Passion Brands: Creating Experiences that People Fall in Love With

A passionate customer is a loyal one. More than that, they’ll evangelize a favorite brand to all of their friends, family and colleagues. Does passion just happen? Or is it created?

At a recent Merchant to Merchant (M2M) meeting, SD Chief Commerce Officer, Phillip Jackson spoke with a panel of four brands that are doing amazing things, from product development to community engagement. These leaders shared their strategies for stoking passion amongst their customers, along with tactics to standout in their specific product categories and marketing spaces.

Meet our panelists:

Aman Advani
Ministry Of Supply

“We’re based in Boston and founded in 2012. We were born at the intersection of form and function. We took everything we love about engineering and applied it to fashion. Take your least favorite dress clothes and give them a bit of a facelift with performance technology. Our clothes are super soft and comfortable, stretch, machine washable, no ironing. We create pieces that you actually look forward to everyday.”

Caroline Leed
Smiling Button

“We’re a children’s lifestyle apparel brand. We dress children newborn to 10 years. We do very classic silhouettes that traditionally would be dry clean only but in really fun, playful prints that are washable and fun play-wear. Everything is made in Massachusetts, our office is in Back Bay. We do 90% wholesale.”

Laura Hnatow
Director of E-commerce and Marketing
Sea Bags

“We’re a sustainability brand, founded 20 years ago, recycling sails that have had a full and useful life on the water, but were bound for the landfill. We decided to rescue them and turn them into totes and accessories. All of our products are made in the USA, we are based in Portland, Maine. Our products are manufactured on the last commercial wharf still open to the public.”

Matt Taylor
Founder & CEO

“Launched five years ago, we create men’s and women’s track apparel and accessories that are deeply rooted in the sport of running. We offer a community space that we offer to other groups, we host our own runs from here.”

Highlights of the discussion:

Interested in hearing the entire conversation? Click here to listen to the M2M podcast.

Phillip: Each of your brands compete in a very crowded space, yet you have very passionate customer response, people say very nice things about you online. Why is that?

Caroline: Our clothes just jump out of the closet. The prints — with twirling elephants or little hearts — are something that make the child smile, and silhouettes resonate the parents, or the grandparents who purchase it because they feel like it’s something they wore when they were children. And our clothes can be worn on the playground or country club, then in the wash.

Aman: I think for Smiling Button and all the brands up here, the competition isn’t the incumbent brand. It’s the other exciting new brands who are doing something different, not brands that offer the same old stuffy clothes.

For us Ministry of Supply, we get people excited by doing something that is dramatically different. We’re wearing the same clothes as our grandparents wear, with the same silhouettes and fabric. We asked ourselves, how can we use our engineering background to make something that feels different from what people are used to and will get excited about. We decided to use all performance material.

Laura: Our company was founded on three tenets that guide everything we do: We’re green in product and practice, we make all of our products in the USA, and we give back to our community generously. These tenets resonate with everybody, and it justifies our cost. Besides, the totes are washable, and last a long time. They durable products that serve a purpose and people are proud to carry them.

Matt: We’re in a unique category in that our customers participate in the activity for which we make the clothing. People buy our products to run marathons all over the world. This means there’s already an existing community around running. The incumbents are at the two ends of the spectrum: uber elite brands made for Olympic athletes, or lower end, kind of get off the couch and start running. We serve the middle, who happen to be this passionate and dedicated consumer who wasn’t being addressed by the two ends of the spectrum. We built a community around these runners by doing things like organizing training runs 100 days out prior to a marathon. We serve breakfast on the runs, provide water, have pacers, and and so on.

Phillip: What are some of the challenges you face connecting with new customers? How are you reaching them?

Caroline: We’re mostly wholesale and we have two facilities where we can reach most of our wholesale customers. We also work with over 100 boutiques, and a lot of resorts, like the Four Seasons Group, and department stores, like Saks, Neimans and Bergdorf. Now we’re looking to pivot more to direct to consumer because it’s totally untapped for us, and a huge opportunity. We’ll probably reach them via Instagram and a lot of mommy bloggers.

