The Hub Cool News

Artisan Nest

nestRebecca van Bergen is connecting small-village artisans to the great American marketplace, reports Rachel Felder in The New York Times (8/14/14). Rebecca is founder of Nest — not to be confused with Nest — which "acts as a matchmaker between artisans and companies in the fashion and home furnishings fields." It has now "created what it dubbed its Artisan Summit," designed to help "indigenous craft artists" market their wares as well as teach big-market retailers how to work with them.

"Nest brought together these artisans because they share the same challenges," says Nest founder Rebecca van Bergen. "One of the largest is how to take largely home workers who have produced for local markets with different standards of quality, and translate that to a fashion industry, particularly a luxury fashion industry, that has very stringent requirements in terms of quality and replicability." It’s an equally interesting challenge for major retailers "as the appeal of such products grows."

Rebecca launched Nest in 2006 by "lending artisans money to produce goods, then selling the products to recoup those loans — but eventually eliminated sales to become a non-profit." Nest has helped produce items such as "Trina Turk glass-beaded necklaces in Tiruchirappalli, India … and handwoven Ikat Feed tote bags in Guatemala City." Rebecca says that bridging developing economies and urban fashion is "strange and surreal," adding: "To see the process from design to rack, I mean, it’s art."

BucketFeet Community

bucketfeetWhere Toms Shoes hopes "to improve lives," BucketFeet is "about building a community," reports Lizette Chapman in The Wall Street Journal (8/14/14). Toms is famous for donating "a pair of its shoes to a person in need every time a customer buys a pair." The BucketFeet idea, meanwhile, is to connect "people around the globe through art. Its flip-flops and sneakers for men, women and children feature designs by more than 5,000 artists worldwide." (images)

"By doubling down on our artist community and the stories they tell, we’re building our brand," says co-founder Raaja Nemani, 32. "Yes, we sell shoes, but we are really about building a community." Launched in 2011 by Raaja and business partner Aaron Firestein with $100,000 in personal savings, BucketFeet today "has 16 full-time employees and has raised nearly $6 million in venture capital." Its footwear is sold nationwide in Nordstrom’s and will soon be available "at select Bloomingdale’s stores" and its website.

Prices range from "$30 for flip-flops to $68 or more for sneakers." Raaja says BucketFeet’s success happened because "we had zero pride in how we did it and focused 100% on how to get in front of people at street fairs, trunk shows and every party we could. We talked about it shamelessly everywhere and messaged every person we knew on Facebook and said, ‘please buy our shoes as a favor to us’." Currently, BucketFeet offers two styles, but plans to have "six or seven by spring of next year."

Shaker Aesthetics

shaker-setteeThe Shakers revived craftsmanship amid "the Industrial Revolution’s shoddy, mass-produced goods," reports Lance Esplund in The Wall Street Journal (8/7/14). They were also "the ultimate capitalistic communists … very shrewd men who knew how to make money. And they did." Actually, their founder was a woman, Mother Ann Lee. At their peak, The Shakers had "23 settlements in eight states," and "numbered nearly 6,000." Today, "only three Shakers remain," Brother Arnold Hadd and "his two elderly sisters."

This is in no small part because Shaker "tenets demand that you give up ‘everything you have’," except your celibacy. The Shaker design aesthetic endures, however — ironic perhaps because there really is no "Shaker aesthetic," as they considered any kind of ornamentation to be "a sin of pride." This did of course, result in a design style known for "clean, economic lines, and form-follows-function restraint." (link)

The Shakers brought their aesthetic to "furniture, clothing, tools, toys, paintings, drawing, photographs, textiles, crafts and graphic design." They were "the first American modernists" who believed that "beauty rests in utility … They imbued everyday objects with a straightforwardness akin to spiritual presence," producing "household objects that resemble physical manifestations of prayer … reverence for form. Monumentality is expressed through modesty," and a "plain spoken poetry that is uniquely American."

