Monday, February 11, 2019

Shopping From Italic, and Some Thoughts on Startup-y Retailer Marketing

Italic's "Albee" cardholder bears a strong resemblance to a certain Saint Laurent cardholder I used to want.

Some of you may remember that, a few months ago, a startup called Italic did a big marketing push, getting featured in places like Vox and TechCrunch. Their premise was simple, they claimed to offer products made in the same factories as well-known designer brands such as Celine and Prada. As The Fashion Law noted, this approach to marketing may be iffy, to the extent that it involves the explicit use of other brands' trademarks to sell their products. (I don't know enough about "soft IP" law, copyright or trademarks, to know whether this is actually an approach that's potentially going to lead to legal issues, but it sounds plausible that it's something to research further and be cautious about doing.) 

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support! None of the Italic links are affiliate links, and this post is not sponsored, I was intrigued by the company and bought an item on my own volition. I quite like the cardholder, but am lukewarm about most other things to do with the brand, as you can see below.

I suspect that most who read here are inclined to be skeptical about Italic's marketing taglines, "luxury goods, no brands" or "no brands, no markups". If nothing else, it vaguely sounds like concepts that are old hat to us by now. For instance, it's not that unlike some of the ideas behind Everlane's original, more limited product line. As late as 2014, when I bought an Everlane slim zip wallet and Petra tote, their bags had no visible external branding. Cuyana's handbags also have minimal external branding. And, if you recall that "fancy millenial" article Michelle and Elaine also shared, lots of these startup-y brands that target our demographic build their brand identities on claiming to offer products comparable to those from fancier, more expensive and more well-established brands for relatively modest prices. (Away seems to try and compete with Tumi or Rimowa, for example, and Everlane used to claim the "traditional retail" price of the Petra Magazine Tote they sold at ~$450 was ~$1,200, the price of a Chloe tote. Their "traditional retail" price claims for their current line of leather handbags are a bit less ambitious.) None of those brands have, to my knowledge, ever claimed to use the same factories as this or that other bigger, more well-known brand while identifying said brands by name, that much seems unique to Italic. 

Also, I don't think it's a surprise to us that higher-end brands and other brands may use some of the same factories for certain products. That much is stated in both Dana Thomas's Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster and Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion, both of which were already old news when I read and reviewed them back in 2014. It's not really a selling point for any brand, I would think, it's just the reality of how the industry works. And I'd suspect, without actually having any specialized knowledge about the business side of the industry, that just because one company uses the same factory as another, it doesn't mean the resulting products would necessarily be comparable. It seems to me to be common sense that the design, materials, and many other non factory-specific details must also go into determining the "quality" of the resulting product.

Still, just as Everlane and Cuyana bags (and their general brand identities and marketing campaigns) appeal to me, I was also curious about Italic. With all these "fancy millenial" brands, I'm basically the exact target customer, and am often a total sucker for their marketing regardless of my occasional bemusement. So I signed up.

They currently have a "waitlist" for new registrations, which I find rather gimmick-y, and it took a week or so for me to be able to sign up and shop. Oh, and they also plan to charge a $120/year membership fee someday, though they've "waived" that fee for now, for everyone that signs up prior to a certain unspecified cutoff date in the future. Obviously, from all I've ever written here, one can probably guess that there's absolutely no way I'd ever pay $120/year for the "privilege" of shopping anywhere! Once they start charging a membership fee, I'll be out of there immediately.

Even if I'm skeptical about quite a few things to do with Italic, when I saw this "Albee" textured leather cardholder for $40 (also available in gray and black), compared to the $200-plus of a certain Saint Laurent "Five Fragments" card holder I've long been interested in (but that is far too expensive for me for a wallet when I have other perfectly functional ones), I decided to try it. There are some differences in the two designs, including the lack of visible logo on Italic's, the leather zipper pull, and an added pocket in the back that's not present in the original (see photos of original at TheRealReal), though the, er, source of inspiration for the "Albee" is still quite obvious and largely undeniable.

Presently, shipping from Italic is quite slow and expensive. I didn't keep close track of the order date and delivery date, and I don't think they did a shipment notification email either, but I believe it took close to two weeks, if not a little longer, for it to arrive. Shipping cost $10, so my purchase cost me $50 in total, which I think is still a fair price for the cardholder.

I've only been using my new cardholder for a short time, and I quite like it so far! The leather is a touch softer and more pliable than I expected, which surprised me a little because I had imagined that an item of this type and design would need to be made of a stiffer leather to hold its shape. But once I put all my cards in it, and some cash in the zipped compartment, it felt solid, and like I wouldn't need to worry about it getting bent or damaged even if I didn't baby it. I may worry a bit about whether the credit card slots might stretch over time, in which case the design would become significantly less functional, if cards could slip out.

For now though, the slots are the exact right size, my cards feel securely in place, and it's also easy to get them in and out. (I have a lot of cards, so I put most of them in two to a slot.) The cardholder is a great size for me, nice and compact, but holds a bit more than most of my other small, cardholder-style wallets. It fits easily into all the pockets of my winter coats. The zipper compartment and pocket in back are quite small, however. If one is carrying much more than four or five individual bills, it can quickly start becoming difficult to get them in and out of the zipper compartment. And the zip compartment is also much too small to easily get coins in and out. The only thing I have in the back pocket is two loyalty cards from local coffee shops, and I don't think much more could fit there.

I've only been an Italic member for a short time, so I'm not sure if their product line will expand later, but outside of the cardholder I bought, I find the rest of their products rather dull. The screenshots above aren't a fully comprehensive listing of everything they're currently stocking. There's a few more bags, a leather jacket, more scarves, etc., and also a "hotel quality" cotton sheet set, $115 for the queen size, which is far too rich for my blood (K and I's household is strictly Ikea, Homegoods, or bargain bin at Macy's when it comes to our occasional purchases of bedding, when a previous set gets worn out completely and rips). The images above are enough to give a general idea, however. I guess I'm not at all the target customer for any of these handbag designs, as I prefer the look of almost everything from Everlane or Cuyana over them.

Anyway, I don't think buying just one cardholder gives me enough information to really assess Italic the company, on whole. And because most of their product line doesn't appeal to me, I probably won't be a repeat customer either. Also, the idea of charging a membership fee of $120/year just to shop from them seems like sheer madness to me. I have absolutely no idea what they're thinking! That's doubly true when the product lines are mostly "nothing special", as seen from the items above. Still, I am quite fond of my new cardholder, and think that it was fairly priced, so this experiment with shopping from Italic has turned out well enough for me.

Did you notice that wave of articles about Italic last November? Were you intrigued, or did you find the concept off-putting? (Also, when a company like Italic or Everlane suddenly gets a ton of "news" coverage from these online publications right in time for a new launch, it's transparently inorganic, right? The articles often sound like they're taken straight from the press releases?) What could Italic possibly be thinking with the proposed $120/year "membership fee" just to browse and shop, is there any example out there of a company for which something like that works? Costco's the only membership-based store I can personally think of... [ETA 2/12 - As Melissa and haikuanthology were kind enough to point out below, the online media industry does not accept payment, including from companies like Everlane or Italic, in exchange for coverage, so my original suggestion of this possibility was entirely off base. That will teach me to write strongly worded things about industries I don't fully understand! Though because of other pressures in the industry, which are substantial, it may turn out that certain articles are taken quite directly from the press releases or ad campaigns.] 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear from anyone who might be reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.