December 17, 2014
December 17, 2014
A mom-and-pop bank in a tiny Kansas town plans to reshape banking, reports Nathaniel Popper in The New York Times (12/16/14). Suresh Ramamurthi and his wife, Suchitra Padmanabhan bought Citizens Bank of Weir — now known as CBW — "largely with their savings in 2009, just after the financial crisis." The bank plans to offer "instant payments to any bank in the United States, direct remittance transfers abroad and specialized debit cards," which are "not available at even the nation’s largest banks."
Weir, Kansas (population 686) is a long way from Silicon Valley, where Suresh worked on Google Checkout and observed "that even a tech colossus … was leashed" and "unable to try new things because it was not a bank, and did not have direct access to the basic networks for transferring money." Having grown up in India, Suresh was equally sensitive to cash flow issues. "You may be poor today, but when the harvest comes you will be richer in a few months," he says, noting that a bank "has the ability to alleviate and smooth those inequities."
Key to accelerating money transfers is "software that can judge the risk involved in any transaction in real time." CBW also plans to "make it possible send wire payments and create customized debit cards online." The cards can be "contextual" — set for "specific stores or at specific times. A parent, for example, could create a debit card for a child that could be used during lunch hours only in the ZIP code near the child’s school." Very cool, but CBW’s most popular innovation to date appears to be its "free cookies and cider on Friday afternoons."
December 8, 2014
Frustrated by the lack of a local bank, Bill Greiner plans to open his own, reports Saabira Chaudhuri in The Wall Street Journal (12/16/14). Bill is a real-estate developer and restaurant owner whose application for a new bank is the first that the FDIC has received in 2014. If approved, "it would be only the second new bank the FDIC has cleared in the US since 2010." Bill "has raised $3 million" to open Primary Bank near Manchester, New Hampshire, which he expects will "fill a void for smaller banks in his region."
Bill’s "dissatisfaction with larger banks has roots in the financial crisis, when he was trying to close a deal but couldn’t get suitable loan terms from Providence RI-based Citizens Financial Group Inc., with which he had done business for years. He started dealing more with locally owned banks that he found more receptive," but then those were sold to larger banks and they weren’t as responsive. "People here like going to see the bank president at his house on Saturday morning," says Bill. "They like to know things are going to be locally owned."
Glenn Perlow, a New Hampshire official who would have to approve the new bank agrees: "Banks have merged to the size where they may not be as interested in small-business lending," he says. "It’s important for us to have banks that are right sized for that." Bill has already started building the first of three planned branches in the area. "We’re not going to have the cheapest rates or offer every product," he says, "but we will offer local control, local decisions and a quick turnaround."
December 8, 2014
Beer runs are following in tracks of taxicab services, reports Tripp Mickle in The Wall Street Journal (12/5/14). Just as Uber app-ified hitching a ride, "a year-old company called Drizly," along with several competitors, is "reshaping the hidebound business of selling alcohol." This is particularly tricky because of America’s "arcane alcohol-distribution laws," dating back to Prohibition. "Those rules create a three-tier system in which alcohol producers sell to wholesalers, who, in turn, sell to retailers."
The workaround is that Drizly and others leave the actual sale of the alcohol to the local retailers who deliver it, charging a fee for use of its technology, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per month. To thwart minors, deliverymen are issued "iPhones with software that scans a person’s identification through the phones’ cameras, confirms that it is real, and verifies that it matches the name on the order." MillerCoors is the first major US brewer to use Drizly, starting with a promotion in Boston, New York, Seattle and Washington DC.
So far, some "250,000 users have ordered with Drizly through more than 150 stores," but Dilini Fernando of MillerCoors says the goal is less about selling more beer than "to engage young adults by bringing Miller Lite to their door." Plans are to place "buy now" buttons on sites like Thrillist. Drizly CEO Nick Rellas also envisions adding food-delivery services. "We have all these little distribution centers," he says. "All we’re doing is saying, ‘Hey, let’s connect you with the store and delivery you want.’"