When we first started, we had a pop up store and everything was at eye level for the kids, so we could see what they were pulling from the racks. It was as if every day was a focus group. We’ve continued this by doing events in the department stores that sell our clothes, and talk to them about what they like.

Aman: We don’t really have the community that Matt has. Our customers are united in two ways — they got to work, and they buy our stuff. Our word of mouth has to come through reviews, press, peer to peer connections on posts. We stand out from the other brands in that we have a ton of humans who can tell you that our products are genuinely exactly what we said they were. This is the only way to differentiate.

Matt: I think we’ll see a shift away from digital spend because the barrier to entry there has become so low for brands, and it has become so cluttered and noisy, which is why we feel so good about having this community aspect to the brand. It allows us to activate in a way that feels really authentic.

Laura: Storytelling is really important. The media landscape has changed dramatically over the last five to ten years. Content marketing is important. There’s a certain level of authenticity customers need to feel. This is real, this is feeding me stuff about your brand, and I’m not just being sold.


This post barely touches on the amazing insights that came out of this panel discussion. Each of these brands are transforming their sectors — and the brand-customer relationship — in interesting and creative ways. Click here to listen to the full M2M podcast for some ideas that are redefining what retail can be.

Merchant to Merchant: A Podcast for Merchants by Merchants

Hello and welcome to the Something Digital Merchant to Merchant Podcast!

We’re very excited to share our podcast with all of you. This podcast won’t just be about anything – we’re bringing you stories about digital commerce straight from the merchants themselves and its hosted by SD’s, Phillip Jackson.

Click below to listen to full episodes from our podcast and subscribe here so you never miss an episode.


Our next Merchant to Merchant is in New York City on April 16, 2020 – Save the date!

Merchant to Merchant: 3 Brands Share their Strategies for Staying True to Their Principles

Creating a brand is hard enough – holding true to your ideals is harder still. But not impossible, as dressmaker Christy Dawn, custom eyeglass company Fritz Frames, and yoga brand Alo Yoga can attest. In this podcast, Victoria Ainsworth, growth consultant for Christy Dawn, Gabriel Schulmberg, Fritz Frame’s CEO, and Nick Jaquay, IT operations manager for ALO Yoga talked with Phillip Jackson about “doing things the hard way” and creating brand experiences and products that not only define – but align with – the mission of the brand.

We hope you’ll listen to the podcast in full (it’s about an hour), but if you can’t, here are five key takeaways:

Problem Solving as Genesis of Brand

Each brand began with a desire to solve a problem. For Christy Dawn, it was the massive waste and horrendous environmental impact of the fashion industry. Each year fashion houses order vast quantities of fabric for their collections for the coming year, much of which won’t be used, known as dead stock. Christy Dawn saw a business opportunity in those huge piles of unused fabric: a collection of dresses made from 100% dead stock. As it turned out, women love these dresses.

Heidi Hertel and Gabriel Schulmberg both have children who need glasses, and were frustrated with the experience of buying and replacing them on a regular basis. If your two-year-old needs glasses, expect them to be lost or broken frequently. Getting kids to the eye doctor, then to an eyeglass store to select frames, and then back again to have them fitted is time consuming. On top of that, styles and inventory are limited. Gabriel says that even if he was lucky enough to find a pair find a pair his children liked, there was no guarantee he could replace them with an identical pair once they were lost of broken. “We didn’t start out to sell glasses, we set it up to solve glasses, and the brand is grounded in that.” In other words, the brand was founded on making life for parents easier.

The founders of Alo Yoga are passionate about yoga, and wanted to make it easier for practitioners to incorporate it into their lives. A big challenge: going from the yoga mat to the street without changing clothes. Alo Yoga decided to create, “garments that carry over to the street, into a life lived consciously” because “mindful movement can travel beyond the studio.”

Listen to Customers

All three brands are keen to listen to their customers. For instance, before Fritz Frames began manufacturing frames the company interviewed 100 people, mostly moms, and asked them about their days. These interviews convinced them that they needed to offer customers a super simply sales cycle.

