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Friday 19th June

This week’s edition is all about longevity. Will consumers still buy from black-owned brands after the news cycle moves on? Which pandemic-borne pivots will stick around for the long run? And how do you design a product to last a lifetime?

We’ve all been watching how the whiplash of Covid-19 has been hitting small businesses – and those in the hospitality sector harder than most. But some restaurants have pivoted so successfully they’ve decided to make their pivots permanent.

We first started noticing this trend in the US. Aaron Caddel was running Mr Holmes Bakehouse, supplying over 60 coffee shops in California with baked goods, when his business was brought to a standstill in February. He was among the first to start selling home-baking lockdown kits, but never expected them to completely supplant his wholesale profits. As he told us in the new issue of the magazine, ‘I had zero faith in a retail strategy that could go back to the way things were.’

In London, meanwhile, Ombra recently turned its premises into a makeshift pastificio. The neighbourhood Venetian restaurant by the canal in Hackney now offers takeaway portions of antipasti, pasta and sauces – from oven-ready trays of lasagna and portions of squid ink ravioli – that you finish cooking in the oven at home. The dishes are practically identical to those that Ombra served back when it was open. ‘The main reason that we didn’t do cooked pasta for takeaway is that it doesn’t travel well; it becomes one big mess,’ says Mitshel Ibrahim, Ombra’s chef and director.

Ensuring a quality product was also the motivation behind Homeslice Pizza’s new ‘Take & Bake’ service, which allows customers outside of the restaurant group’s usual delivery radius to purchase part-baked pizzas to cook in their ovens at home. ‘Pizza is such a ubiquitous thing when it comes to delivery, but it’s actually really hard to replicate the restaurant experience,’ says Mark Wogan, Homeslice’s co-founder.

Like Ombra, Homeslice has managed to elevate itself above an increasingly congested crowd of delivery options (selling upwards of 1,000 pizzas a week via its new service). Both have gone above and beyond to serve their local community. ‘We're not just buying things, repackaging them and charging the customer on top,’ says Mitshel. ‘We want to show that we're actually putting some work and thought into it all. We want to show that we care.’

More emerging retail trends, this time from Denmark. As we’ve been covering for the past few months, small businesses from restaurants to clothes shops have been pivoting and adapting. Denmark was one of the first European countries to close restaurants, bars and shops during the pandemic, and also one of the first to reopen them. Yet three months ago, when most of the world was still in lockdown, Daniel Brøndt opened up a physical store for his menswear shop, Another Aspect, in Copenhagen.

‘We got the space in December and opened it in the beginning of March, right before Covid hit,’ he says. ‘We had to close down for three weeks or so, but reopened when Denmark seemed to have the virus under control. We’ve now been open for almost three months. We’re betting hugely on the IRL experience.’

One simple yet effective lesson he has learned: ‘Collaborate with other shops in your neighbourhood,’ he says. ‘Try to get their products in your store and your products in their store. There’s a place located just two blocks away from us called Eleven O. It has a small library-bookstore-cafe sort of vibe. They curated a small selection of magazines for our shop. We put up a sign saying “Jacq from Eleven O curated it and if you're interested in seeing more titles, the shop is just two blocks away”. And Jacq set up a small rack of our clothing in his shop as well. It’s all about sharing products and customers. It's really important to do these sorts of business partnerships, especially right now.’

Working out during lockdown can test your motivation, especially the longer it drags on. It’s something Cory Wharton-Malcolm, the founder of TrackMafia and a Nike Run Club head coach, has been vocal about. He’s spent lockdown creating lots of inventive home workouts featuring pillows, umbrellas, kettles and wooden spoons.

‘Find things that make you want to move and that make you happy, then see how these things can be adapted,’ he says. ‘You like music? Make a playlist filled with your favourite tracks, make some room, now dance aggressively like nobody's watching. Too easy? Dance aggressively with a household object, preferably one with a little weight to it. Film it, send it to a friend and see if they can go toe to toe with you.’

Joe Holder, a wellness consultant and performance specialist who trains Virgil Abloh among other high profile clients, has been another prominent advocate for at-home fitness during lockdown. (In fact, he’s always been against the idea of slogging it out at the gym. ‘Utter exhaustion isn’t good,’ he told us when we profiled him for the magazine back in April.) Check out some of the products from his new brand Exercise Snacks – ‘Make Movement a Movement’ runs the tagline – including a ‘Snack Pack’ with a skipping rope and resistance loops bands designed for workouts in your home.

Khalia Ismain launched her company Jamii, a discount card to use at UK-based black-owned businesses, years before a sea of black squares started appearing on social media. Jamii, which costs £14.95 a year, gives cardholders discounts at black-owned brands in sectors from beauty to food and drink. In recent weeks, the company’s Instagram page grew 250%, its website traffic is up 2,000% and Khalia, who caught up with us on the Courier podcast today, tells us that she’s seen a big increase in cardholders from non-black communities as well.

But how can we collectively keep up the purchasing momentum? She reckons it’s up to platforms like hers to keep it front and centre in consumers’ minds. ‘Now that we've got your attention, all I'm thinking is how do we harness this? How do we ensure that next month, next Christmas, next year, we're still making it as easy as possible for you [to buy from black-owned brands] and we're meeting you where you are. The last few weeks have shown that people are more than willing to do it when the conditions are right. So it's now the responsibility of platforms like ours to find those people, continue to re-engage them, remind them why it's so important, harness that energy and make sure that it’s used.’

The Melbourne-based Japanese knife and kitchen brand Hinoki sits at the heart of a few trends we’ve been keeping a close eye on: 

  • the rise of new cookware brands, particularly DTC entries with fresh aesthetics and marketing (read our profile of Equal Parts in issue 34);
  • how at-home cooking has taken off as people avoid restaurants during the pandemic; 
  • why Covid-19 has led consumers to re-evaluate the sustainability of their purchasing habits. 

To discuss some of these topics and ahead of a new product line from Hinoki next week, we caught up with the brand’s founder Hamish Grace.

You’ve said that the idea of Hinoki is to create 30 perfect objects. How’s that going?
We started with kitchen products, but that's not necessarily going to be the scope of what the 30 products will be. I started Hinoki at 24 and I'm now 27 – it might take us another 20 or 30 years to realise what those 30 products will be. We don't necessarily have a roadmap, it’s more a product catalogue built on relationships and people. It's about finding the best craftsmen to realise our expression of a particular object.

How did the brand first come about?
Hinoki started around 2016 from a lot of internet research and emailing back and forth with craftsmen in Japan. But the bladesmithing industry over there is so relationship-driven – there’s only so much that can be achieved online. So I took a first trip at the end of 2016 to Sakai, Osaka, where they used to make samurai swords. When they outlawed the carrying of those swords, the local swordsmiths started making kitchen cutlery and applied a lot of the same skills. The last meeting I had was with a family of bladesmiths who we ended up partnering with to create the S1 Gyuto. The company is run by a father and son, and dates back 120 years. The son saw that it would be a good challenge for their craftsmen to take on a new approach.

You have a policy called the 'Eternal Guarantee', in which you promise to fix anything if a customer isn't satisfied…
Some people really buy into the idea of patina and the object taking on its own life and ageing with them – this idea of wabi sabi and the beauty in imperfection. Others want something that's pristine and crisp. So it's about juggling those different needs from the same set of customers. For us, the idea of true luxury is about what can be repaired. And that's one of the starting points when we actually start to design and build these products – over the lifetime of the first user and then hopefully the lifetime of whoever it's handed down to, what does it look like to service that product and ensure it still performs at a really high level decades down the line?

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