December 5, 2014
A "two-year-old startup" is "making the shaving process easier on men," reports John Koblin in The New York Times (12/4/14). "Confronted with high prices and clunky designs from shaving titans like Gillette and Schick," Harry’s is "trying to do with razors what Warby Parker has done with glasses." It’s no coincidence that a Harry’s co-founder — Andy Katz-Mayfield — is also a Warby Parker co-founder. The idea is that its blades are much cheaper than those of national brands, are delivered to your door, and fit on a sleek, well-designed handle.
"Before we launched, there was limited choice," says Jeff Raider, Harry’s other co-founder. "There were a couple of brands that dominated the market." Adds Andy: "The speed at which customers are experimenting with new brands and willing to buy product online, that shift is happening so much faster than we ever would have anticipated … If you look at some of the analysts’ reports and information that’s come out that talks about the industry, it’s about how it’s down and hurting. But it’s not hurting, it’s moving … in a direction that’s great for us."
That’s not to say Harry’s is profitable, but the co-founders claim "they would have more than five times the revenue in 2014 than they did in 2013 … To date, they’ve raised $211.5 million in 28 months" from backers. The money has been used to buy a factory in Germany "where they make and manufacture their razors," and on "advertising campaigns, hiring a few new employees, brand awareness … Harry’s has also opened a barbershop in Manhattan," but has no plans "to open more brick-and-mortar shops."
December 5, 2014
A group of designers is applying its skills to solve "social, economic and environmental problems," reports Alice Rawsthorn in The New York Times (12/4/14). Known as the Fixperts, the group is part of an "international network of contemporary designers and makers" committed to the Japanese concept of "Tsukuroi, or the art of repair." They are pursuing their goals "by exchanging ideas on knowledge-sharing platforms, financing projects through crowdsourcing campaigns … and raising awareness via social media."
Some of their work is currently on exhibit called The Fab Mind, at a Tokyo gallery. (‘Fab’ is a play on both ‘fabulous’ and ‘fabrication.’) "Many of the exhibits embrace two important strands of design activism: conserving resources and helping those in need." For example, Alvaro Catalan de Ocon of Spain "developed a series of lamps with colorful shades woven by artisans in Colombia and Chile from shredded plastic bottles and other waste materials." (link) Perhaps the most dramatic design solution addresses "unexploded land mines."
Massoud Hassani, formerly of Afghanistan and now living in the Netherlands, "designed an inexpensive metal and bamboo device, the Mine Kafon, which is blown across the ground by the wind, like a tumbleweed, to set off mines." The Fixperts’ work meanwhile is symbolized by "an exquisite 17th-century Japanese bowl … not because of the finesse with which it was originally made but the skill with which it was repaired." The repaired bowl arguably is more beautiful than it was before it was broken.
December 1, 2014
Hong Kong hopes to build a culture of "innovation, branding and design," reports Danielle Belopotosky in The New York Times (11/24/14). This is quite an ambition, given the territory’s reputation for "its cargo ports and financial sector than for a vibrant cultural or creative scene." However, Stanley Chu of the Adsale Group, a trade show organizer, envisions an industry of creativity as "the next economic locomotive of Hong Kong." The government is on board with the idea, having established an office called CreateHK in 2009.
CreateHK is "dedicated to developing creative industries, which broadly include advertising, architecture, design, cultural heritage, the performing arts and film. The office has also worked with the local educational system … to develop curriculums for teaching film, animation and architecture." As a result, creative industries contributed 4.9 percent "to the territory’s gross domestic product" as of 2012, up from 3.9 percent in 2007. Private investors have also converted former police barracks into studios for "entrepreneurs in the creative industries."