Art of Gold

goldSomething about the darkness and light of gold has inspired artists from the ancient Greeks to Andy Warhol, reports Jenny Che in The Wall Street Journal (8/9/14). Gold "inspires things like power and passion and greed and commemorates things like weddings and the Olympic Games," says Jose Diaz, curator of Gold, "an exhibition … at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach." (link) He adds: "There’s this jubilant aspect of gold, and dark, sinister references to gold."

The challenge, says artist Fernando Mastrangelo, is that "you’re placing your own work within (gold’s) value structure." Indeed, "artists who have used gold to symbolize excess have raised their art’s market value just by incorporating the precious metal." Fernando addresses this by using "low-end materials" to create a replica of a gold medallion out of sugar. Dario Escobar took precisely the opposite approach with a "gold leaf-covered McDonald’s cup," while artist Sylvie Fleury chimed in with "a gold-plated trash can."

Other works include Glenn Kaino’s 19.83, which "uses gold to re-tell Tommie Smith’s record-breaking run in the 200-meter at the 1968 Olympics … The installation features stills from the race and a gold-plated replica of the platform that Mr. Smith stood on when he received his gold medal and raised his fist in support of civil rights." The thing about gold, says Fernando Mastrangelo is "that it never loses its value no matter how it’s cast or used … So, the artist almost becomes irrelevant."

Cashew Cash

cashew-appleSmall farmers in India are making more cash from cashews thanks to PepsiCo’s thirst for new taste sensations, reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (8/9/14). Pepsi’s interest is in cashew apples — the stems typically thrown away when cashew nuts are harvested. The juice of the cashew apple is "tangy and sweet," and PepsiCo thinks it could be the next coconut water. "The cashew apple is exotic and appealing and we think it is a premium product," says Anshul Khanna of PepsiCo India.

The other part of the story is that cashew apples are relatively inexpensive, given that they ferment and rot quickly. "Coconut, pomegranate and lime juices are popular, but affordability is a major issue," says V.D. Sarma, also of PepsiCo India. "So we are always looking out for new juice sources that are locally produced to bring prices down for us and for consumers." Some local cashew farmers found PepsiCo’s interest in cashew apples "a little strange," but tend not to question the incremental revenues from their crops.

PepsiCo discovered cashew apples "in Brazil a few years ago, when Mehmood Khan, its global head of research and development, was working there to get the company’s coconut water business up and running. A local supplier took him to a cashew orchard, where he saw the colorful apples and wondered how they could be used." Plans are to add cashew juice "into a mixed fruit juice drink sold in India under the Tropicana label, replacing more expensive juices like apple, pineapple and banana," and eventually take cashew juice worldwide.

Coconut Rob

coconut-robThe "most important ingredient" in his juices, says Coconut Rob, "is love," reports Rachel Wharton in The New York Times (8/9/14). Other ingredients usually include things like kale, dried berries, dates and cashews. "He’s my medicine man … I get what he makes me," says Atibon Nazaire, a regular customer at Coconut Rob’s juice stand, located just outside Magazines & More, a bodega on New York’s Fulton Street. What Coconut Rob — and his assistant, Cashew Steve — makes, is something more than just juice. (video)

"There’s a spirit of energy and celebration of life that’s transmitted from the juice stand," says Howard Ross, another regular. "He’s the mayor of Fort Greene." Coconut Rob is happy to talk to anyone walking by, whether they buy a drink or not, although he likes to tell people that they can "pay for the juices now, or … pay for the doctor later." A local realtor "uses a stop at Coconut Rob as a way to sell prospective customers on the neighborhood," because he makes them "feel at home."

Coconut Rob used to coordinate "transportation for patients at New York City medical centers," but grew unhappy with his job and opened a sugarcane-and-coconut stand in 2007. He moved around to various locations until settling in outside Magazines & More two years ago. He hopes to move his operation indoors at some point, so he can continue juicing during the winter months. "When they come they’re not just getting a juice," says Coconut Rob, "they’re getting a piece of who I am."

Up, Up & Away

chris-hoytShopper marketing is gaining altitude, but still faces headwinds in three key areas. A report by Chris Hoyt and Nancy Swift of Hoyt & Company. The results of the 2014 HUB Shopper-Marketing Update survey present a very positive picture of shopper marketing, with the caveat that certain core issues still need to be addressed.