Victoria Ainsworth says that Christy Dawn is still small enough that they can follow up with every customer to find out how they like their dresses. Alo Yoga relies on social media to crowdsource their product design. Yogis get insight from their students, and then feed it back to Alo Yoga via social media.

Designing Products Around Mission

Every thoughtful brand launches with a mission, but staying true to that mission can be challenging. Why are these brands successful?

Fritz Frames’ mission was to make parent’s life easier. To that end, they offer custom, 3D printed eyeglasses, which they sell via an app. The app creates an image of the customer’s face, and allows the customer to select from different styles and colors virtually. The entire process, from downloading the app to queuing up the order at the 3D printing facility takes 5 minutes.

Alo’s mission is to allow people to be more mindful every day, which is why the brand offers an app with instructor-guided yoga routines. Customers can practice yoga as their schedule allows. The brand also has studios where shoppers can practice yoga.

In addition to making clothes out of dead stock, Christy Dawn now plants cotton in India. The cotton is both sustainable and regenerative, so as not to harm the plant.

Approach to Growth

Fritz Frames was launched as a way to provide eyeglasses to kids, but 50% of their orders now come from adults. Most eyeglass manufacturers make assumptions about the types of styles that are appropriate to each face shape, and if your taste runs contrary to those assumptions, you’re out of luck. Because Fritz Frames customizes all styles to the individual face, growth will come from making more customers happier.

Christy Dawn has no interest in growing just for growth’s sake. As Victoria explains, “we believe in sticking with this model and things will grow over time, and grow as they should.” For Christy Dawn, growth comes from word of mouth. Women love their dresses and tell their friends about it. They also advertise on social media, but they don’t rely on the usual tricks of 15% off, their ads stay true to their brand.

Technology is an important part of the Alo experience. For instance, smart mirrors leveraging augmented reality allow shoppers to see what they’ve tried on in many different colors. Growth comes from visualizing what the future holds, and being ready for it from a tech perspective.

Lifetime Engagement vs. Lifetime Value

Interestingly, each of these brands value lifetime engagement over lifetime value, which seems anathema to a consumer brand. “Focusing on long-term engagement, time spent thinking of the brand, is more important than trying to get them into a store to buy something,” explains Gabriel Schulmberg. “It changes how you approach the business. It’s not about driving sales, but how many touch points can we make this person feel great about the brand.”

The panel had a lot more to say about the challenges than described here. Have a listen on your next lunch hour, or commute by clicking here.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Merchant to Merchant: B2B Innovation in a D2C World

We’re back with another Merchant to Merchant and this time around we took it back to it’s birth place, New York City. Phillip Jackson sat down with Ian Leslie, CMO at Industry West, Jesse Lazarus, Chief Process and Innovation Officer at Kravet, and Hayden Kwast, Director of Ecommerce & Marketing at Olam Specialty Coffee. You can catch the full episode below or check it out here.


Merchant to Merchant Podcast

Merchant to Merchant takes Palm Beach!

If you’ve been following our podcast for the last year or so you’ll notice that we’ve been taking it on the road and what better place to go than our home away from home Palm Beach, Florida.

Merchant to Merchant is a live event where merchants gather on a panel in front of an audience of their peers and discuss challenges. We hold these events in an actual retail space – where commerce happens.

We met live at the Island Company store on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, FL to talk to three commerce experts – Kroger Digital, Sandow Media, and surefoot. Each one has a story of transformation, growth, and successfully engaging with customers who have so many options.



Merchant to Merchant Podcast

Merchant to Merchant Los Angeles

What better way to kick off 2019 than with a Merchant to Merchant event in Los Angeles?

We kicked off 2019 with a live M2M event in Los Angeles and we’ll continue to take it on the road for 2019. For those who aren’t familiar, Merchant to Merchant is a live event where merchants gather on a panel in front of an audience of their peers and discuss challenges. We hold these events in an actual retail space – where commerce happens.

