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Visions 03
July 22, 2022

Visions Episode 3: Romanticism

Live from the Visions Summit in West Palm Beach, FL, the conversation in this episode is around what we call Brand Romanticism. We’ve seen such an amazing proliferation of brand. There's more choice than ever before. Some say that brands are our canvas and the products are these new pieces of art that are being brought to the world. Are brands artists and our products their canvas?

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Show Notes

  • Are some brands fooling themselves thinking of their role as one of art when really their product is more about commodity and their role is really about commerce?
  • Have we romanticized brands more than what is due to it? “Brands have an opportunity to support art and not delude themselves into thinking that they are the creators of product.” - Grace Clarke
  • “Consumers are going to know if you're dressing up something that's basic and adding a couple of zeros to it because you've romanticized it by using some kind of art style to style it. But at the same time, I think it's important that brands understand where there might be adjacencies to their product.” - Miya Knights
  • “You can make an argument that the brand is not art, but the brand is an excellent curator of the culture that it is participating in. Are you co-opting something that exists in culture for marketing purposes or for promotional purposes? Or are you a participant?” - Michael Miraflor
  • “It seems like everyone who talks passionately about what they're working on automatically goes from 0 to 100 talking about getting venture-backed and shooting for a big exit, which is totally fine. I mean, that would be an amazing outcome. But I would love to see the story of more founders working hard on their projects regardless of that outcome.” - Michael Miraflor
  • “Art is something that I would rather companies, specifically founders who are perhaps at an earlier stage and they're still understanding who their customer is and how their brand can grow, maybe borrow the principles of what it is to be an artist rather than trying to see yourself as one.” - Grace Clarke
  • “Artists have to be true to themselves. A brand has to be true to its customers.” - Miya Knights
  • “We affix ourselves to certain products or brands because it helps us understand who we are, and it also helps us relate to other people in our own niche. It gives us this shorthand in this other language. We can find each other quickly. We can converse on Twitter with this other language. So that belonging is a huge part of brand identity for me. That romanticism of art and gathering is really about social sharing.” - Grace Clarke
  • “There are so many dynamics emerging that probably drag brands towards feeling that they should be more like art. But I think they have to be really clear on their purpose as a merchant and whether or not they have an artisanship or an artisanal story to tell.” - Miya Knights


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Phillip Jackson: [00:00:36] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about the next generation of commerce and the things that affect it. I'm Phillip and I'm here at Vision Summit in West Palm Beach, and I have an amazing panel here with me. Just quickly introduce yourselves. Michael...

Michael Miraflor: [00:01:16] Michael Miraflor, Chief Brand Officer at Hannah Grey VC. We are a pre-seed and seed stage venture firm investing in founders who are looking to change the everyday behaviors of consumers.

Phillip Jackson: [00:01:31] Miya...

Miya Knights: [00:01:32] I'm Miya Knights. I'm an author, consultant, and publisher of Retail Technology magazine in the UK.

Phillip Jackson: [00:01:38] Okay, Grace...

Grace Clark: [00:01:39] I'm Grace Clark and I run a growth marketing consultancy and I focus on supporting brands either at the go-to-market stage or as they are graduating toward future fundraises. And the mission for all of my work is to help them be a little bit closer to their customer in an empathetic way.

Phillip Jackson: [00:01:56] That's a wonderful place to start. Speaking of empathy, we're actually going to talk a little bit about something that we've coined as a term is sort of Brand Romanticism or this idea that we live in an era that's seen such an amazing proliferation of brand. There's more choice than ever before. And in many ways, we've actually even heard some conversation in all of our echo chambers about things like brands are our canvas and the products are these new pieces of art that are being brought to the world. And we're sort of beholding them as art, but we all know that we have to engage in commerce. And so I thought maybe we could sort of start there. Are brands artists and are products their canvas? Michael, do you have any thoughts about that?

Michael Miraflor: [00:02:48] There's always a nuanced answer to things like this.

Phillip Jackson: [00:02:51] Sure.

Michael Miraflor: [00:02:51] So my answer is going to be somewhere in the middle, I think. Maybe, yes. I mean, it really depends on the intention of the brand. And some brands, you know, they have artistic leads, they have a more creative bent, and the reason that they exist is in part to make their mark on a culture, as well as to serve the consumer by creating beautiful products. But I think that some brands kind of trick themselves into thinking that when at the end of the day, they might be selling commodity product and they might be focusing a bit too much on the I want to be thought about in the same vein as art, when at the end of the day it's really their job to do commerce.

