Ones to Watch | Summer 2022
By Andrew Barone
Andrew Barone (@AndrewBarone) is Senior Vice President and Director of Business Development for Rosenthal & Rosenthal’s Pipeline division, helping d2c and e-commerce brands grow their businesses.
The Lead Innovation Summit 2022, held in Brooklyn this July, was packed with trailblazing brands and innovators across the retail, apparel, food & beverage, and consumer sectors. Andrew Barone of Rosenthal & Rosenthal was on hand to meet some of these high-potential direct-to-consumer Ones to Watch brands that have caught the eye of consumers and investors alike. This edition highlights a few notable ones.
Luxury activewear brand Alala was conceived in 2014, at a time when the athleisure trend was still in its infancy and well before the pandemic made hanging around in gym and yoga clothes cool. Founder Denise Lee was looking to fill a gap in the luxury activewear market that both reflected her New York sense of style and would motivate her to train for an upcoming triathlon.
Now eight years in, the biggest challenge for Lee has been carving out a lane for Alala that’s different than the brand’s other competitors in the market. “It was something that took time to come together, and we took some risks and made some mistakes along the way.” Lee admits. Alala seems to be tackling every hurdle well. They are in the midst of a brand refresh and Lee is excited to launch this new chapter for Alala and present a fresh new look for the brand to their ideal customer. Self-funded since its inception, Alala is also 100% female run, with Lee—herself a minority female immigrant with two entrepreneur parents—at its helm.
Courtney Toll never dreamed she would end up in the world of irons and steamers. But after relying on a hair straightener to steam the wrinkles out of her clothes before work in her small New York City apartment, she sensed there might be an opening in the market for a new product. She commissioned an independent study of 500 consumers which found that the market had not seen much in the way of innovation in nearly 40 years. She recruited engineers from NASA and Conair and after 20 months in development, Nori’s first product—the Nori Press was born.
Nori raised $1.3 million in capital in the lead-up to its launch and about $1.2M since its launch in May 2021. The brand has achieved roughly $1.8 million in sales.
What started as a purely direct-to-consumer business, has now blossomed into retail partnerships with Bloomingdales, Crate & Barrel, William Sonoma, and Zola. Toll sees a $100+ million untapped market, chock full of personal care products, including irons, steamers, hampers, detergents, stain removers, and storage units. With two new products launching at the end of 2022, the steam iron was just the beginning.
Like most women, female founder Jackie De Jesu never found it practical to wash her hair every day. She was either trying to eke out another day from a professional blowout or was rushed trying to get out the door to work. When she went on the hunt for the perfect shower cap and came up empty-handed, she knew she was on to something. “It wasn’t that nothing came up,” Jackie says. “It was what did come up. Bows and ruffles and sequins—someone else’s version of taste, not mine.” When she dove deeper, she noticed that there were no standalone shower cap brands and that while blow-dry bars and haircare brands might have been selling them, no one was selling a shower cap as a hair preservation brand. And that’s how Shhhowercap was born—out of necessity, as De Jesu says.
Having worked previously in advertising for consumer product brands, De Jesu recognized that the shower cap market was small, but the behavior was massive. No one was washing their hair every day, so that’s where De Jesu focused, more on the lifestyle than the commodity itself. “She treats it, she shops it and she rocks it like a fashion brand,” De Jesu says. “It’s her only accessory when she’s stripped of everything else.”
Shhhowercap now has a community of hundreds of thousands of women globally and a presence at some of the world’s biggest retailers. The brand has big plans in the coming months to expand shelf space and retailer relationships, as well as build the brand into a hair care line that’s uniquely formulated for its target customers.
Veracity Selfcare founder Allie Egan admits she never thought she would ever start her own brand. The former Cynthia Rowley CEO says that it was only after a personal experience dealing with a complex health issue that initially surfaced as dry skin and ultimately led to a diagnosis of a thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s disease, that she became laser-focused on finding a connection between diagnostic testing and self-care and wellness. Egan says her body was signaling that there was a problem, and despite trying everything—from new skincare products to diet changes—nothing seemed to work. She realized that without access to the right information, it was impossible to understand the underlying health issues that were causing her cosmetic issues, and she knew she wasn’t the only one struggling with this.
Veracity Selfcare is based on the idea that there is a need and a desire to connect health to personal care The company offers a suite of at-home tests that are paired with personalized skin care recommendations for products designed to treat hormonal imbalances. Egan says that while starting a brand and launching physical products in the middle of a pandemic was challenging, people have become very comfortable with at-home testing, which helped to build awareness for their brand early on and continues to drive interest. A team of physicians — a dermatologist, an OB-GYN, an endocrinologist, a functional medicine doctor, and a nutritionist — work with Egan and her all-women staff to develop the hormone tests, insights and recommendations, and ultimately the products that Veracity sells. “It’s a unique collaboration that has given way to a really great product roadmap,” says Egan. “For a lot of our customers, this is the first time they’ve ever been exposed to this kind of data or health information so we’re trying to make their experiences learning about their own self-care needs vastly better.”
“We won’t be building this brand like a traditional one, based on what works on the shelf at Sephora,” says Egan. “We’ve learned a lot about our customers and everything we do is based on what the data tells us and what our customers’ needs are.” Though the direct-to-consumer channel is currently the primary distribution channel, Veracity has explored limited brand-aligned distribution channels and is working on new category launches later this year to address specific needs across different areas of personal care.
Business school classmates and coffee addicts Matt Bachmann and Ben Gordon discovered they shared a love for cold brew coffee, and later went on to create the recipe for the perfect cold brew and launch Wandering Bear in 2014. At first, the duo saw an opportunity to serve their extra-strong, high-quality coffee products—boxed and kegged—in office spaces around New York City. But when COVID hit and everyone was brewing coffee while working from home, the business dropped nearly 80% overnight. Bachmann and Gordon were forced to pivot their model and instead focus on building out a robust direct-to-consumer business.
In the early days of the pandemic, the brand’s presence on Amazon helped to catapult the brand to cult status.. The co-founders then focused on rebuilding the website and beefing up the direct-to-consumer brand. Their efforts paid off and they replaced 90% of their lost revenue in 2020 and held the business flat during a tumultuous economic period. Wandering Bear also introduced their products into wholesale channels like Fresh Direct and Whole Foods.
“The fun challenge we now face is how to manage the new muscle we’ve built and point it at other aspects of the brand to scale up the business,” Bachmann says. They’re now introducing new leading-edge flavors, many of which have been created from customer feedback, and beginning to build back the office space business on top of the still-growing e-commerce business.
Ones to Watch is produced in partnership with Rosenthal & Rosenthal — a proud supporter of growing brands through factoring, asset-based lending, production financing and d2c and e-commerce inventory financing. Click here to learn more about Rosenthal’s newest division, Pipeline™, offering growth capital solutions exclusively for high-growth DTC and e-commerce businesses.