American interior designer Candace Campos finds a ready market for Western design aesthetics in Hong Kong. Others, like Lindsey Hermes, founder of Unison Creative, a marketing company, finds that local businesses are more interested in quick fixes than long-term brand strategies. The Savannah (Georgia) College of Art and Design meanwhile now has an outpost in Hong Kong, and is turning out graduates. The goal, says the school’s vice president, is for the Hong Kong designer to be valued "as much as a banker."
December 1, 2014
Cafes in gas stations may be the next big thing after food trucks, reports Amanda Kolson Hurley in CityLab (11/14/14). That’s what’s happening, anyway, at a Tiger Mart in Wheaton, Maryland, where Anna and Jon Goree have opened Seoul Food DC, a "Korean-fusion cafe." This is a step up for Anna and Jon, who had built "a devoted following for their caramelized kimchi and bibimbap" from a food truck in Arlington, Virginia. It works out nicely for the gas station’s owner, too, not only in terms of reducing overhead but creating a point of difference.
With Seoul Food in the house, "something utterly generic — the corporate, hyper-branded gas station" — becomes an "actual place … customers get to eat delicious food in a surprisingly pleasant environment … Mexican-style paper flags warm up the fluorescent lights and give the place a hippie-ish vibe." Beyond that, town planners see "Seoul food, with its chalkboard menu and cafe tables on the sidewalk as a model of what Wheaton can become." Benefits include "increased economic activity and another affordable dining option for the community."
Taking this to the next level would mean retrofitting the station. Like many other gas stations, the Tiger Mart sits "behind pumps and a swathe of paving; the front of the site is basically an extension of the road." Its location is somewhat "unusual because it straddles a triangular corner site and comes right up to the sidewalk of a main road." An addition could be built that occupies the dead space in front of the pumps and borders on the sidewalk, creating a more inviting, pedestrian-friendly, neighborhood feel.
November 26, 2014
The next omnichannel experience is that between bricks and trucks, suggests a New York Times article by Tamara Best ( 11/27/14). While some bricks retailers are unhappy with the rise of retailers selling goods from trucks, Mike Gatt of the National Retail Federation says such concerns may be misplaced. "For example, a customer might buy something in a truck and then walk into a brick-and-mortar location and find something that complements the purchase. I wouldn’t be surprised if the big brands start doing it themselves," he says.
Mike adds that "it’s a great way to bring what you’ve got in your store to a new neighborhood to test it in a new market." Abby Franklin, owner of the Trunk boutique, a Nashville-based mobile boutique says that there is tension not only with bricks retailers, but also sometimes even with shoppers. "The hardest part was educating the community that it was a local small business, not someone from out of town." Abby also has a brick store, but in a twist she considers it to be her secondary location.
She says that her mobile store required higher start-up costs, but the monthly overhead of the bricks store was more expensive. Together, she says having the two stores "is like the best of both worlds. When the truck can’t go out, we still have a way to sell stuff." Sarah Ellison of Bootleg Airstream is meanwhile bridging the gap during the holiday season with a pop-up shop near where she usually parks her Austin-based mobile shoe store. "The future of mobile retail is going to be very diverse," she says.
November 18, 2014
The late Donald Stookey discovered Corningware after putting a piece of glass in an overheated furnace, reports the Economist (11/22/14). The glass turned a milky white, and when Donald dropped it, bounced off the floor "with a clang like steel." It had crystallized with incredible intensity. This was "patented in 1960 as Fotoceram and marketed as indestructible Corningware dishes, so popular in America that by the 1980s six pieces of it (originally white with blue cornflowers) could have graced every household." (image)
Donald’s many other inventions were not by accident. Among other things, he "perfected a glass which, in daylight, looked like marble, and now covers the north face of the UN headquarters in New York." He used "a process called ‘nucleation,’ in which the smallest stable trace of any element, added to molten glass, became a nucleus around which crystals would grow until, by cooling, he chose to stop them." He made glass "photosensitive, so that after exposure to ultraviolet light photographs could appear within it."