Phillip Jackson: [00:03:38] Do you think that it's sort of a problematic conflation of sort of meeting the consumer need and desire, especially in the food space, right? There's a lot of luxurification of common foods. We certainly have come through that era in a big way. I know, Grace, that's sort of your world. What is the role that brand is playing and maybe how we... Let's take it from our perspective. Have we romanticized brand beyond what is due to it?

Grace Clark: [00:04:08] It is such a good question. And first and foremost, I think brands can be seen more as art patrons rather than artists themselves or commodifying art simply for a marketing campaign. I think we have some really great luxury examples, but also more modern. So if anyone's ever seen a BMW art car that's been a project of theirs for over 25 years now. And I think we can... Everyone knows Google Doodle. That was, what, 1998 when that started? So there are certain ways that brands that are both product-based and consumer-based can have a point of view on art. And the bigger they are, the bigger responsibility, I'd argue, a brand has to support art or continue the conversation around what art is not simply to acquire customers. But on the direct to consumer side, something I'm seeing is brands actually integrating art and artful thinking into the creation of their brand experience. And to me, it's not in a way to get credit. I think the best example we can see right now is in Ghia, which is a nonalcoholic spirit, and that art has been a complete element of the brand experience and its own. I mean, even recently the Founder, Melanie Masarin, created a house and that's where the Ghia office will be. But it's an expression of what the brand actually is. That house is full of very legitimate art, both more contemporary and more modern. All the way down to what's hanging on the wall and the salt and pepper shakers that are used in the kitchen. So I think brands have an opportunity to support art and not delude themselves into thinking that they are the creators of product. I think maybe if you talk to someone who's working at Apple and product design, you might get a completely different answer to that because there is so much humanity involved in certain products.

Phillip Jackson: [00:05:59] Miya, in your world, I know you work with big retailers. Would a retailer ever consider themselves to be a curator of art? If brand is some sort of an artist and products are their output would a retailer ever even have or ever engage in that kind of conversation? Or have we sort of lost our way in our little corner of the world?

Miya Knights: [00:06:24] Well, I think they would engage in the conversation, but not necessarily in the way that they're thinking about it as art. I mean, hearing Michael and Grace answer the questions that you put to them, I was thinking that brands have to make a conscious decision to get the balance right between form and function, style and substance. If you've got a particularly commoditized product, it might be that the brand decides to go for the substance, go for the style and the form over to try as a form of differentiation. But I think you've got to stay authentic as well in that sense. I mean, consumers are going to know if you're dressing up something that's basic and adding a couple of zeros to it because you've romanticized it by using some kind of art style to style it. But at the same time, I think it's important that brands understand where there might be adjacencies to their product. And to Grace's point, the example you gave is great because they understand, the Ghia house, they understand that even if they weren't making the product that they make, this is what we would do if we were making salt and pepper shakers. Their purpose runs deep in that sense. They understand exactly what they need to be to a consumer, regardless of whether they're making art or a house or salt and pepper shakers.

Phillip Jackson: [00:07:56] That's powerful. Yeah.

Miya Knights: [00:07:56] That's to me, where the romanticized part of branding has value for the brands themselves. They need to unpack what that love affair they're creating with consumers is, and find a way of giving that back to them, reflecting that to them. Just commissioning some artists to do a few pop-ups or to decorate your store is not enough. You need to think it through, right from the product development innovation point, right through to the marketing. It has to be consistent, coherent, and true to the brand.

Michael Miraflor: [00:08:33] In that way, I think some brands are better curators of the culture that they inhabit than others, and some brands are more purposeful about that. Going back to Ghia again, I mean, they have curated this house and been able to communicate whatever emotional value that it delivers to the consumer in such a beautiful way. But it's also a way for them to tell their story about how they participate in that culture that they are projecting. And not all brands really have permission to do that. But when you do it in a right way, it lends so much credibility. So you can make an argument that the brand is not art, but the brand is an excellent curator of the culture that it is participating in. And I think that makes all the difference. Are you co-opting something that exists in culture for marketing purposes or for promotional purposes? Or are you a participant? Are you helping to create? Are you helping to facilitate the ecosystem for which you are now sort of actively curating?

