I recently returned to Dublin following a year living in New York City. Amongst many things, working and living in the city gave me a great insight into some of the latest and best brands currently making waves in the US. Below are some of my favourite items and trends that I came across in a whole host of industries during my year in NYC. I found it really interesting to see how my generation of "Millennials" can share incredibly similar tastes with older generations for certain brands and simultaneously there are a wave of new brands rewriting the rules of popular culture. For some of the categories, the products are going to be more male focused, just given what I was personally catching my own interests.
As I discussed in my Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V post, it is not uncommon to see what is popular in the United States later become successful in other markets so I wanted to make this list for my own records out of interest to see what might arrive in Europe and work. As an Irishman who has spent a lot of time in the US, I think the majority of these could work quite well in European markets.
The following brands are all relatively new in their fame. Interestingly, they are all quite minimalistic in terms of design yet quite expensive relative to competitors. (Less seems to be more!) Clothes and wearables are a particular interesting category of brands as people use them to project and communicate their personalities and values with strangers. Some of the attributes of the apparel brands below would be minimalism, cosmopolitism, and simplicity.
- Herschel - These are beautifully designed bags with a really unique look to them. My only exposure to them was seeing them worn by a sizeable number of people in public on the streets of NYC, I never saw an ad for them until I began to search these bags online. The product nicely encapsulates a rugged, outdoors vibe and combines it with a minimalistic design which makes for a great product. I love these bags and own one.
- Fjallraven - These bags are also incredibly popular and can be found all over major cities. Again, a bag that is incredibly minimalist yet is strongly distinguishable by its logo which contrasts with the backpack. It's really interesting how these bags seem to spread virally like a network effect - seeing these in person on people seems to raise awareness massively. The name of the company again suggests something quite exotic and different to the standard bag manufacturers we're all familar with.
- Supreme - This is the epitome of minimalist branding. Supreme is like a fascinating experiment in finding the boundaries of psychological marketing. Rising from skateboarding subculture, Supreme have made themselves one of the most coveted brands throughout major cities of the world. Limited supply, exceptionally high-priced, an outdoor line akin to a nightclub to enter the store, Supreme have employed every tactic to generate huge demand for their clothes and cultivate a cohort of really loyal mavens.
- Warby Parker - A huge millennial eyewear brand that entered the market by owning e-commerce for glasses. However, my first interaction with Warby Parker was at a retail location as they have begun to open multiple locations in New York at premium retail locations such as Fifth Avenue and the Meatpacking District. The online and in-store experience is very customer-friendly with many of the typical pain-points removed and a great selection of nicely-designed glasses.
- Birkenstock - Once again, fitting the trend of high-priced and minimalistic. People very willing to pay 2-3 the average price when promised exceptionally high-quality and the comfort in knowing that these are long-term purchases. The iPhone may have started this trend in people are willing to pay really high prices for clearly superior products with a long-term life.
Food & Drink
This is a category that people are very happy to pay top dollar for really high quality purchases. I have experience working in alcohol and seen first-hand how people will use certain alcohol brands to express certain values. Today, this is now spreading down into some of our most basic consumer staples such as water.
- Fiji Water - I think this is a great example of a product that embodies intangible marketing. Yes, the product is water. Yes, it may taste better than an average bottle of water but not enough to charge 3 times the price. However, Fiji have made water a really premium product. Their unique bottle design looks really good against the standard and cheap plastic competitors. It constantly appears at high-profile events, with pictures of celebrities drinking it. It has built itself into a strong symbol of status and quality that people want to be seen drinking not because it's fantastic water, but because people that I want to associate with drink this kind of water. It sort of cascades into an emperor has no clothes scenario but without doubt is a successful tactic. Rory Sutherland goes through this idea of actual value vs perceived value in this podcast.
- Boylans Soda - A cool retro-brand that re-introduces the old-school glass soda bottles in a range of colourful flavours. The labels are incredibly simple and look exactly as they would have in 1890. Love these examples where we find people love what is old and seems to have fallen wayward rather than a consistent look for the latest and new.
- LaCroix - Close to the opposite of Boylans Soda. A new, colourful millennial soft drink that is healthier than than the traditional competitors such as Coke and Pepsi. The use of colour is well-executed with the eye-catching range of pastel colours so easy to spot in a fridge, on a shelf or the boxes in a store.
- Joe's Pizza - It's hard to explain why pizza slices are not that big a thing outside of New York, I can't give you any reason why it wouldn't work. Joe's in NYC is one of the best and it's quality and reputation ensures it consistently gets good reviews and recommendations on food listicles which is essential to pull in tourists. It is a winner through a combination of history and simplicity, two qualities that promise a great slice of pizza. Simplicity in that they embody old-school New York; they know what they are and master the art of a great pizza slice, go elsewhere for fancy pies or add-ons. History in that it is a strong family business with the recipes and traditions passed down the generations.
- Lucha Lucha This is hands down my favourite burrito place in the world. The quality and authenticity of the food is second to none. Providing great San Diego inspired Mexican food, it puts a unique twist on the burrito by going California on it and swapping out the rice for french fries. The perfect infusion of Mexico, Brooklyn and California all in one.
- Robertas - Great pizza but the real value is the cool counter-cultural vibe. You get such a cool impression from Robertas - very clear it is the place to be for young people in Brooklyn. Dive bar decor is retro and a throwback but then food is very innovative and different. It's a cool contrast that works. A strong community feel to it - curiously watching as the empire grows.
- Shake Shack Perhaps somewhat basic at this stage but I greatly admire Shake Shack and how they have pushed their way to the top of the fast-casual food category. They took the McDonald's model and premiumised it for a modern audience looking for a burger that sits between high-quality, affordable and convenient.
- Momofuku Milk Bar - This store sells some unique sweet treats that always get people talking. They are great marketers from their distinctive pink neon sign outside their stores to their distinctive product range such as ice-cream made with cereal-milk, compost cookies and crack pie. As often works in New York, they deploy long lines to their advantages, which in New York often suggests high-quality and a hot-spot. There is an episode of Chef's Table covering Milk Bar on Netflix that also sold me on Milk Bar.
- Blue Bottle Coffee - This coffee chain originated in San Franscisco but has become a major hit in New York. Very minimalistic stores with an interior that strikes me as sort of Scandanavian. Great coffee and strong hipster vibes. New Orleans Cold Brew is the bomb
- Electric Scooters - Scooter companies such as Bird and Lime have been a huge phenomenon in the US over the past year. Seen as an alternative to public transport and slow traffic, electric scooters solve the problem and provide a cheap and fast journey around major urban spaces. Hard to tell for the moment whether this will be a fad or if this could be adopted into a major element of a city's transport infrastructure.
- Co-working spaces - Soaring rent prices and more work done remotely opened up a huge opportunity for co-working spaces such as WeWork. The extent of the scale across NYC over the past 2-3 years has been staggering, as they continue to buy and rent some premium locations throughout the city. For those not using WeWork, hotels such as the Ace Hotel are taking the coffee-shop office to the next level. Installing a Stumptown Coffee Roasters in their lobby, you will encounter a big crowd sitting on laptops in their lobby on any day of the week.
- The SaaS-isation of Everything!! - Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) (i.e. charging people a monthly subscription fee for access to your product or service) is the hottest business model at the moment. Brands in many different industries are very keen to promote this business model to consumers. Companies like Amazon Fresh, Dollar Shave Club, BlueApron, among many others want you to subscribe and stay a long-term customer.