‘Hello. We’re Gin Lane… and now we’re Pattern’ ran the headline on a Medium article in August 2019. To many, it came as a huge surprise – the creative agency Gin Lane had, for over a decade, helped build brands that are now collectively worth over $15bn, among them Everlane, Warby Parker, Recess, Smile Direct Club and Harry’s. So, what’s Pattern? And why the pivot?
‘In this state of chronic burnout,’ the post continued, ‘our generation has lost the ability to find enjoyment in everyday moments – the simple pleasure of doing something (or even nothing) for the joy of it, rather than the end result of improving oneself.’
Pattern, it turned out, would help solve all of this. With a war chest of $14m in VC cash, the company has set out to build a family of intelligently designed, burnout-combating brands and products, which will work together ‘to help our generation find more enjoyment in daily life’.
The company, owned and operated under one roof with the ex-Gin Lane team on board (including co-founders Emmett Shine and Nicholas Ling), kicked things off in September 2019 with its first brand, Equal Parts, a collection of 15 kitchen tools for the city-based home cook.
‘At Gin Lane, we couldn’t ignore how at times the feeling of burnout was affecting each of us at the company,’ Shine tells Courier from his home in New York, where the company is based. ‘There were many days we were stressed and anxious from the demands of work, which resulted in us searching for ways to relax and unplug outside of work, turning to hobbies like cooking, painting and writing – activities we did for the simple fact that we enjoyed them.’
‘Something we began doing organically before we even started Pattern was going home and cooking,’ he continues. ‘We’d turn our phones off, stop responding to work emails and unwind by… making a meal for ourselves and our significant others.’
According to Shine, home cooking is tied to the idea of ‘creative flow’ and has been found to send people into a state of ‘hyperfocus’ that lets everything else fall away. Such a flow state is linked to wellbeing, life satisfaction and general happiness. Pattern, like Gin Lane before it, has been keen to tap into this – the meditation space has exploded in recent years, forecast to grow by 11.4% yearly in the US and reaching $2.08bn by 2022.
But the company is also, clearly, tapping into a rise in interest for at-home cooking in general. In online grocer Peapod’s 2019 meal prep survey, 77% of Americans said they would rather eat a homemade meal than go out for dinner. Yet for cookware brands, there are hurdles to overcome.
Back in 2017, the meal kit market was booming, seen as an attractive option for time-pressed millennials who wanted to cook. However, as the novelty wore off, companies like Blue Apron, once the market leader, started to struggle, experiencing year-on-year losses and declining subscriber numbers. According to Blue Apron’s year-end results for 2019, they’ve dipped from 557,000 subscribers in 2018 to 351,000 at the close of 2019 – in 2017 they had more than a million.
So, while Americans want to cook more, they also want things to be easy. As a result of the growth in single-person households and increasingly frantic schedules, nearly half of Americans eat alone. These factors, paired with a lack of time, has led to fewer people cooking and fast-casual chains like Sweetgreen (an ex-Gin Lane client) and Chipotle becoming the choice for evening meals. For the likes of Pattern, getting people to forgo the convenience of delivery and actually cook for themselves isn’t the easiest of tasks.
It also doesn’t help that the competition in the space is fierce. A new online direct-to-consumer cookware brand launches seemingly every month, all cashed-up and geared to do battle with the traditional players in the sector such as Le Creuset. You can buy colourful pots, pans, knives and skillets from Great Jones, Caraway, Our Place, Misen, Sardel, Brigade, Made In, Field Company, Material, Potluck, Milo and tons of others.
To stand out from the competition, they’re honing in on special materials, quirky uses, new tech features or unique origin stories. Our Place, for instance, was founded by a husband and wife team – Amir Tehrani, who’s worked in the cookware space, and Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund. The company places a big focus on its mission and ethics – inclusive communities, ethical labour and responsible materials – and has partnered with organisations promoting access to healthy food in South LA communities.
Great Jones, founded by childhood friends Maddy Moelis and Sierra Tishgart – an ex-Warby Parker and Zola employee and a former food journalist, respectively – have doubled down on the strong brand aesthetics: a quirky, interactive website; fun product names and bright, unconventional colours in a matte finish.
They’ve also published food-related interviews on their site featuring the likes of cookbook legend Alison Roman, social commentator and essayist Roxane Gay and Bon Appétit’s Andy Baraghani.
Equal Parts, for its part, has tried to differentiate itself by tapping into the Gen Z trend for businesses to talk more directly with their customers – a text service called Open Kitchen gives customers access to a trained chef. Have an aubergine and some tomatoes in the fridge? They’ll text you instructions on how to make pasta alla norma.
The service is available to anyone who has purchased an Equal Parts product. Equal Parts declined to release solid figures about revenue, units sold or customers, but say that they are happy with how many people have embraced the concept, with customers in the thousands and a small but dedicated and growing number of those using the messaging service regularly.
As Equal Parts grows, Pattern is aware that maintaining a text-a-chef service may not be the most scalable approach. The plan is to launch a more multimedia offering – introducing videos, blog posts, guides and events as well – the content is part of what they’ve coined their ‘direct-with-consumer’, rather than direct-to-consumer, approach.
Some might think Pattern’s marketing of Equal Parts as a mindfulness and self-care brand, rather than a purely cooking one, is a bit of a stretch – even cynical. After all, we’re still talking about pots and pans, not CBD or supplements or yoga mats.
‘Creating new products is not a silver bullet that’s going to solve burnout,’ says Shine, warming to his theme. ’But in time, with content and guidance, a community who are sharing insights and information will help the conversation go to where it needs to go.’
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