Phillip Jackson: [00:09:44] Is maybe this, not to get political because we can certainly go down that road. But we had a moment that I think is pivotal in the United States here in a case called Citizens United, which sort of personified and gave rights and speech rights to corporations. And not that we weren't already down that path quite a ways. In that case, it was around campaign funding. I notice now more maybe because I'm just aware of it, and it's mere exposure bias, but I seem to think that we are personifying brands more than we have in the past. We call them people. Like we actually refer to them as people and say "they." These are corporations, which at the end of the day need to make a profit, hopefully, eventually. They need to be self-sustaining and then they found a customer and they're delivering a product at a sizable margin so that they can perpetuate. But that's not how artists live. My wife's an artist. I know how artists live. Most artists are bi-vocational. Most artists do that for the passion. Are we in an era then, having said all of that, could we be in an era where that's okay? That's okay that a brand doesn't have to achieve some sort of self-sustainability breakout success. If it truly is art, it can be a passion project and nothing more. Grace, I'm curious what you think about that.

Grace Clark: [00:11:11] What's coming to mind is a brand that I both do and don't associate with art. And that's Coca-Cola, mostly because the images that come to mind are some of their campaigns. And I remember growing up and seeing the Coca-Cola polar bears or seeing Coke murals. But when I think about Coke, I don't want or need or expect them to be an artistic sort of brand or create a world for me. However, I do think as an enterprise company, I would imagine there is some responsibility there to at least support an artistic perspective and as a brand that's able to incubate other brands, just considering the capital that company has, that is where I feel like innovation can happen. If you have the right people inside that company where they can basically use that infrastructure as a way to incubate another company inside of it. And that can be a way to build out a brand that has an artful spirit while you're using the resources of a company that doesn't have that responsibility, at least from the public.

Phillip Jackson: [00:12:49] Michael, you're a collector of art.

Michael Miraflor: [00:12:54] I'd like to think that.

Phillip Jackson: [00:12:56] I think you know more... I perceive, based on Twitter alone and nothing else...

Phillip Jackson: [00:13:02] The marketing is working then.

Phillip Jackson: [00:13:03] {laughter} I perceive that you know something about art or that you have a particular special affinity for it. What's your take on this idea of starving artists brand creators? Does that give us more cause to think of brands as art?

Michael Miraflor: [00:13:24] I would love to hear more conversations with founders that saw their life's work going into whatever product that they're developing in more of a way of starving artists than focusing on what you just said, capital outcomes. [00:13:37] It seems like everyone who talks passionately about what they're working on automatically goes from 0 to 100 talking about getting venture-backed and shooting for a big exit, which is totally fine. I mean, that would be an amazing outcome. But I would love to see the story of more founders working hard on their projects regardless of that outcome. But maybe that's just something that is not allowed to be spoken of out loud. Like there is a certain pride in saying, "This person or that person or I myself am a starving artist." [00:14:18] The connotation is not entirely negative, even though at face value a starving artist is a starving artist. I think if a founder really doesn't care if the brand stays small or regional or if it goes to the moon, they're maybe not allowed to talk about the former as much as the latter, because that signals to the marketplace that they might not be as serious about their project as they might be. It's just they know that it can exist in the market and in culture without it having to be so ambitious as to think that you need to put an eventual IPO in Slide 10 of your fundraising deck. I'm not sure if this gets to the crux of your question, but I love it when I hear of, you know, $5 to $15 million companies doing well, treating their employees right, and growing to the point where they have a community that loves them. And if they wanted to, they can just keep that going.

Miya Knights: [00:15:24] Yeah. Yeah. Because they started from a position of "I'm going to starve for my art. I believe in what I'm doing so much." But it's probably come from a place where from a product innovation standpoint or whatever service or product they're selling, they've seen a gap in the market and they're filling it. So I think, again, I would caution talking about brands as art when people start to think about art for art's sake. Brands have to make money. But to Michael's point, they don't always have to be aiming for IPO. I think we have to get to a stage where it's good enough for the person, the founder, to feel, "Yes, I have a $15 million a year business. This is where I want to be. If someone wants to come and buy me, fine. But I'm not going to necessarily try and diversify or dilute my purpose just to keep growing." It would be so refreshing to hear of companies like that, but I think we live in a world, a particularly increasingly globalized world, where I can't believe two years into a pandemic, we're still expecting double-digit growth from the likes of Amazon. We're still expecting... We live in this world, I think, where it's very difficult to reconcile art as part of a commercial outcome when we see rising stars and we just expect them to keep growing in that sense. It's totally incompatible.