Clearly, shopper marketing is now well established, with 54 percent of respondents reporting that their shopper-marketing departments have five or more years of experience — up from 38 percent since 2012. Conversely, ‘newbies’ (1-2 years) represent only 17 percent of participants — down from 27 percent in 2012. This does not mean, however, that shopper marketing is ossifying. To the contrary, shopper marketing appears to be as dynamic as ever.

Retailer interest in shopper marketing is growing, as reported by 78 percent of respondents: Headcount in shopper-marketing departments continues to grow; shopper-marketing budgets as a percent of total marketing budgets are up 8 points; 95 percent of respondents expect their budgets to continue to increase or remain the same over the next three years; and, most important, the percentage of those rating their own performance as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ has increased from 36 percent to 46 percent in the past 18 months — a 27 percent increase since 2012. Read the rest of Up, Up & Away.

Apple Seeds

apple-seedsAt the core of Apple’s organization is a school that teaches a culture of simplicity, reports Brian X. Chen in The New York Times (8/11/14). Called Apple University, Steve Jobs founded it in 2009 "as a way to inculcate employees into Apple’s business culture and educate them about its history, particularly as the company grew and the tech business changed." As with so many other aspects of Apple’s world, Apple University "is highly secretive and rarely written about."

Mr. Jobs chose "Joel Podolny, then the dean of Yale School of Management," to design Apple University. Courses include "case studies about important business decisions that Apple made," as well as the best way to share "ideas with peers." As one employee described the Apple communications ideal: "You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do."

To communicate the concept, instructor Randy Nelson uses "a series of 11 lithographs … that Picasso created over about a month in late 1945," in which the artist began with a detailed sketch of a bull, and concluded with "a curvy stick figure that is still unmistakably a bull." (link) A course called "What Makes Apple, Apple" features a slide of Google’s 78-button remote control, and then the Apple TV remote (image), with just three — "a button to play and pause a video, a button to select something to watch, and another to go to the main menu."


yoThe biggest thing since Twitter may be an app so simple that Apple initially rejected it, reports Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (8/11/14). Called Yo, the app’s "sole function is for a user to send the word ‘Yo’ to any other friend using the app." Apple "rejected it on the grounds that it lacked substance," but then relented, and Yo has "since been downloaded two million times, and its 50,000 or so active users have sent more than four million Yos." The app also now has "$1.5 million in funding."

What makes Yo a potential blockbuster is that it is neither a messaging app nor a social network; it is "a communications protocol," not unlike "text messages, email and Twitter." This is because it "provides any person, business or Web service direct access to the notifications tray of your smartphone … these are the alerts we see on our lock screens, and they also interrupt us whenever we’re doing anything else on our phones." The value is inherent in "how often the average smartphone owner glances at his or her phone."

The opportunity is to use the protocol to send more than just a ‘Yo’ to friend. Future iterations "will let users send a link," too, and an RSS feed, which would enable "every blogger, website and media outlet … to send push notifications." Yo will also enable users to add profile pictures and individual or organizational names. A Yo-specific app store is in the works, and already it is possible to integrate the app with services, such as "one that will let you know whether there is a bike available at a designated Citibike-sharing station in Manhattan … Israelis can also get a Yo whenever rockets are incoming."

Colliding Worlds

colliding-worldsArt and science — "the twin branches of understanding" — "have been coming back together" after drifting apart, reports Jascha Hoffman in a New York Times review of Colliding Worlds, by Arthur I. Miller (8/5/14). You may remember Arthur Miller from his previous book, Einstein, Picasso, which also showed "how the discovery of quantum mechanics inspired a generation of avant-garde artists, including Picasso, Kandinsky and Dali," who said he wanted to use "neutrinos … to paint the beauty of angels."

So, this trend dates back to "the dawn of the 20th century" and Arthur has been studying it since the 1980s. He "argues that artists and scientists have always had the same mission: to ‘fathom the reality beyond appearances, the world invisible to our eyes’." His subjects include "Neri Oxman, who is using her knowledge of bone formation to design better buildings from concrete, and David Edwards … who has come up with methods for inhaling food and beverages and transmitting odors using cellphones."