During "wartime the Treasury Department almost took up his idea of making pennies not of scarce copper but of copper ruby glass, with Lincoln’s portrait magically suspended in them." He also came up with the "idea of making spectacles for spies, which, when exposed to light would reveal secret messages … He made glass that was rubbery and easier to saw" and "imagined a future in which glass, with its raw material so abundant everywhere, could replace not only petrochemical plastics but also metal and wood." Donald Stookey was 99.
November 18, 2014
"The closure of the failure loop has sent uncomfortable ripples throughout the economy," writes Adam Davidson in The New York Times (11/15/14). "The lifespan of an innovation" today "is best measured in years, and, for some products, even less." With this comes a similarly "breakneck pace" of failure, that can be "measured in unemployment checks, in divorces … and in promising careers turned stagnant … Right now we’re going through changes that rip away the core logic of our economy."
At the center is "the single greatest risk-mitigating institution ever: the corporation," which acts "as a giant risk-sharing machine, amassing millions of investors’ capital and spreading it among a large number of projects, then sharing the returns broadly, too. The corporation managed the risk so well, in fact, that it created an innovation known as the steady job … The secret of the corporation’s success, however, was that it generally did not focus on transformative innovations," but rather "perfecting the manufacturing of the same products."
However, the failure loop continues to close with the rise of global competition. Meanwhile, the advent of computers and the Internet, as "loose groupings of individuals," operating through computer networks today perform "functions that were once the domain of larger corporations." MIT’s Daron Acemoglu thinks we will need new institutions to adjust to such disruptions, but it won’t be clear what those should look like "until we know the precise problem we’re solving." "I don’t think we are quite there yet," he says.
November 14, 2014
As apps continue to rise in popularity, the web "is dying," reports Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (11/17/14). "We’re in love with apps," Christopher writes. "On phones, 86 percent of our time is spent in apps, and just 14 percent on the web, according to mobile analytics company Flurry." Part of the issue is that apps are "controlled by central gatekeepers" who represent "the end of the very openness that allowed Internet companies to grow into some of the most powerful companies of the 21st century."
"App stores … are walled gardens where Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon get to set the rules. Apple regularly bans apps that offend its politics, taste or compete with its own software or services." It also "takes 30 percent of every transaction conducted within an app sold through its app store." Where the web encouraged sharing, and enabled anyone to "put up a web page or launch a new service," app stores are designed to "shut out rivals." Where the web wasn’t designed to "include any way to pay for things," that is the app store’s very purpose.
The issue is that "as apps take over, the web’s architects are abandoning it … The process of creating new web standards has slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, companies with app stores are devoted to making those stores better than — and entirely incompatible with — app stores built by competitors … It isn’t that today’s kings of the app world want to quash innovation, per se," writes Christopher. "It is that in the transition to a world in which services are delivered through apps … makes innovation, serendipity and experimentation … that much harder."
November 13, 2014
A young artist and curator is running a gallery from her father’s button shop, reports Marina Garcia-Vasquez in The Wall Street Journal (11/10/14). When Amy Li finished art school, she couldn’t find a job "at a museum or art organization." So, she persuaded her father, owner of the He Zhen Snap Button Company in Chinatown, New York, to let her open a gallery in his shop. "There are so many assumptions attached to the word ‘gallery,’" says Amy. "This is just a space where I could work as a curator and art dealer."
She called her first show, in 2013, "Without Consent," a reference to her renegade status. Since then, she "has produced 10 art shows that have received accolades in the art world." Amy has managed to attract artists who "respect her professionalism, quiet temperament and dedication to community building." They also like "the button-shop concept: that an industrial workshop could house art, and that an aspiring gallerist works side-by-side with her father." The shop’s location "in a heavily trafficked neighborhood" is another draw.