Phillip Jackson: [00:16:58] So the problem is capitalism. Sorry, go ahead.

Grace Clark: [00:17:01] Yeah. I mean, I was going to poke that bear a little bit by saying that I think art is something that I would rather companies, specifically founders who are perhaps at an earlier stage and they're still understanding who their customer is and how their brand can grow, maybe borrow the principles of what it is to be an artist rather than trying to see yourself as one. First of all, I think there's probably some risk, like Michael pointed out, in terms of signaling outwardly that you truly think about your product as art that might take away from the seriousness or the viability of the product. And I think that might sow some lack of confidence, especially if you're about to embark on a fundraise or you have six months of runway. Maybe don't say that publicly. So instead, I think what comes up for me is how important it is to hang on to what it is to be creative and understand the principles of art and what the process is in terms of what the eventual output could be. I remember being five and I wonder if everyone has had this experience where the interest in art as a practice gets trained out of us. When we're five or six, maybe if we go to a school that we're lucky enough has an art program, we participate in that. But slowly we start to acquire more methodical skills or tangible skills. And being an artist and having that curiosity without a desired outcome or without a utility is something that isn't really nurtured once we get to a certain age, at least in this country, at least in my life. So creativity in play with no purpose is not something that feels like even has a place always in my work. I have to be careful about it and so much so that part of what I did when I was building a team at my most recent position was institute "no keyboards outings" where we weren't allowed to do any work and we had to make something with our hands because I so badly wanted to protect the part of their brains and spirits that got them to my team in the first place. And if we don't protect that, it might not be something that we can easily prioritize.

Miya Knights: [00:19:02] Yeah. I think if you talk to a brand, an up and coming brand, and you put the word starving with artists, they'd be like, "Oomph." Do you see what I mean?

Phillip Jackson: [00:19:09] Yeah. I get it.

Miya Knights: [00:19:10] Yeah. There's a certain pride in being a starving artist, but if you're going into business to sell stuff to people... And the other thing, the other distinction I think that occurred to me as Grace was just answering your question is that artists have to be true to themselves. I think a brand has to be true to its customers. It has to have a really... Fashion brands, for example, we've always thought that they have a muse. The designer has a muse in their head that they're designing for, and I think a brand, whether you're doing a product or a service, even if it's a utilitarian product has to really design with that customer, that ideal best customer in mind, and then take that first principle and elevate it from there. And to Grace's point, maybe use the marketing to elevate the product, to elevate the brand experience. But you never get away from the fact that someone's got to buy this. It's got to be kind of useful in the end.

Phillip Jackson: [00:20:10] It does have to be useful. So this is where I think to overextend the analogy again because that's my thing. We are, Grace, taught from a very young age to express ourselves through art. A crayon in the hands of a child it's process art, right? And you're learning motor skills, but the child's creating something out of nothing. There's hotel art, right? There's art in this house all over the place and varying degrees of skill and quality that goes into it. Maybe part of this is like, let's flip the script. Maybe it's the customer's perception of why that thing exists in the world that is imposing this idea upon us. In our study, we found that the majority of the respondents of our survey said that they appreciate and even love the idea of a brand more than they do around the ownership of the product. And so when we're talking about art specifically, some art can exist for no commercial reason or purpose. Maybe the consumer is ahead of where we all are on this panel, and maybe a brand can exist for no reason or purpose.

