Five modern British brands you should have heard of
When you think of Britain it’s hard not to let your mind leap, via a cup of tea of course, back to some of our most iconic brands. Steeped in history, their products evoke nostalgia and quality, whether it’s a Burberry trench coat or a pair of Hunter wellies, a Raleigh or a Rolls-Royce. Such brands have become synonymous with British culture and tradition and are some of our biggest home-grown success stories.
But viewing Britain’s triumph’s through a purely historical lens only tells half a story. Indeed much of the country’s future success will come from young British companies and entrepreneurs who are harnessing the spirit of innovation and even reinventing the way consumers think about products.
From artisan popcorn to wearable tech that cares about your health, these upstarts represent the best of British – diverse, innovative and ready to disrupt.
The Drum takes a look at five of them that you really need to know about.
British consumers love their snacks, but we are also becoming increasingly health-aware, opting for lower calories and expecting the same quality of experience. Perhaps that’s why popcorn, with its healthy credentials (popped, not fried), is having something of a moment. UK sales of the snack rose by 169 per cent over five years to reach an estimated £129m in 2015, leaving crisps quivering in its wake.
Propercorn has emerged as one of the brands lending a bit of snap and crackle to the crowded snacks market with popcorn ‘done properly’. Founded by Cassandra Stavrou, the London-based brand is now one of the fastest-growing snacks in the UK, and has tapped into the consumer trend towards healthier choices perfectly, offering several innovative flavours with its calorie count displayed prominently on the front of its packaging.
Making itself heard in a competitive market has been one of the biggest challenges of the brand’s five-year history, but Stavrou (pictured above) attributes its success to its young, creative team – “our strongest asset” – and ability to be nimble.
“When starting out, the UK wasn’t geared up to season popcorn in the way we wanted and I certainly didn’t have the funding to make this happen straight away,” she says. “I fashioned a cement mixer into a tumbler and used a car spraying kit to finely mist on the oil so the seasoning would to stick to the popcorn.”
The brand has collaborated with a number of artists and designers for experiential campaigns, including partnering with set designer Rachel Thomas for a series of interactive installations around London, and joining forces with Bompas & Parr for a pop-up ‘Institute of Flavour’ event allowing visitors to create their own flavour of popcorn.
Stavrou is proud that the popcorn is made on British soil, with all recipes, packaging and campaigns created in-house, but says the brand draws on inspiration from beyond these isles alone. “The idea of “Britishness” has evolved so much over the years and we’re incredibly lucky to have such an exciting melting pot of food cultures on our doorstep.”
SMITH & SINCLAIR
Boozy confectionery sounds too good to be true, but Smith & Sinclair is combining the playfulness of sweets with the grown-up elegance of alcohol to tap into the world of sweet indulgence for adults.
Inspired by consumers craving new sensory experiences, founders Melanie Goldsmith and Emile Bernard came up with the concept when they were working on a series of board games dating nights. The cocktail pastille was born, and three years later, the sweets are stocked in outlets including Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.
Collaboration with brands has been key for the pair as they look to ensure consumers understand the offering without the budget for an ad campaign, as the products are the first of their kind to market. As such the company has forged relationships with a number of alcohol brands including Langley’s Gin.
“The biggest challenge our brand has had to overcome is standing for an identity beyond one product,” says Goldsmith. We have a range of eight Cocktail Pastilles, which are the first product of its kind to market. This is a strong position to be in, in terms of innovation and leading the market but it also means that a lot of education needs to be done around what it is and where you eat it.”
The company is on the cusp of launching a new brand identity, with an aim to build volume through airlines and the hospitality sector. Goldsmith says it continually looks towards innovations in alcohol and the trends of adult play, escapism and indulgence to inform and inspire the business.
Personalisation is at the heart of Unmade, the London-based startup railing against mass consumption in the fashion industry.
Founded by Royal College of Art graduates Ben Alun-Jones, Hal Watts and Kirsty Emery, it’s a knitwear company that holds no knitwear stock. Instead, garments are produced only when a customer wants to buy them, using industrial knitting machines after an order is placed. Customers sign in to the website, choose their own pattern and colour, and customise the design to create their own unique piece of clothing – only then can they purchase the garment. In a process akin to 3D printing and using advanced software, the design is automatically sent to industrial knitting machines at Somerset House and then finished by hand.
The most challenging aspect of building Unmade has been belief that it is moving in the right direction, says creative director Ben Alun-Jones. “The biggest challenge has been building the belief, acceptance and proof that what we’re building is the way the industry is moving. Changing attitudes is hard and fashion can be quite conservative.”
However, the startup has received backing from fashion and tech pioneers – including José Neves of Farfetch and senior executives from Google, Net-a-Porter and Zegna – reinforcing its business model.
‘Britishness’ for the brand stands for innovation, heritage and “being able to work with the best in the world”, says Alun-Jones. “We’re interested in learning from the past and updating on the traditions of the UK for textiles, from the birth of the industrial revolution to the latest one.”
Technology has become an intrinsic part of our lives, and not always for the better. As smartphones become an extension of ourselves we find it harder to switch off. It’s this quandary Vinaya is hoping to address.
The aim of the London-based startup is to create products that are more sensitive to human behaviour. Part design studio, part research lab, the company’s wearable tech is developed using insights on human habits and our relationship with technology. Its Altruis range of connected jewellery alert the wearer only to the most urgent of messages, allowing them to stay connected without distractions. And unlike most wearables, it’s actually stylish.
While the Vinaya team is comprised of 28 different nationalities, the brand’s heart remains in London says founder Kate Unsworth. “London is in our DNA. It will always be where the heart of the business is. Everything we do, we do here first and we’re proud of that.”
The biggest challenge for the company has been communicating the value its products bring to people’s everyday lives, according to Unsworth. “The smartphone has really achieved that, to a point where it has become an extension of the self and brought with it a bunch of negative influences on our wellbeing. Success as a brand will come from consumers trusting brands concerned about their daily life challenges and the impact technology can have on the human condition.”
Unsworth aims for Vinaya to become the “go-to resource” for lifestyle management technology, with a central focus on design and with design-led teams working on product development, collaborations, campaigns and events.
Rae Feather’s eponymous brand launched in 2013 to fill a void for luxury affordable womenswear, with a focus on timeless quality.
However, it’s her signature monogrammed straw baskets and clutches, often adorned with pompoms, that have become a cult hit with the fashion-forward.
The transition from clothing to a focus on accessories has been something of a challenge, demanding a change of mindset from the Oxfordshire-based entrepreneur.
“The initial focus of the brand was to create a well considered collection of wardrobe staples that people could reach for again and again,” explains Feather. “With the introduction of the baskets and accessories we were forced to listen to our customer who sees us as a fun luxury brand. I’ve had to change my whole mindset and development strategy. It was tough at the beginning but now it’s great fun.”
The focus is now to create a lifestyle brand with the introduction of other products and the development of a beachwear collection. The brand will also participate in London Fashion Week this year for the first time – “to be present and part of that arena is really special,” says Feather. Of the company’s British heritage, she adds: “We are one of the most respected nationalities in the world from a brand perspective and to even be a tiny part of that is amazing.”
This article was first published in the 17 August issue of The Drum, with a special focus on British creativity.