17 Things to Know About Having a Luxury Brand

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By Lauren Parker

 

“The Luxury Experience: Create It, Brand It, Make It” was the fitting title for an event put on by the UJA Federation of New York. The panel featured some of the greats in accessories and retailing. Moderated by Stephanie Mark, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Coveteur (far left), the panelists included Simeon Siegel, investment banker and Executive Director of Research, Nomura | Instinet; Brett Heyman, Founder and Creative Director, Edie Parker handbags and home items; Claire Olshan, Founder, retailer Fivestory and new wellness brand DADA Daily; and Roxanne Assoulin, Founder and CEO, Roxanne Assoulin jewelry.

 

Some words of wisdom:

 

Luxury can be cheeky

 

Stephanie Mark: “The face of luxury has changed so much. It used to mean wearing head-to-toe Louis Vuitton, now it can be a well-designed snack food, or a cheeky clutch. What’s great about all your brands is that luxury feels good. For brands that are launching, luxury doesn’t have to be about the expected: it can be about customer service. Or making that one good product (and make sure the zipper doesn’t fall off!).

 

Simeone Siegel: “When you think about luxury and the distribution of luxury, the stigma of shopping at say, TJ Maxx has gone away. The definition of who is allowed to enjoy luxury has changed!”

Roxanne Assoulin’s An Uncomplicated Indulgence

Roxanne Assoulin’s An Uncomplicated Indulgence

 Roxanne Assoulin: “Our brand is luxurious but I don’t call it luxury. I wanted to give people something that was more than they bargained for. Maybe they’d think it was plastic but it wasn’t. Or they’d think it was cheap but it wasn’t. It made people smile. People wanted to wear it. It wasn’t heavy duty fashion. It wasn’t aspirational but has a style. It’s more inclusive than exclusive. My granddaughter who is 5 years old piles it on and I wear it too.”

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Claire Olshan: “Up until now, luxury and joy have never sat in the same room together, and now with Dada, I was thinking about the pursuit of happiness, which is a very overarching term. Joy is happening now, like bright colors, fireworks, cupcakes. In order to have staying power, you have to go the road less traveled. You can’t just jump on the trends out there because people really want to see something different. When we created Dada, it was luxury looking and luxury feeling, but it’s a snack food company. It’s $7. We made things really groovy, and surreal with high level visuals. At the time, things in this space were either very clinical like an Rx bar or overly playful. So we did something that was almost uncomfortable. To shine you have to be really different.”

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Sometimes it’s good to not know what you don’t know… otherwise you’d probably never do it

 

Brett Heyman: “I was an avid collector of acrylic clutches from the 50s and 60s; bags I bought at thrift stores or got from my grandmother. I’d wear them around town and after getting such a great reaction to them, I realized that no one was making fun acrylic clutches for evening. In fact, most people weren’t making evening bags at all, and those who were weren’t doing them in a whimsical way with snarky and fun words. Of course it didn’t occur to me that maybe there was a reason no one was making evening bags, and especially acrylic ones. And I got a reality check when I realized how difficult it was to source the materials. I literally called everyone who worked with acrylic and it took me a long time to find the right manufacturer, but it just took trying again and again and again.”

 

You have to find the hole in the market… and fill it

 

Claire Olshan: “I was born and bred on the Upper East Side and experiential retail didn’t exist then, but I had the idea for people to experience fashion, not just buy it. And that’s what was behind Fivestory. And with Dada, I’d been obsessed with health food my whole life, but I never found those brands rose to the occasion stylistically or in lifestyle.”

 

Playing around can reap big rewards

 

Roxanne Assoulin: “I’ve been a jewelry designer for 40 years, and have had three 15 minutes of fame, but it’s because of the first two that the third has been so successful. My latest line, An Uncomplicated Indulgence, came together by happenstance. I was playing on my table and put some tiles together and thought it would be a cool bracelet. And then it was launched!”

 

It’s good to have friends

 

Claire Olshan: “Roxanne, you’ve had this crazy cheerleader club after 40 years in the industry, so everyone was just waiting to put you on that parade float. When you asked if I would wear your bracelets, I was like, “Will I wear it?” I’m going to wear it and post it on Instagram and tell everyone about it! And that microphone and that tagline and the cheerleaders and social media, and suddenly there was a little club, actually millions person club. And soon everyone wants to be in it and relatable and that’s the recipe for success.”