We met live at the Robert Graham store on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, CA to talk to three amazing brands – Birdwell Beach Britches, Sole Bicycles, and Karmaloop / Sheik Shoes. Each one has a story of transformation, maturation, and how to engage with customers who have endless choice.



Merchant to Merchant Podcast

SD’s Merchant 2 Merchant heads to Atlanta with Mailchimp

What better way to kick off the summer than with a Merchant to Merchant LIVE event in Atlanta?

We kicked off 2018 with a live M2M event in Seattle and we’ve continued to take it on the road with our second stop in Atlanta. For those who aren’t familiar, Merchant to Merchant is a live event where merchants gather on a panel in front of an audience of their peers and discuss challenges. We hold these events in an actual retail space – where commerce happens.

This month we traveled to Atlanta to the Citizen Supply store in the popular Ponce City Market. Citizen Supply’s goal is to bridge the gap between the maker and final consumer. They pride themselves in supporting local businesses, handmade and small-batch products, and sustainable businesses. We had a fantastic panel – three brands which represent community: King of Pops, a popsicle company that uses simple, wholesome ingredients, Bitter Southerner, an online editorial who also sells some pretty great merchandise, and So Worth Loving, a brand that breathes encouragement and support.

They lent their voice to a conversation that has an interesting dynamic – how do you create community and change lives through ecommerce?

Merchant to Merchant Podcast

SD Brings Merchant 2 Merchant to the West Coast with Magento and Amazon Pay

What better way to kick off February than to hear from two experienced retailers on how to build and grow your business? And what better place to have our first Merchant to Merchant LIVE event than Seattle?

Historically a New York-area event, SD was proud to bring the M2M show on the road this year. For those who aren’t familiar, Merchant to Merchant is a live event where merchants gather on a panel in front of an audience of their peers and discuss challenges. We hold these events in an actual retail space – where commerce happens.

This month we traveled to Seattle to the Filson Flagship store. Filson is a historic brand which got its start as an outfitter for the Yukon Gold Rush. We had a fantastic panel – two brands which represent opposite ends of the seasonal product spectrum: Mervin Manufacturing, a historic snowboard manufacturer, and Espresso Parts, a primarily B2B-focus distributor of parts and service supplies for coffee shops.

They lent their voice to a conversation we’ve been having here at Something Digital for some time – how do you combat the challenges of extreme seasonality in retail? Snowboards have very specific seasons where they’re in high demand. Then you have coffee – which has gone through the challenges of overcoming seasonality by generating customer demand through product innovation (think: cold brew and pumpkin spice) as well as international supply chain challenges.

Beyond just creating new products and scaling your business horizontally – what can a retailer do? Listen as Daniel Nettleton and Trevor Phillips offer advice and give insight to how they’re overcoming these challenges.  Click on the podcast below to learn more about overcoming seasonality challenges.


Check out photos from the event

Merchant to Merchant Podcast

SD and Magento Host M2M Roundtable

Thursday, June 29th Something Digital and Magento hosted an Ecommerce Roundtable at Rothman’s in NYC.

The roundtable was hosted by SD’s Phillip Jackson with guest panelists, Heather Kaminetsky (DreamLabs, LLC), Lee Bissonnette (Marc Fisher Footwear), and Julie Lefkowitz (Ramy Brook).

The discussion began with the enticing question, “What ways is your brand dependent on Brick-and-Mortar?”

Want to see what else the panelist had to say? Check out our podcast below or subscribe for future podcasts!


Merchant to Merchant Podcast

SD and Magento Hosting a Merchant 2 Merchant Roundtable

On Thursday, June 29th, Something Digital and Magneto are hosting an Ecommerce Roundtable at Rothman’s in NYC.

The roundtable will be hosted by SD’s Phillip Jackson with guest panelists, Heather Kaminetsky (Riley) and Julie Lefkowitz (Ramy Brook).

So what’s the topic of this Merchant 2 Merchant Roundtable event? “The New Normal: Digital Commerce Success in a Retail Crisis

Are you in NYC and looking for something to do that night? RSVP NOW!