Miya Knights: [00:21:27] I think brands can certainly be symbolic. To flip the script, as you say, c [00:21:40]onsumers associate brands with artistic attributes. And that's why we romanticize them, I think. And because it's symbolic, we attach the symbolism of buying this, whether it's I'm buying a luxury brand because I can afford to and nobody else has got it, or everybody's got it and I want to be part of that. I think it's coming from your right to say, "We need to flip the script when we're talking about brands as romanticism," I think in that sense, thinking it through. Because we're the ones romanticizing them, we're the ones attaching value, and it's brands that can actually recognize that symbolism and take it and reflect it back to us to kind of endorse that we're right in engaging with the brand for the reasons that we think we're engaging with them that do the best. [00:22:31]

Grace Clark: [00:22:31] What we're performing our identities a bit when we engage with any sort of brand or product, whether we're buying something because we stylistically feel really great about wearing it or we simply need it for function. We're still buying something because it creates some reality in our lives that we want to be true for ourselves. So there are lots of brands that I appreciate from that perspective, but I myself am not a customer of theirs and I still think that's okay. So I spend a ton of time on Reddit, both for entertainment purposes, and also for work, and one of the top Reddits of the most hundred popular on any given day that is related to hobbies is gardening. I have no interest in making a garden myself, however, I spend time there partly because it helps me understand how other people are living out their own values. Oftentimes brands get mentioned that are interesting for me just as a market researcher, but I also want to understand how people are performing out who they want to be and what their hobbies are. How people talk about brands that they mentioned, and why they debate the merits of particular top soils... That's all just understanding how a consumer wants to live their life separate from how they want to make money. So that's necessarily an exploration of how someone feels romantically about their life. [00:23:49] Anyone can go on TikTok right now and see multiple hashtags and sounds about romanticizing your own life, your own daily life, and being your own main character. So brands are simply a part of that. And [00:24:00] Michael and I have had conversations around this that we affix ourselves to certain products or brands because it helps us understand who we are, and it also helps us relate to other people in our own niche. It gives us this shorthand in this other language. We can find each other quickly. We can converse on Twitter with this other language. So that belonging is a huge part of brand identity for me. That romanticism of art and gathering is really about social sharing.

Michael Miraflor: [00:24:28] And it's not always a conscious exploration as well. It's like when I first started "art collecting," quote-unquote, someone gave me a great piece of advice. Just explore with your eyes open and not overdoing the research, you will realize that you like what you like because that is a reflection of who you are as a person to this point, all your tastes and your values, and other art that you've encountered. When you find a piece that really speaks to you, it's going to be really difficult for you to describe it. But you know it's something that you will want to acquire and you'll feel good about waking up and seeing it on your wall. So it's a bit of a conscious plus subconscious exploration. But Grace, I love what you just said, but it almost justifies the definition of certain types of brands as being art because cost and scarcity and desire aside, you might appreciate the craftsmanship and the objects that a brand produces. It might not be for you, but you could recognize it as something that belongs to culture and speaks to a certain type of consumer and individual who is motivated enough to actually purchase it. But you don't appreciate any less than someone who decides to deploy some of their capital to purchase that thing.

Grace Clark: [00:25:42] This thought has been immortalized in a movie quote that I want to share with this group. So if anyone's ever seen the movie Zoolander... There's a moment where...

Michael Miraflor: [00:25:53] {laughter} I was like, "What highbrow movie is this going to be?"

Grace Clark: [00:25:55] Where Owen Wilson's character is playing a male model called Hansel and he wins an award. And in his thank you speech, he says "Sting, the music that he makes, I don't really listen to it, but the fact that he's making it, I appreciate that."

Michael Miraflor: [00:26:09] Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Grace Clark: [00:26:10] That is so how I feel about certain brands. I don't want a Land Rover and I never want to be part of that world. It doesn't represent who I want to be or the values that I want to be true in the world. I still appreciate the adherence and the consistency to that image and the endurance of that company over decades and decades and decades and the resurgence that it has and how it plays into that and sort of lets it fade and then revisits it. That, to me, is a masterclass in what it is to be a brand that has a strong perspective and a strong aesthetic and does not deviate from it.

Michael Miraflor: [00:26:44] Yeah, it's like my relationship with every high-end luxury timepiece company. Expensive watches, basically. 99% of people who own a Rolex will never become deep sea divers in the same way that people who own Omegas will never go to the moon or people who own Breitlings will ever be a fighter pilot. But those brands are so consistent about how they tell their stories and the craftsmanship behind each one of the pieces. I mean, if you do even a little bit of below surface level research, you understand the hundreds of hours that go into assembling any one of those timepieces. I mean, you can make an argument that these are pieces of art. And that's why consumer behavior, when it comes to the relationship with those objects, models more like art collecting than purchasing a suit or something that might be of the same quality or the same price point. So I think they're definitely levels to this.