 

It doesn’t have to be all about you

 

Claire Olshan: “In my beginning Instagram photos for Fivestory, I put on the clothes but was always barefoot. I didn’t really overthink it, but it made me relatable. It brought Fivestory forward with a very real dialogue of all socio-economic levels. Not this untouchable luxury boutique. It was very important at the beginning to show that ‘I’m a real person just like you.’ But with Dada, it’s a direct-to-consumer company and it really lives on Instagram. I barely ‘speak’ and it’s very visual. I never put my face on it. It lives aesthetically and on its own principles.”

 

Know why people are helping you

 

Simeone Siegel: “Know yourself, and know your baby and what you want it to be. And know why everyone’s helping you. When you’re creating a brand, know what it’s serving. Whenever anyone is offering to help, know what their incentive is. If it’s friends and family, or if someone is charging you a fee, know what they’re after. With social media, barriers to entry have been decimated and we can all start companies overnight. So the person sitting across from you [offering you money] might throwing a lot of darts to see what sticks. He might not be so interested in your brand equity. You might go bigger quicker but you might not be so long lasting.”

 

Stephanie Mark: “I wish we asked more people about money when we were starting Coveteur. We were so young just so excited that people wanted to give us money! We knew how to lay out the website, but we should’ve asked more on the money side. When someone is giving you money, what are their motivations? Do they see you as a brand that you can change into something else? Or do they believe in you and want to champion your brand to grow it to its full potential?”

 

It’s ok to take strategic money … but make sure it’s not predatory

 

Brett Heyman: “We got a lot of advice from people in private equity and they said to hold onto the business alone as long as we could. And we were lucky that when we did take outside money, we did friends and family so there were fewer restrictions. But I think we suffered from not having strategic money. My best advice is find outside money that’s strategic but not predatory. But with a young small brand, most of the capital is pretty predatory, and if you don’t pay it back you’re in bad shape. You have to be very careful.”

 

Do you need to take that dollar today?

 

Simeone Siegel: “When you think about the staying power of luxury, it will be tied to being able to work with what you have and what cards you were dealt you when you start the company. So staying power has to be thinking about the different opportunities that come your way, and how much does that dollar today cost you in the future? Everyone comes from a different place to answer that. Do you need to take that dollar today? That’s a helpful thing to know.”

 

Stay in your lane

 

Brett Heyman: “People feel pressure to launch everything all at once and be really good at everything. But figure out what you’re good at and solve for it. We launched these clutches for evening but then realized we wanted to be with our girl all the time, but it didn’t really work. Solve for what you’re solving and do different versions of that. Stay focused.”

 

Know when to ask for advice

 

Claire Olshan: “You should always be asking people’s advice. If you’re working with leather, for example, and get a price, ask as many people as you can for advice. Is this a good price? Is this a good value? On money, absolutely ask as many people as you can for their opinion. But I will say this: on the creative side, don’t ask too many people!”

 

You can’t always prepare in today’s shifting landscape

 

Brett Heyman: “We’ve made plans and had the whole landscape change underneath us. But we’re small enough that we can be nimble. We have no other choice. And being a smaller size helps because when everything feels a little uncertain; we can be a little reactive and see what happens.”

 

99% done is 100% not done

Claire Olshan: “If you’re rushing to market, you’ll lose more sales if you go to market with something faulty that’s just not one hundred percent. You’ll end up having to correct it. It all comes down to product. Being very proud of your product is the most important thing you can do. More important than social media.”

 

And 3 final points of wisdom:

 

Brett Heyman: “Don’t scale too fast.”

 

Claire Olshan: “Never be too confident. Many people have these one-hit wonders and they do have staying power for one or two, three or four seasons, but consumers will drop you so fast. You can’t bank on that one thing. You should always be focused on new innovation to bring out new product. And never get cocky.”

 

Roxanne Assoulin: “Stay humble. For me the hardest part was putting myself out there and the rejection that comes with it. I’ve done this for so long and stores can love you then reject you. But the regret is not trying. We know we can sell wholesale and we might do that, but for now with this new line we have a strategy to stay direct to consumer. We like the communication. I’m not dealing with buyers anymore; I’m dealing with consumers and they tell us what they like.”

Noor Nanda