Then there’s "bio-art," or those who use "living tissues as raw material," such as "Stelarc, the Australian artists who coaxed his own cells to grow in the shape of a human ear grafted onto his left arm." In the future, Arthur envisions "working with computers made of not-yet-invented materials" and "producing theories that generate images that can be manipulated like equations." He envisions art that is "sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing, sometimes subversive, sometimes downright crazy, but always interesting."

Origami Robots

paper-airplaneA Harvard graduate student is creating self-folding robots out of origami art, reports Kenneth Chang in The New York Times (8/7/14). Sam Felton says the goal is "to make robots as quickly and cheaply as possible," and suggests that his origami robots (video) might be useful "on future space missions. Or perhaps the technology could one day be applied to Ikea-like furniture, folding from a flat-packed board to, say, a table without anyone fumbling with Allen wrenches or deciphering instructions."

The "paper" for these robots is actually "a flexible circuit board and Shrinky Dinks — plastic sheets, sold as a toy, that shrink when heated above 212 degrees Fahrenheit." The sheet is attached to motors, batteries "and a microcontroller," costing a total of about $100 to build. The process is "simpler and cheaper than the manufacturing process for most machines today … which are made of many separate pieces that are then glued, bolted and snapped together."

Sam must design and fold the robot, "but the hope is that the mathematics of origami will allow computer software to … create complex robots capable of doing almost any task." Origami can also "alter the properties of a material," making it "stiffer or curved or able to swing like a hinge … For example, a folded-up sheet could be unfurled on top of a building, and then made rigid, forming a roof," or possibly "incorporated into the surface of robotic limbs, floppy and flexible when reaching for an object, and then stiffening to pick it up."

R & R

al-wittemenShoppers have an appetite for engagement that all media must satisfy. A Hub white paper by Al Wittemen of St John & Partners. One of my favorite books is William J. Bennett’s The Book Of Virtues, a collection of stories about self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, loyalty and faith.

At some ‘aha’ moment in recent years, I realized that these virtues, which make us good people and good friends, were the same virtues (set of best-of business practices) that help build great brands. I realized that they—a rose by any other name—were in fact often embedded in the DNA of great brands, that they guided marketers in making better choices, maintaining stronger relationships, and realizing the increased results that transform their brands from good to great.

Little has changed. Marketers today have the same goals they’ve had for years: relationships and results. Whether consciously or unconsciously, today’s great brand leaders are succeeding by implementing virtuous strategies that develop meaningful relationships with their consumers and net superior, quantifiable results. Read the Rest of Al Wittemen’s White Paper.


riveted"We survive by understanding others and knowing what they’re up to," writes Matthew Hutson in a Wall Street Journal review of Riveted by Jim Davies (8/2/14). In other words, we need gossip "because, for millennia, humans lived in small groups in which everyone’s activities would have been vitally important. Gossip is recon about others’ morals or proclivities or weaknesses. We use it to keep people in line and monitor changes in social status. One study found that 80% of conversations are about social topics."

Jim’s book is about what people find compelling and why, and seeks to arrive at "’a unified explanation of compellingness’ — a take on why we care about sports, as well as art, gossip, religion and anything else that commands our attention." Jim "proposes that compellingness rests on six (sometimes overlapping foundations: people, things we hope for or fear, patterns, incongruity, things related to the body, and various psychological tendencies."

Our interest in sports, for example, is partly because "athletes exhibit skills … that might have been useful to a hunter-gatherer in the ancestral environment — running, dodging, coordinating … Our tendency to look for causality," he argues, is "responsible for religion," as "we tend to see even natural or random events as happening for a comprehensible reason." In terms of patterns, we are drawn to symmetric faces, rhyming sentences and steady beats — but also incongruity, so long as we ultimately resolve to the pattern.

The Big Nudge

nudgeCoaxing works better than ordering when it comes to boarding airplane passengers, reports Shirley S. Wang in The Wall Street Journal (7/29/14). In other words, it’s best to "nudge" people into the decisions they make. This was confirmed by a study by the Initiative for Science, Society and Policy, conducted at the Copenhagen airport. A research team "mapped where people were sitting and where they placed their bags," and "counted how many people were standing versus sitting."