Featured artists get into the spirit of the thing, with photographer Donna Ferrato using "grommet rings from the button shop to hang her photos on the gallery walls," for example. Amy’s success is that much more remarkable considering that "it’s almost not possible to open a gallery" in New York these days, notes artist Alfredo Martinez. Amy is now considering starting "her own museum in the neighborhood, turning an underused" building "as an art space where local schools can take students to learn about contemporary art."
November 13, 2014
A Chinese company is producing the "Model T" of drones, report Jack Nicas and Colum Murphy in The Wall Street Journal (11/11/14). "Back in the day, you could talk about cars, but pretty much every car on the road was one of the Model Ts," says Matt Waite of University of Nebraska, drawing the parallel. The ‘Model T’ of camera-equipped drones, popularly known as the Phantom, is made by Shenzhen-based SZ DJI Technology, which is "selling thousands of its 2.8-pound, square-foot devices for about $1,000 each."
This not only makes DJI "the world’s biggest drone maker by revenue," but also "the first Chinese brand to pioneer a major new global consumer product category." The Phantoms are attracting all kinds of interest, having "garnered fans for their aerial footage of extreme sports, fireworks and Niagara Falls, and famous users," including Steve Wozniak, Jamie Foxx and Martha Stewart. They are being used "in filmmaking, farming and construction — all in defiance of the FAA’s effective moratorium on commercial drones."
Founded in a university dorm room in 2006 by Frank Wang, DJI had "90 employees and $4.2 million in revenue in 2011." It now has 2,800 employees, three factories, and this year expects to post sales three to five times greater than in 2013, when it posted $130 million in revenue. This has led to growing pains, including lawsuits and customer-service issues. "Their innovation rose them to the top very quickly,’ says Stephen Burtt, CEO of Aerial Technology, a drone retailer. "But then it was: ‘Oh wait, how do we clean up the trail we just blazed?’"
November 10, 2014
A boyhood fascination with blimps and dirigibles is propelling a newfangled airship, reports Billy Witz in The New York Times (11/11/14). Igor Pasternak, 50, grew up in Lviv, Ukraine and "believes he is on the verge of developing an aircraft that will change the way large cargo can be shipped." He calls his innovation the Aeroscraft, and envisions a "770-foot long, silver-skinned airship, which is kept aloft by helium-filled tanks, delivering fresh fruit to Alaska, dropping triage units at disaster sites or depositing heavy machinery into remote locations."
The Aeroscraft "will take off and land like a helicopter," controlling descent via a system that replaces (non-flammable) helium with oxygen, which is heavier. The craft would have twice the capacity of a C-5 cargo plane, and a range of about 5,870 miles. Igor believes the Aeroscraft will be ready in about four years’ time and predicts it will "transform the distribution of goods the way the Internet has transformed communication." Chris Caplice of MIT isn’t so sure. "It has uses, but they are narrow," he says.
Chris suspects the Aeroscraft may go through the Gartner hype curve, "in which a period of inflated expectation is followed by the trough of disillusionment, which eventually gives way to a middle ground as a product finds its niche." The comparison is to RFID, which has "not quite revolutionized how people keep track of things." Igor is pressing on, however. Much of the development cost has "been covered by government military contracts," but Igor says he plans to derive future financing from sales.
November 10, 2014
Innovation is an analogy, says John Pollack, author of Shortcut, in a Wall Street Journal essay (11/8/14). No less an authority than Thomas Edison believed that the innovator had "a logical mind that sees analogies." The Wright Brothers, for instance, in designing a flying machine, "saw an analogy to the machine that they already designed, manufactured and repaired for a living — the bicycle. Both were unstable vehicles requiring nuanced balance and control in three dimensions; both fell if they lost too much forward momentum."
The brothers wisely rejected the more obvious "bird" analogy, recognizing that flapping wings "had nothing to do with the intrinsic dynamics of flight; rather it reflected the challenges of propulsion unique to birds." Charles Darwin combined two analogies when developing the theory of evolution. One "drew a parallel between biology and geology" and the other between "breeding in agriculture and natural selection in the wild." This led to a "systematic approach for understanding gradual change in virtually any complex system."