Miya Knights: [00:27:46] There are three things that occurred to me to say. One is that there's a distinction between being a merchant and an artisan. So when you talk about Omega watches, Breitling, you think about when they are marketing their products, they are marketing the people that make the products.

Michael Miraflor: [00:28:00] Craftsmanship.

Miya Knights: [00:28:01] The craftsmanship behind it, the amount of time, and classicism. So you can have these amazing levels of craftsmanship, but when does a product become in terms of it needs to be in a design museum? Or another trend that I see that kind of fits into this area is the circular economy. So particularly it's very much to do with the amount of artisanship that goes into a product, but the more artisan capability that you can say has gone into your product, the more longevity you might be able to give it. And I really think that what we're seeing with the circular economy, where people want to buy secondhand goods because they're a price point. You might have a brand that you really aspire to, but only recently because you could acquire it secondhand, you're able to buy into that. I think there are so many dynamics emerging in that sense that probably drag brands towards feeling that they should be more like art. But I think they have to be really clear on their purpose as a merchant and whether or not they have an artisanship or an artisanal story to tell.

Phillip Jackson: [00:29:25] That's such an amazing point because it reminds me of last year's Vision report that we did. We discovered that 81% of our audience and survey respondents consider during the purchase process, in their consideration of the purchase, they wonder to themselves what happens when they're done using that product. In other words, they consider the residual value of what it will be worth when I'm done with it, and just that mere consideration changes the way that you value that piece because it might lead you to buy something, justify the purchasing of something higher quality because of this romantic idea that you can sell it some other time when you're done with or someone else can make use of it. And I think that that in and of itself is this really novel idea that we're all, that luxury has been the primary beneficiary of for so long because of the durability of the goods or the artisanal quality, they've benefited by that by just virtue of the types of goods they create. It's an entire industry trying to replicate that I think becomes problematic over time because not everything actually commercially can exist. And so let's bring that back to this point where this coming back to the core idea is that there are places in this world where art is commercialized and sold. We have an analog for that in this world. You go to a gallery, you can go over to Worth Avenue right over here. It's five miles away. And you can dip in and out of Loro Piano, and then you can go into a gallery, and you can go into Hermès, and you can go into a gallery. They are very intentionally sprinkled together. That world coexists. And so this idea that there is a venue for us to go and purchase art is very different from another venue that houses art like museums where we go to behold something. So let's kind of tease this out because I really wonder if the long tail of eCommerce and direct to consumer and this idea of like entrepreneurship and Shopify, the Shopify-ification of everything, what we've done is inadvertently really just created a museum of brand of which most people will go to behold and almost nobody goes there to transact.

Miya Knights: [00:31:50] Yeah. Yeah. I think thinking about it, I mean, with that description you make, I immediately thought of Etsy. I don't know why. In the sense that you can spend hours scrolling Etsy and walk away and not buy a thing. But at the same time, I think Etsy, as a marketplace, has to perform commercially. It's got to work for it for the merchants that use it. I don't know if I'm fully answering your question or making a point that goes to the question.

