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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.
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.
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.”
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 🔭