DIP 009: Building a digital playground

PLUS: Everlane's Rothy's, Glossier builds a "New Business Team," and Ikea meets Memphis Milano

👋 Hi. Welcome to June. This oral history of Bennington College during the ‘80s from Esquire is phenomenal. RIYL: The Secret History, Bret Easton Ellis, liberal arts college drama, and/or performative personas. It all seems destined to be made into an HBO miniseries. As always, reply with questions, comments, or additional thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips 🍈

The Dip 🦄

In an attempt to wean themselves from ad dollars, media brands have found ways to diversifying revenue streams. They’ll host ticketed events, put up paywalls, white-label products for outside retailers, and may launch commerce platforms of their own.

DIP 006 mentioned Man Repeller’s forthcoming shop. It launched this morning, and I was able to chat with their team to learn more about how it all came to be.

Forks In The Road

The symbiosis of content and commerce has been touted as a solution to media’s woes. Affiliate programs, which allow media outlets to earn a cut of sales attributed to their content, have proven successful (the NYTimes purchased Wirecutter for $30M in 2016 and began seeing returns almost immediately), but it’s owned commerce that I’m more interested in. Seventy percent of Goop’s revenue comes from product, and more than two-thirds of Food52’s revenue comes from its shop.

More often than not, when a media brand launches a shop, it functions as a marketplace. It sells product from other brands and often relies on drop-shipping to fulfill orders. Some, like Goop, Food52, and Hodinkee, have launched high-margin private label collections. High Snobiety has taken a different route, stepping into commerce with high-profile, content-backed collaborations, like its recent Prada Linea Rossa capsule.

When done well, commerce operations not only provide media brands with additional revenue but also build community.

Meet Repeller

Repeller is an experimental extension of Man Repeller in the form of cheerful accessories,” explained Dasha Faires, the brand’s director of product development.

It’s six months in the making and grew out of an even more experimental project: Man Repeller’s Holiday Buffet. The brand is now looking to expand upon its learnings (and success) with another round of small, irreverent accessories.

Repeller will be releasing product in waves throughout the summer. The collection is meant to be viewed as one, Faires explained, but drops will be staggered so that accessories can be merchandised around editorial themes. Man Repeller will also publish content in tandem with each release.

Your Digital Playground

Repeller’s site experience immediately sets it apart from any other commerce operation, media-run or otherwise. Users land on a splash page with two choices — Play or Shop. Faires called it an A/B test: “We get to see what percentage of people want to have a regular shopping experience, and what percentage of our community really wants to dive in and do this weird, digital playground experience.”

It’s undeniably fun, with interactive, parallax elements similar to those employed by Recess and Magic Spoon. It’s a site that rewards clicking, exploring, and engaging. While Repeller exists to sell you something, nothing about the experience is overtly transactional. As Faires explained:

I always get this feeling of sameness when I’m seeing what brands are doing and putting out there. I'm really drawn to anyone who has a really interesting look and feel, but still in that, I'm just like, well, there's so much sameness in the world. Why don't we mix it up a little bit and try to break the internet, if you will, and innovate? … So, what does it look like to reskin the ecommerce site and give the consumer a new experience?

Take It Offline

For the Holiday Buffet, the Man Repeller team hosted a pop-up with vegan bakery Sweets by CHLOE. This time around, it’s partnering with Morgenstern’s, one of New York’s best ice cream spots. Leandra Medine (founder of Man Repeller) and Nick Morgenstern (owner of Morgenstern’s) crafted five ice cream bars whose flavors correspond to Repeller’s merchandised releases.

When Glossier launched its flavored Balm Dotcoms in 2016, it partnered with Morgenstern’s to create push-pops whose flavors aligned with the new products. In both instances, the partnership celebrates a launch and fosters community engagement.

Man Repeller and Glossier (more specifically, Into The Gloss) have a lot in common. They launched at around the same time, they lead with content, and they’ve built hyper-engaged communities. Yet Man Repeller’s approach to commerce seems far more intertwined with its content than Glossier’s ever was. 

Repeller is a direct extension of Man Repeller’s point of view, whereas Glossier has always been able to stand on its own. In this regard, Repeller feels wholly community-driven, made for those who would sooner choose Play than Shop. It doesn’t scream commerce, yet that’s exactly what makes it so successful.

Still Hungry?

Real Dip 🌺

Low-effort cashew-herb dip.

Start with two cups of unsalted cashews. Boil some water and put the cashews in a heatproof bowl. When the water is boiling, pour it over the cashews. Cover the bowl with a large plate or lid — something to prevent too much steam from escaping. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then strain the cashews and save the liquid — you’ll need it in a minute.

Put the cashews in a blender along with several handfuls of herbs (basil, parsley, mint — do what feels right), a big glug of white wine vinegar (white vinegar or rice vinegar work, too), a three-finger pinch of salt, and a cup of the soaking liquid (told you you’d need it).

Blend, pausing to scrape down the sides and add splashes of liquid as needed, until the dip is smooth. Plays well with grilled things, like asparagus, corn, and peppers.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🐶