last month, Priya Krishna wrote about the issue of whiteness and Eurocentrism in dietetics:

In her dietetics program at the University of California, Davis, Ms. Wilson was the only Black student. A single day was devoted to what the curriculum called “ethnic diets.” “It was not, ‘These are interesting and awesome,’” she recalled. “It is, ‘These are why these diets are bad. Next class.’” 

Mexican food was dismissed as greasy. Indian food was heavy. Ms. Wilson was taught to prescribe a bland “kale-and-quinoa” diet. When she started treating patients — including many who, like her, are people of color or identify as queer — she learned how much those identities informed their perspectives on health, and how little she’d been taught about that.

Americans will happily seek out ingredients that have Goop’s seal of approval yet show little regard for their culture of origin. Matcha, long used in meditative tea ceremonies, has fallen victim to hustle culture. This isn’t to say that it’s necessarily bad that every coffee shop now serves matcha lattes, but rather that the commodification of matcha places those who adhere to tradition in the minority. In New York, Japanese tea shops like Ippodo and Setsugekka lack neon signs and Instagram-friendly interiors but are imbued with a thoughtfulness and intentionality that can’t be captured in a picture.

It’s not a matter of authenticity — a word that Fly By Jing’s Jing Gao rejects because of its binary and prescriptive nature — but rather an acknowledgment and celebration of a place of origin.

A new CPG company founded by a white man used the following sentence in its marketing materials: “We’re obsessed with bringing highly functional and delicious [product] to America.” There’s little mention of the product’s history or culture elsewhere on the site. This erasure gives the company the credit of invention — it appears to be popularizing a product that millions of people are already consuming daily. Sambazon, the company that brought açai to the US, follows a similar narrative, but at least gives back through a triple bottom line business model…

Companies like Diaspora, Nguyen Coffee Supply, and Té Company put a great deal of effort into sharing the stories behind their products, ensuring that their histories and contexts aren’t erased as they’re introduced to American audiences.

While Omsom describes itself as bringing real Asian flavors to the masses, it resists homogenization by partnering with chefs of different backgrounds to create recipes. The chef of Bessou, a Japanese restaurant, created Omsom’s Yuzu Misoyaki sauce; the chef of málà dry pot restaurant MáLà Project created its Mala Salad starter; its Sisig sauce comes from Jeepney, a Filipino restaurant. Like Fly By Jing, the Omsom team avoids the word “authentic” and instead seeks to “center the perspectives of those who deeply know the history and nuances of […] dishes and cuisines.”

Abracadabra

The “superfood” label also represents the fairy dust-ification of non-Eurocentric foods. Moon Juice, one of the earliest mass-market adaptogen labels, literally positions its adaptogens as cosmic dust. This shapes consumer perceptions of these products — that they’re exoticized cure-alls. In reality, adaptogens need to be consumed regularly to have an effect, and they often necessitate a lifestyle shift in order to be effective.

But Americans are rarely willing to go that far. Instead, we look to superfoods as a means of fixing things quickly and with little sacrifice, and cycle through trends with little regard for their culture of origin or long-term impact.

Still hungry?
  • Taste explored how curry powder became a global ingredient.

  • Food writers and recipe developers of color are often pigeonholed according to their identity…

  • … while their white counterparts are often able to write about anything and everything.

  • Bon Appetit found itself in hot water last summer after publishing a story about ethical saffron that neglected to address the effects that US sanctions have had on Iranian farmers. Appropriation isn’t the only issue plaguing the food space — government interference, honest wages, and grower autonomy are, too, as also illustrated by the ongoing farmer protests in India.


Real Dip 🦁

Citrus vinaigrette from Six Seasons.

Zest and juice one lemon, one lime, and one small blood orange. Put everything in a jar that has a lid you trust. Add a three-finger pinch of salt, 20 cracks of black pepper, and a blip of good honey. Drizzle in olive oil for five seconds and add a big glug of white wine vinegar. Screw the lid on the jar and shake everything really well.

Taste and see what’s missing. It might need more vinegar.

Plays well with roasted beets, charred Brussels sprouts, and farro.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🐭

DIP 031: Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, derelict

PLUS: Dippin Dots for coffee, furniture for cannabis storage, and a chronic pain community

👋 Hi. I’m doing something a bit different this time. I started Chips + Dips as a means of processing and documenting observations about brand strategy and marketing patterns. As time has gone on and as the events of this year revealed gross inequities, I’ve found myself gravitating toward more compassionate brands. This newsletter attempts to address how and why that happened. I’ll be back to business as usual next month — promise. In the meantime, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

This issue features 19 brands. Fifty-three percent are white-led, 16 percent are Black-led, and 32 percent are led by non-Black people of color. You can find the complete Chips + Dips inclusion index here.

The Chips 🍚

  • Faculty launched nail stickers, a smart move given how often people share photos of themselves holding things.

  • 40 Below Joe is Dippin Dots for coffee.

  • Et Tigre (fka Tigre Et Tigre) is accepting and selling pre-worn items.

  • Joone Creative sells crafting kits created in partnership with artists.