Bill Klann, a young mechanic for the Ford Motor Company, arrived at the concept of the assembly line after "watching butchers at a meatpacking plant disassemble carcasses moving past them along an overhead trolley." This triggered the parallel idea that cars similarly could be assembled "by adding pieces to a chassis moving along rails." Steve Jobs made his breakthrough by recognizing the computer as a digital "desktop." He also advocated for simplicity, which of course is the very seed — or core — of analogy.
November 5, 2014
How we hear music is closely linked to how we experience architecture and design, reports Ben Sisario in The New York Times (10/26/14). "Music is this invisible, intangible medium, but we couldn’t hear or relate to it other than through design and architecture," says Juliet Kinchin of the Museum of Modern Art, curator of "Making Music Modern: Design for Eye and Ear," a year-long exhibit. "Our whole sense of what music is — how it’s performed, how it’s distributed, how we listen — that’s all shaped through design."
The show gets at this connection through "posters, LP covers, sheet music and architectural designs." For example, a poster from 1890 features the Theatrophone, "a long-vanished technology that let people listen to live music transmitted over telephone cables — something like the Spotify or Pandora of its day." It depicts a young woman who tilts "her head slightly as two thin wires dangle from the earphones toward a small electronic box. It’s the same basic pose that in the mid-2000s sold millions of iPods."
The exhibit also features architect Daniel Libeskind’s Chamber Works, a series of drawings he says were his "first rigorous attempts to connect music and architecture … Architecture is based on drawings," he says. "A drawing is a score — it’s a code, a language that has to be communicated to performers who then have a certain amount of leeway in interpreting that structure." The exhibit, which opens November 15, will incorporate "sound domes," that rains "a focused shower of sound on visitors," as they view related works of art.
November 4, 2014
Hollywood is setting examples that other industries should follow, reports the Economist (11/1/14). In some ways, "food and consumer-goods makers" already resemble the movie business, with its focus on "a narrower range of ‘blockbusters’" and endless pursuit of "buzz." Of course, any successful business requires creative people, and understand "how to harness their strengths for commercial gain without strangling their free-spiritedness." Hollywood does this well by hiring "a fresh creative team for each film," giving them control and credit.
Few other industries foster Hollywood’s brand of teamwork, notes Mark Young of USC, or temper it with a heavy dose of job insecurity. Indeed, people tend to "work hard and collaborate well in the movie business in part because" they are freelancers who know they "will not get hired for the next film unless they prove themselves on the current one." Hollywood also embraces "constant revisions," and encourages "constructive criticism" that improves the product. Failures "are tolerated because they are so common."
The movie business is remarkably good at "launching brands that achieve global prominence in a matter of days." It invests nearly as much on promoting its films as it does on the films themselves, and "manages to come up with new brands on a near-weekly basis. The key is to treat the marketing as a core part of the project, rather than as an afterthought." Ultimately, Hollywood fixates on profitability, and, like Silicon Valley, increasingly relies on outside financing, which "protects against crippling losses when a film flops."
October 30, 2014
Kirk Lance is building his Mexican restaurants out of shipping containers, reports Elizabeth Garone in The Wall Street Journal (11/3/14). Kirk "was frustrated that he couldn’t recover the tens of thousands of dollars he had sunk into outfitting" a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant, only to have his improvements revert back to his landlord when his lease ended. So he "bought a shipping container for $2,500, retrofitted it and turned it into a new Mexican eatery called Aprisa in Portland, Ore."
"I can pick up the entire building and leave with it if it doesn’t work out," says Kirk, who says he also likes that he is recycling a container that otherwise might have been junked. He sees other environmental benefits, as well: "We are able to operate much more efficiently than traditional restaurants because we require much less energy to heat and cool," he says. So far, his plan has "worked so well that he opened another container restaurant in the city and began franchising restaurants in shipping containers."
