The trend for direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands is showing no sign of slowing down, with positive growth charts for valuations, revenues, customers and sentiment through the roof. DTC companies are varied in nature but can be commonly defined as: brands which sell goods and/or services direct to the consumer, but who also “own” their entire value chain – from research, development, design and manufacturing through to the marketing and delivery of its final product. In essence, the start-to-end customer experience is completely controlled by the brand.
This side-stepping of traditional retail channels typically results in lower overheads and in turn a lower RRP for the customer. A DTC brand is essentially a ‘master of everything’, from design to sale, owning the customer journey and keeping all of the subsequent revenue.
This direct connection with customers has been made possible thanks to advances in technology and the rise of highly digitally-literate audiences. Typically, a brand retaining ownership of its entire offering ensures a superior customer experience, which means a large proportion of purchasers often go on to become brand advocates, helping spread the word further.
Ownership of the value chain also enables DTC companies to be more transparent – particularly when it comes to ethics, working practises and overheads – with many happily sharing where their materials are sourced, how and where their goods are made, and even how much it costs to produce their products. This helps build trust and an emotional connection with the customer and is particularly refreshing in a world dominated by big-name retailers with increasingly opaque and, in some cases, questionable business practises.
With the above in mind, here are some direct-to-consumer brands worthy of your hard-earned.
Founded in 2013 by Sasha Koehn and Erik Allen, who were neighbours in Venice, California, Buck Mason was once dubbed “the new Bonobos” – the latter was a DTC brand but is now owned by US retail giant Walmart, much to the chagrin of its original customer base – many of whom believe the company “sold out”.
Founded in 2010 by Michael Preysman, Everlane partner with some of the most ethical factories around the world to source the highest quality materials they can. Adhering to an approach they deem “Radical Transparency”, the brand is eager to share the backstory behind each creation, as well as a cost breakdown. This has revealed that, on average, traditional retailers mark their products up 5–6x, whereas Everlane are content with just 2–3x.
With the brand not big on fashion trends, expect to find timeless pieces such as cashmere sweaters, Italian shoes and Peruvian Pima cotton tees that you’ll wear for years to come.
Founded in 2000 by Fokke de Jong in Amsterdam, Suitsupply define themselves as: “Straight, to the point, and still personal. Fast and effective. Mixing craftsmanship and flair.” And when you’re able to pick up an Italian Pure Wool Super 110s suit – impeccably cut we might add – for just £299, it’s hard to dispute the claim.
Arguably one of the best smart casual brands on the planet, expect to find razor-sharp tailoring, exquisite overcoats and refined everyday staples crafted from fabrics sourced from world-renowned mills such as Italy’s Vitale Barberis Canonico and Ormezzano.
Stockholm-based Asket believes in “The Pursuit of Less”. The eco-conscious company understands that the world doesn’t need another fast-fashion label destroying the environment by encouraging an endless churn of garments within your wardrobe, so they set out to change it.
Asket don’t design for seasons or trends. They believe in producing timeless pieces using the highest quality materials that will stand the test of time. This is a brand that actually wants you to buy less, but better. The type of brand you could fill your entire wardrobe with (we certainly have) and not feel guilty about it.
Castore was founded by brothers Phil and Tom Beahon, ex-professional sportsmen who were frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t find premium-quality athletic apparel that performed to their desired level. In a sector dominated by mass-produced, global names such as Nike and Adidas, Castore have managed to gain a foothold thanks to their focus on producing the lightest, most durable, highest performing sportswear in the market.
Each and every garment they design is tested by elite athletes for 100 consecutive days before being approved for full production. The resulting garments are so good that the brand recently attracted tennis star Andy Murray to invest and become part-owner of the company.
Away produce a variety of luggage, ranging from suitcases to dopp kits (wash bags), using premium materials chosen for their resilience and style. Each suitcase is functional and minimal, designed to solve real travel problems.
A direct-to-consumer approach means a lower price point in comparison to other global luggage brands, but the quality of the product is guaranteed; Away claim your suitcase “will be with you for life”. Until your budget airline misplaces it, of course.
Founded by brothers Niklas and Mattis Oppermann in 2012, Carl Friedrik craft well-designed, timeless leather accessories. Their use of only the best tanneries and most skilled artisans has resulted in a collection of some of the finest bags, wallets and suitcases available to buy today.
Growing up in Sweden, and with Mattis’ background in industrial design, the brand follows a less-is-more and form-follows-function design process. Each creation is stunning and features a serious amount of attention to detail. The affordable price point is just a bonus.
Warby Parker was founded was founded in 2010 in Philadelphia by Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa and Jeffrey Raider, and is now headquartered in New York City. With one of the founders losing his spectacles on a backpacking trip and unable to afford a replacement pair, the friends set out to create designer eyewear at an affordable price, all while remaining a socially-conscious business.
They certainly achieved that: the brand’s designs are simple and stylish, and the frames well made. But that’s not all – Warby Parker also partners with non-profits like VisionSpring to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need. This is style with a conscience.
Cornerstone was founded in 2013 by Oliver Bridge as a direct-to-consumer shaving brand. Its premise: a simple, superior and more affordable solution for buying shaving products. Do they create the best razors for men? They certainly provide great value for money when compared to the likes of Gilette and Wilkinson Sword (who bought another successful DTC shaving brand, Harry’s, in 2019).
Cornerstone offer a subscription service for time-poor men and create some seriously handsome products that perform well while looking great on any bathroom shelf.
We can’t argue that a Suitsupply suit will ever trump a bespoke suit from Savile Row, or that an Everlane button-down will trump the types of shirt you’d find at Turnbull & Asser for quality. Nor will any DTC footwear brand likely dislodge the Northampton shoemakers from their thrones. But the rise of direct-to-consumer brands has ensured increased competition and choice (never a bad thing for the consumer) while also offering a clear focus on quality, transparency and social responsibility. For those on a budget or who are looking to branch out from the mainstream, you won’t be disappointed.