  • Elizabeth Suzann (one of my favorite clothing labels) is staging a comeback after shuttering operations earlier this year.

  • Forti sells furniture made for secure cannabis storage.

  • Conserva Culture sells pantry goods and tableware, and hosts a seasonal artist in residence.

  • Rachel Comey makes a leather lanyard for hand sanitizer. Of course.

  • Folden Lane is a forthcoming home organization brand.

  • Afra makes hair picks and loc beads that double as works of art.

  • Mayv is a digital community and brand of CBD for those dealing with chronic pain…

  • … and Club Spora is a digital community for people with psoriasis and sensitive skin.

  • Window Fleur is a pre-planted seasonal window box subscription.


The Dip 🍒

In the Before times, I’d run six miles a day in a zombie-like state and feel better for it. By late March, running began to agitate me. I modified my loop to seek out less-crowded areas and repeatedly found myself on a trash-strewn street bounded by a cemetery and train depot. Dodging car parts and glass shards, I felt unmoored, in need of something slower and softer.

I subscribed to online videos from a trendy downtown yoga studio that teaches Katonah-inspired classes. In a high lunge with the heel of my hand flipped back against the heel of my foot and my shoulder pressing against my knee, I saw how my body was made to fit itself. It offered me a greater sense of security than I've felt in years.

Months later, I switched birth control methods and watched as a decade of body dysmorphia melted away. Do you know what it's like to look in a mirror and, quite literally, see yourself differently? I felt buoyant and devastated.

↯↯↯

My inbox flooded with “we’re in this together” emails, which I deleted en masse. Marketing strategies began to feel desperate. Most of the products being sold aren’t very good, anyway.

While at a job where I wrote about nutritional density, I developed a habit of only shopping at the farmer’s market. I bought food according to what was in season and most nutrient-rich and the voice in the back of my head told me that grocery store produce wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until after I left that I saw how insecure and easily impressionable I really am.

In June I started working with a mutual aid group, packing hundreds of boxes of groceries to be distributed to neighbors in multigenerational households. Our checklist displayed household size — six, seven, 10. The buildings nearby only had 2- or 3-bedroom apartments at most. I felt ashamed of my comfort and all that I had previously been blind to.

↯↯↯

It’s common for companies to purport betterness. That their products are better, or that their way of doing things is better, or that owning the thing will make you better. 

Better suggests that what you’re doing now is wrong or bad. Better caters to insecurities. Better implies that buying things can solve problems, but buying things began to feel soulless. I was buying things to have something new to look forward to, until I felt nothing.

I focused instead on smaller, slower, mostly local companies. I bought spices from Diaspora, a blazer from Vincetta, masks from Combine de Filles, a vase from Coco J Luna (by way of Lolo), a jacket from Paynter.

Buying things won’t make anyone feel better, but we can at least feel better about the things we buy.

↯↯↯

Not every company needs to be mission-oriented. In fact, many companies that claim to be might be better off dropping convoluted narratives about how buying a t-shirt or lip gloss or sneakers will save the world.

It’s not that trying to do good is bad, but rather that it’s often inauthentic. For it to quote-unquote work, it’s best baked into company operations from day one, rather than layered on top as a marketing tactic.

I’ve wondered if it’s possible to operate ethically and intentionally while also chasing rapid growth. The more I think about it, the more the two seem in opposition. You can A/B test landing pages, Facebook ads, and emails until something is optimized within a pixel of its existence, but by that point, the soul has been squeezed out of it.

↯↯↯

This year and all that it came with — the yoga and the mutual aid work, morgue trucks outside of hospitals, weeks of protests against police violence, a month of grand jury duty, the citywide bliss on November 7 — were periscope moments. They took my head above water and allowed me to see the world around me for what it really is.

It reminds me of something Tina He wrote earlier this year:

I’ve found it much easier to have a conversation intellectualizing the optimal best practice of “self-help” rather than talking about my own emotions. 

Without a deep understanding of ourselves, we also become inept at understanding others, especially those who share the same world but a different reality. And without a deep understanding of others, it’s almost impossible to build, even when tools are getting friendlier, and more accessible than ever.

For most of history, humans’ emotional education was broadly created by religions, and with the greatest authority, they taught us about ethics, they provided meaning, community, and purpose. And for a long time, consumer culture has attempted to fill the chasm, but it’s increasingly obvious that stories have been written for only a handful of us.

For marketing to work, we need to be susceptible to it. In a sense, it’s most powerful when we lack a deep understanding of ourselves and the world around us. That’s not to say that groundedness and self-efficacy render us less vulnerable to marketing, or that the goal is a state of anti-consumerism, but rather that it allows us to be clearer about our own values and act (and spend) accordingly.

Still hungry?
  • This Atmos story about power dynamics within the secondhand clothing industry is an eye-opening read.


Real Dip 🌽

Rice And Miso’s goma-ae dressing (from the Family Meal cookbook).

Mix equal parts soy sauce and crushed sesame seeds (blitz in a blender or use a mortar and pestle — they don't need to be super fine), a pinch of salt, and a teaspoon-ish of sugar.

Plays well with blanched green beans, scrambled eggs, and roasted squash.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🍇

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