In San Francisco, Smitten Ice Cream "took a rusted-out, 40-foot shipping container, cut it in half and turned it into a highly energy efficient ice-cream shop," says founder Robyn Sue Fisher. However, Robyn says the approach can be more expensive than brick-and-mortar, given "all the regulations and the complex, multi-stage approval process" associated with converting shipping containers into retail. Because of this, her three other stores are "brick-and-mortar shops with container-like corrugated walls."
October 28, 2014
A new kind of soccer ball is designed specifically for girls and women, reports Claire Martin in The New York Times (10/26/14). The Eir Ball – named after the Nordic goddess of health — was created by Majken Gilmartin after watching her young daughter’s team playing with a standard soccer ball, like those used by adult men and women. Her daughter was 12 or 13 at the time, an age at which kids graduate from children’s soccer balls. "They got fatigued," says Majken, who was also concerned that the larger soccer ball might cause injuries.
Her solution is a "smaller, softer soccer ball for girls and women" that "weighs 13 ounces and has a circumference of 26.4 inches. It is one to three ounces lighter and a half-inch to one and half inches smaller in girth than a professional-size soccer ball. It’s also made of softer materials, including foam on the inside that provides extra bounce." Because "women’s more slender legs and ankles mean they have to kick a standard soccer ball at a higher velocity, on average, than men to make the same shot," the Eir Ball "adjusts for that difference."
Most important, the design helps prevent concussions: "For girls, soccer poses the highest concussion risk of any sport." The Danish Football Association has approved the Eir Ball "for use in girl’s and women’s recreational games" and Majken hopes FIFA "will do the same." For now, the Eir Ball is sold "through Eir Soccer, a nonprofit." It costs $58, compared to a range of "$35 to $160" for high-quality soccer balls, and so far some 16,000 Eir Balls have been sold throughout Denmark. Majken hopes to expand distribution to the United States.
The Patagonia brand experience emanates from those who experience it, says Joy Howard in a Hub Magazine interview (Nov/Dec 2014). If you haven’t watched Worn Wear, then Google it. You’ll meet Christo Grayling, an Australian surfer who replaced the backside of his ‘boardies’ with a scrap of beach umbrella. Kristin Gates, who has hiked about 10,000 miles, much of it in a particular wool cap. Steve Sprinkel, a farmer in love with what he does and the used, yard-sale jacket in which he does it. Each character seems a little crazier than the next, and at the heart of their endearing insanity is an intense, emotional connection to a brand. Patagonia. Joy Howard isn’t in the video, but she would fit right in. In 1992 — more than 20 years before she would join Patagonia as its head of marketing — she got rid of her car and rode a bicycle instead.
This wasn’t easy, especially after she had kids. When it rained, well, she just put on her Patagonia raincoat." It was a constant companion for me wherever I went," says Joy. "I had it in my bag and it definitely got me through many a rainy day-care dash." That degree of intensity likely only affects a small percentage of those who buy into the Patagonia brand and its marketing, which Joy suggests is more like anti-marketing. Where most brands use marketing to convert prospects into customers, Patagonia wants to turn customers into activists.
That’s why it famously runs ads urging people to avoid buying things, and produced a documentary film, DamNation, advocating the removal of dams that disrupt salmon populations. The purpose of this ‘marketing’ is less about making us buy and more about making us think. Yes, this does tend to have the reverse effect: Patagonia sells quite well. The difference is, its marketing is not an overlay wrapped around a soft, green promise. It’s not perfect, but it is true to the spirit of the days when founder Yvon Chouinard sold rock-climbing gear out of his car (perfection would have required a bicycle). "It’s not a brand experience that comes out of endless meetings debating what the brand experience should be," says Joy. "It’s just a reflection of our values and the way we work." Read The Hub Interview with Joy Howard of Patagonia.