One observation is that boarding is more chaotic if more people are standing. So, the researchers are now experimenting with different seating arrangements "to encourage greater numbers of passengers to sit down." Last year, the researchers worked with the airport to figure out how to persuade "smokers to move farther away from the entrance when they lit up." They tended to smoke just outside the airport entrance because "there wasn’t any information about where to go to smoke."

So, the researchers "placed new signs … indicating how far away and in what direction there was a smoking zone. They also marked off three test smoking zones with yellow duct tape." It worked, with smokers largely smoking in the designated areas. "The whole nudge idea is to say, look, there are all these small influences in the environment that influence our choices," says Karsten Schmidt, one of the researchers. The key is to give people a choice, and make sure those choices are "easy to make."

Words vs. Pictures

blindlovePeople are more likely to have meaningful online conversations if they don’t know what the other person looks like, reports Molly Wood in The New York Times (7/28/14). That insight is the result of an experiment by OKCupid, a dating site "that obscured all photos one day" and found that people "exchanged more contact details and responded to first messages more often. But when the pictures were reintroduced on the site, many of those conversations stopped cold."

"It was like we’d turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight," said OKCupid president Christian Rudder. The experiment has also turned the bright lights on "how easy it is for a website to manipulate users without their knowing." This issue came up recently with Facebook, of course, which "tested to see if emotions were contagious" by "deliberately manipulating the emotional content of the news feeds for 700,000 people." OKCupid has now disclosed a total of three experiments to learn more about user behavior.

"If you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site," Christian says. In addition to the obscured photo experiment, the site also "hid profile text to see how it affected personality ratings" and "told some hopeful daters that they were a better or worse potential match with someone than the company’s software actually determined." OKCupid did set the record straight via emails to users after-the-fact, but nobody knows "how many of these manipulated matches may have turned into real-life dates."

Fluent Forever

fluentThe fastest way to learn a foreign language is to focus on pictures, not words, report Gabriel Wyner in The Wall Street Journal (8/2/14). Gabriel is author of Fluent Forever, and says he gained "fluency in French in five months and Russian in 10." He has also learned "German, Italian … and — just for fun — Hungarian." His impetus was that he wanted to be an opera singer, and needed to learn other languages so his singing would be "more expressive" and so that he would be more marketable "in opera’s difficult job market."

Gabriel did some research and found that learning a language "comes down to associations and understanding how memory works." For example, he writes: "… If we were in a bar together and I handed you a flaming drink with a dead snake in it and said, ‘This: mjoour! You: drink!’ — you’d have no trouble remembering that word." Gabriel recommends "delving into pronunciation before you even start vocabulary and grammar," and then making "words more concrete by mentally tying them to images."

The reason, he explains, is that "our visual memory is extraordinary; we need only to take advantage of it — and associate our new vocabulary with pictures, not with translations." The effect is magnified, he says, if you attach the word to a specific image — such as the Spanish word "gato" to a mental image of your own cat, if you have (or had) one. "We can even attach images or memories to" conjugate verbs and other grammar, using "visual sentences, such as ‘She [to be] on fire!’ with an accompanying image."

Pinterest Discovery

pinterestWhat Pinterest enables "is this human activity that ends up creating a great database," says Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp in an Atlantic Monthly interview by Alexis Madrigal (8/2/14). The all-important interface is the famous Pinterest grid, which Evan notes facilitates the user’s "ability to go through objects in an efficient way." He also suggests that the iPad is the perfect device for this because it is also based on a grid. The ultimate operative element, however, is the difference between search and discovery.

"Discovery is this thing that people do all the time right now in stores, in museums, in physical space," says Evan. "So many of our public physical spaces are organized around a collection and they are organized to help you access and browse through that collection to find the things you find meaningful. Retail is a natural fit with Pinterest," says Evan, "because you’re doing on Pinterest what you do in a store" — browsing, and then maybe buying.