Grace Clark: [00:32:22] Well, you make me think of Depop and something that there are a few things that are really fascinating to me about Depop right now, especially in juxtaposition with their competitors. So let's talk about Depop and Poshmark. Poshmark has a larger average user base right now. However, Poshmark has paid to acquire more of their customers than Depop has. Depop is growing a little faster, and Depop has 5% of its listings classified as art, and that continues to grow. Poshmark has nothing representing art, but when you go to Depop, you mentioned Loro Piana being next to a gallery, Depop is actually selling you objects that go into your home and objects that you wear. And I imagine that we'll start to see the category of art continue to increase. And when we think about what art really is, they're just people having the exact same behavior as someone walking down Worth Avenue, but perhaps they're a little bit younger, or perhaps their purchasing power is a little bit smaller, but they still want to understand who they get to be through what they tend to buy. And the merchants there are real people, so the platform itself is still viable while they're allowing people to buy different types of things on the same platform. So same reason we see Urban Outfitters ballooning and then sort of a waxing and waning category of home products. But Anthropologie also in the same family, really well known for their homewares. So, people, I think, want to nest and want to have an experience, an aesthetic experience through all the different touchpoints of their life, even if it's their home, where people with varying degrees of being public or not, whether they have people over, they still want that in their house. And I think about Michael and how he feels when he is looking for something that he wants in his home that other people may not see. But it just feels like an expression of who he is. Is the place that you bought it a brand? Is the artist that you support a brand in and of themselves [00:34:24]? Do you think of this if you imagine your house as a museum to you, do you think of it as all of the different brands and the people that are represented, the artists that you're patrons for? I mean, we can always debate the merits of all of these smaller brands that are launching this direct to consumer boom and whether or not those brands are actually viable. I really wonder what the conversations are like on the investor side, which is how viable is this really beautifully designed brand and how long can it last? [00:34:53] Will it get rolled up in a sort of brand friendly D'Orazio approach where brands aren't just commodities? And if those brands close down after a certain period of time, will we have a literal museum of brands and we can go see, sort of like the basement of the Lubalin Center and the Cooper Union in New York, where we get to go look at what people interacted with. And there are some incredible archives in that particular museum. Swiss pharmaceutical advertising from Herb Lubalin and just an unbelievable archive of what it was to be a brand in certain eras. I would love to see a timeline of what brands looked like as we this age group started to become consumers who were shopping from like younger and younger companies.

Michael Miraflor: [00:35:37] It all goes back to basics, right? And time kind of tells a story of the evolution of every brand. And there are only so many brands that are worth re exploring after so many decades. So it all goes back to the quality and the purpose and maybe the craftsmanship depending on what we're talking about. But I love seeing an early Braun razor or clock. And these are otherwise commodity goods, but they are just done with so much purpose and so much style and are timeless. I know we've been talking a lot about luxury because it's easy to make that one in one comparison between luxury and art. But I think it's important to acknowledge that art, popular art is having a moment right now. You go to Art Basel, Miami Beach, and it's turned into like a circus pretty much. And you can walk into any fast fashion retailer and the estates of very, very popular artists like Warhol and Haring and Basquiat like you can buy a $15 t-shirt adorned with any one of their screen prints. And there's value to that because it helps younger people without a lot of disposable income to explore. But I think there is a delineation between the moment that we're living in where just art, especially art that has historically had an interaction with pop culture... Right now, it's like the focus on the eighties with artists that I just mentioned. But I think there is a higher level to it where maybe some of those consumers graduate to the point where they want to get educated on exactly what is adorning their t-shirt or their sweater or whatever. So it's not necessarily like there are exit through the gift shop brands and then there are brands of a higher order that tend to be like luxury goods only. I think there's a conversation, there's always a conversation between products and how they are consumed and how they are perceived as art or not. I'm trying to go back to gallery versus museum.

Phillip Jackson: [00:37:27] Yeah.

Michael Miraflor: [00:37:32] I feel like malls in a way are galleries. I feel like walking to an Apple store is a high end gallery sometimes. Restoration Hardware.

Phillip Jackson: [00:37:42] That's a gallery.

Michael Miraflor: [00:37:42] That's definitely a gallery. Right. And what is the museum? Is the museum the home? Is the museum someone's collection? So it's difficult to think of an exact analog. But I do see where you're coming from, where, you know, you open up a closet for someone who you might not even consider yourself a collector, but you can open a closet and say, "This is why I'll never sell this piece." There is an intrinsic value there. There's also a story behind it. Yes, there's secondary market value, but I'll never sell it. But on the flip side of that, I think there is an increasing consciousness from a consumer perspective that it's not just durable goods, but what is the value that this might have after I'm done with it? I think I'm taking your words word for word. But I do think about that when I'm purchasing something. It's almost a binary like this will go to zero eventually and I'm totally fine with that. But everything that is not disposable to me needs to have a secondary market value. Even if I end up not selling it just for the peace of mind that it's almost like a litmus test of is this thing actually valuable or is there any thought or was there craftsmanship or was there or even the purpose of the brand founders? Is it injected into this item? And if it's not, then that will go to zero as well. And I might want to explore something that's a bit more premium so that I feel good about using this item in the same way that I might wake up feeling good about investing in a piece of art that is on my wall. That's a certain kind of satisfaction.

