Every week, around a dozen small companies contact me about their product. Each one has a great idea. It may be glasses made to measure, luxury socks or mystery gift boxes, but each is convinced he has an exciting new product.
They often involve men’s accessories (cheap to ship, no sizes) and a disproportionate number are launched by two guys in their twenties.
Most of them, I don’t write about. Some sound interesting, but a couple of emails shows they have nothing new. A minority are intriguing enough to try out (usually free) but the idea or execution are usually disappointing. I don’t tend to write about them because it would take up more space than the good stuff.
However, talking to a reader over the weekend, it occurred to me that perhaps an occasional round-up of such brands might be helpful, with good and bad points. In each case the brand has been made aware of my opinions.
An American leather-goods brand that offers the usual range of totes, wallets and iPad cases. Although not offering anything revolutionary, their styling, colours and use of good vegetable-tanned leathers was attractive.
Unfortunately, the leathers are not thick enough to deal with the unlined construction, and both body and handle of the tote I tried quickly showed signs of wear. The leather also stained irreversibly on contact with any amount of water.
An increasingly popular concept: mystery gift boxes that you receive every few months, containing a selection of hopefully intriguing and unexpected items for the modern man. Each is curated by a different person or around a different theme. Svbscription has two levels: $300 per parcel or $559 per parcel.
The boxes I tried were nicely themed (around cooking, around travel), but of the five or six items, there was never more than one I would have bought individually. The central problem is that while all of the inclusions are intriguing, the chance they fit with your taste/lifestyle/interests is low. The consistent size of the boxes also limits what you can get in there. There are a lot of small leather goods, and vouchers for services like music subscriptions and hotel loyalty programmes.
Shaving products by post. Sent to you regularly as supplies run low, and saving you the hassle of having to remember to buy them. You can personalise the box, with options for razor blades, saving gel, aftershave balm and face scrub.
A box with all those items costs £30. The products are fine, but nothing special, and for £30 you’d have higher expectations, given this is an online business with no retail overheads. The shave gel in particular I found ineffective. Also unsure about the market fit: groceries delivered, sure, but shaving products? (Indeed, the shaving products could just be added to the groceries…)
As mentioned, men’s accessories is a very popular area to get into. You don’t need a lot of design or technical expertise, and very little goes out of fashion. Monsieur Fox is another accessories brand, based in Dubai, selling handkerchiefs, cufflinks and ties.
There’s nothing wrong with the product, except for the fact that the wool handkerchiefs have (rather garish) machine-rolled edges. The bigger problem, perhaps, is that while men’s accessories are not hard to do, that actually makes it harder to be both distinctive and elegant. The colour combinations picked by the eye of Michael Hill, Mariano Rubinacci or Audie Charles suddenly look a lot more impressive.
- And the rest
There are plenty of other companies. Spoke is an interesting British brand doing trousers in a range of fit styles (largely around the rise and waist/hip ratio), but I haven’t tried them out for long enough yet. Atelier Eyewear is trying to do bespoke glasses online, but the interface and end product is not great so far. There are a few bag companies, such as Vincent Maxwell and Vocier, that are exciting.
And of course along the way I have discovered some wonderful products and inspiring people. Troubadour, William Abraham, J Panther, all fall into this category.
I’ll always write about these products: those that are genuinely original, stylish and made to the highest quality (on a par with everything else on this site). Whether I write about others or not is up to readers.