This process of discovery is what makes Pinterest a different kind of experience from Google (which is designed to answer questions) and Facebook (which is about your friends). Pinterest, says Evan, is "about yourself … It’s about the things you want in your life, the possibilities … People develop taste through other people … and we have the data to understand … who are the people on Pinterest who manifest and express the things you look like you’re interested in … It’s the world’s largest set of objects that people care about."

Word of Mouth

wordofmouthThe way Americans experience food has changed radically over the past half century, reports Moira Hodgson in a Wall Street Journal review of Word of Mouth by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson (7/30/14). When Julia Child wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking, most Americans "were far more interested in quantity than quality," and Ms. Child "had to adjust her recipes for American cooks, doubling the amounts she’d have given for the average French meal."

Today, "American cuisine has gone global; our most celebrated chefs travel around the world picking up new flavors and techniques." The shift is from "haute cuisine" to "haute food," things like "tacos with kimchee and ice-cream flavored with Earl Grey tea, both served out of trucks in New York City." Chefs are performance artist who make cooking "as conspicuous as consumption." An extreme example is Alinea in Chicago, where the "food — generally unrecognizable as such, is served on sticks, pins and metal racks."

The effect is "thrilling on an intellectual level, a show directed by the chef." "Whether the diner likes the dish or not is of little concern," writes Ms. Ferguson. "Haute food chefs … want, and the restaurant needs, to come up with the unexpected." This aligns perfectly with today’s world, where "we take pictures of our meals and post the photos to Instagram before taking a bite … These days, people talk about the dinner they had last week and the dinner they’ll have next week as they photograph the dinner they’re having now."

Patagonia Profits

patagonia-wetsuitPatagonia’s "unusual commitment to sustainability" sometimes comes "at the expense of its bottom line," reports Diane Cardwell in The New York Times (7/31/14). "Business that puts profit above people and the environment is not going to be a healthy and sustainable way for us to live and for the planet to survive," says Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. Rose adds that company founder Yvon Chouinard has "said that every time he made a decision that was right for the environment, it made the company money, though sometimes not for a while."

One of Patagonia’s newest products, a wetsuit that "is made not from conventional petroleum-based neoprene but from a natural rubber derived from a desert shrub," is a case in point. "Instead of holding the manufacturer of the rubber, Yulex, to a yearslong exclusive contract, Patagonia is encouraging its competitors to use the product, hoping to see its use grow and drive down the price." This is in the tradition of Patagonia’s introduction of "organically grown cotton products in the 1990s," which lost both customers and money.

However, the suit, "priced at $529 – $549 … will earn the company money and bolster its green credentials, an important part of how it tried to appeal to customers." Mitch Taylor, a surfer, is sold: "I was really stoked on it," he said. Another surfer, Walter Valesky, was less enthusiastic, noting that he could get a good used surfboard for that money. Yvon’s son, Fletcher Chouinard, remains optimistic: "People are starting to put their money where their mouth is, but it’s slow," he says.

Sephora Photos

coloriqSephora is using visual data to achieve an in-store experience that couldn’t happen online, reports Issie Lapowsky in Wired (8/1/04). Sephora’s "new flagship location in New York City … is filled with digital accents designed to bring the brick-and-mortar experience closer to the world of online retail, including everything from a touchscreen quiz for finding the best perfume to a skincare product finder that culls e-commerce data and serves up online reviews."

However, Sephora is also using technology in its stores that can "unlock some interesting data that brands could never collect online. The most obvious example of that … is a program called ColorIQ, which attempts to match shoppers’ skin tone with the appropriate shade of foundation. To do that, Sephora partnered with Pantone to identify every possible skin tone in the world. They then created a piece of hardware that filters out external light to photograph a shopper’s exact skin tone and match it to makeup that’s in stock."

Using ColorIQ revealed "that some of the 121 skin tones identified were more popular than others" but Sephora didn’t have products "for several of the most popular tones." The retailer has since "worked with brands to build out a more diverse range of shades." "Brands had never been able to see that data before says Sephora marketing chief Julie Bornstein, who adds: "I feel strongly that physical retail will never go away … It’s been a pastime since the beginning of mankind.”