Grace Clark: [00:39:22] I think we're seeing that play out in ways that we don't even consider perhaps part of this conversation. So we woke up to the news that Love Island actually walked away from its fast fashion partnerships, and now they're exclusively partnering with eBay. And to me, that is such a leading indicator, first of a franchise that I didn't consider to be particularly moralistic having a point of view on at least how the world can continue to evolve around sustainability. But secondarily, that's such a signal that the people who are watching that show are going to be introduced to the idea of passing on or finding a second life for the things that you own. So hopefully, let's imagine 20 years down the road, maybe the second and third order effects are people think more like Michael, which is I need to buy something to wear because I have to be clothed. Is this something that when I don't want it anymore, I don't throw it away, but instead I put it up on eBay if eBay still exists? If we actually consider what the fuller life cycle of something could be.

Miya Knights: [00:40:22] So this is why I think we found it so hard to move away from luxury when we talk about romanticizing brands because just take it back to basics. I was thinking about kitchen utensils and kitchen appliances. We can all think of a number of brands where we think they basically build in obsolescence. And so that in and of itself devalues the brand. Whereas we think of some kitchen appliance brands that you buy once for a lifetime and you're prepared to spend a little bit more on it. So I think we must to keep it real, as it were, think about the different types of consumers they are and the different amounts of disposable income that they have and where in their own value prop in their mind they want to see their money best spent. So they're being patrons in that sense as well from an artistic standpoint. But I do think that this is a clarion call. If I'm sort of reflecting on the conversation so far for a brand to definitely think about the innovation, the product development, the product design from a point of view of it being sustainable. And that sustainability can actually elevate it to art.

Michael Miraflor: [00:41:42] My favorite retail gallery to walk into recently is The RealReal. You walk in and you're surrounded by products that have aged well and retained value. And it's great to pick up a piece from a decade ago and you get to hold it and touch it, investigate it. And it's like, well, this is a quality product and almost defies the conventional expectation that you go into any other retail store where I'm buying a commodity product and it'll eventually be worth nothing. But I'm fine with that because I'm buying it for functionality, utility, whatever. You walk into a store like The RealReal, which is very curated, and it's only full of used, gently used, sometimes cherished heirloom products that just so happen to be finding life in the secondary market. And it's a great reminder of the fact that some things you purchase for a lifetime or as heirloom objects. Maybe that's not the vast majority of things that we consume, but there is a place and maybe for the past ten or 15 years, we've kind of lost that with the rise of things like fast fashion, with the rise of otherwise disposable objects, and maybe through the pandemic, because there's been such a supply chain shortage of even high end goods that people are exploring secondhand. I think there's something to it and I'm hoping there's something to it because it can only do good for the world and the environment and counterbalance, I don't know if we're allowed to call it the Shein effect of the extreme and other end of what our conversation has been.

Phillip Jackson: [00:43:26] Okay, I don't even know where to take it from. I will say the thing that I think of when I think of museums, and this is probably not the right connotation, but a good number of artists that are in museums, their works persist well beyond their natural life and it's durable. I cannot say that that's going to be the case for most consumer goods that have been created over the last 15 years. They will not persist. They aren't durable. The idea of them will, though, and I think that's where when we look back at this era, I believe our own romanticism of this whole explosion of brand and direct to consumer and personification of brand and the fetishization of the entrepreneur, it's all actually going to be wrapped up in the fact of "Wow, that was kind of interesting."

Michael Miraflor: [00:44:15] Yeah. "Wasn't that an era?"

Phillip Jackson: [00:44:16] That's the hallmark is that there is infinite choice. And yet at the end of the day, we chose just a few fewer, better things.

Miya Knights: [00:44:26] I think if there are any brands or retailers listening to this, watching us, they should be designing with art in mind. They should be thinking regardless of how utilitarian or functional, whatever it is I'm trying to sell that I kind of want to see it in a museum one day. That would be a good takeaway for me because, you know, Kitchenaid's, the iMac, all of the Coca-Cola bottle, all of these have become icons. And I think that that in and of itself is something worth aspiring to.

Phillip Jackson: [00:44:59] Love that. Last word. Thank you so much. And thank you so much for listening and for watching. You can find more episodes of this and everything that we create at

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