Of a Kind’s Approach To Making
By Brian Honigman
October 17th, 2013
One Of A Kind Content
In a mass retail world where flash sales and Amazon-style price slashing dominates the fashion market, how do you stay boutique and still survive?
Shopping startup Of a Kind believes that they’ve discovered the secret: storytelling. The boutique retailer pairs small runs (usually 20 or 30) of limited-edition items with a story about the emerging designer who created the piece to forge a powerful connection between shoppers and the products they buy.
Of a Kind’s content expertise shouldn’t come as a surprise. Co-founder Erica Cerulo is a veteran of the fashion editorial world, working as an editor at Details and Lucky before founding Of a Kind with Claire Mazur. We spoke with Cerulo about how the 3-year-old startup is blurring the lines between content and commerce.
Of a Kind Co-Founder and content mastermind, Erica Cerelo
Thank you again for taking the time to chat with the Strategist! Could you explain the process of finding designers with engaging stories?
When we seek out designers we want to feature on the site, we always start by identifying people whose work we love. We look for designers who have a really strong aesthetic point-of-view—who are doing something special—that we’re just really drawn to.
From there, we develop the edition they’ll make exclusively for Of a Kind, and once the basics are nailed down on that front, we dive into the storytelling. It’s never, ever an issue finding stories to tell—we’re real believers that everyone has a story. It’s just our job to find out what they are.
How do you define and identify a good story?
It’s really about finding story ideas that excite us—content we want to read. And the unearthing of those gems is baked into our editorial process: For each designer we feature, we assign a writer to do two interviews. The first is to get a general overview (that will shape the bio that lives on the site) and also to get a sense of what makes this person tick and what makes him or her compelling.
After that first interview, the writer pitches a handful of story ideas—could be anything from how the edition we’re selling was made, to a designer’s favorite mid-century finds in L.A., to a rundown of the movies a designer finds most inspiring—and we pick the two that really speak to us to move forward with. From there, the writer does a second interview to flesh out those two stories with lots of good quotes and photos.
What do you think are the best practices for telling an original and exciting product story from your experience?
Don’t tell stories that you think people SHOULD read. But, at the same time, don’t be scared of getting technical or diving into the nitty-gritty either. When we first worked with Annie Larson of ALL Knitwear back in late 2010, we really wanted to do a story on how she knit her awesome hats on an eighties knitting machine.
She wasn’t so sure about it—she didn’t think people would care. But we cared, and it turned out that other people did too! The story was a hit—people were blown-away by how involved the process of making each hat was and how much time and care Annie put into each one.
Have you ever been interested in working with a designer but the products weren’t supported by a worthwhile story?
Honestly, no! We’re open to so many different types of stories. We’ve done pieces on a designer’s past life as a pop star and a never-fail vacation packing list, on the best places to eat in Portland, and an arts-and-crafts camp in Maine. As long as you aren’t trying to force someone and his or her experiences into set rubrics or something, it’s never that tough to find something to write about.
Would you agree that, through the many stories of designers, you’re continually building the story of your company as a whole? What’s that story and how do the stories of each designer impact its evolution overtime?
That’s absolutely true. And that’s something we’ve definitely grown more comfortable with in the three years since we launched Of a Kind. With all of the stories we tell about designers on our site, we really try to convey that they’re real people—who have favorite ice-cream shops in their neighborhoods and really hilarious and charming grandmas. As we think about telling the story behind Of a Kind, we approach it the same way: We try to show that, hey, there are actual people behind this business!
One of the most effective ways we’ve found to do that is through our weekly “10 Things” newsletter, which is a rundown of—you guessed it—10 things that the founders are doing… that have nothing to do with Of a Kind or even fashion. It could be a book we’re loving, a weird ingredient we just discovered, a video that’s cracking us up, [or] a handheld steamer that’s making us look more presentable.
Since we started sending these emails at the very end of 2012, we’ve gotten a super-enthusiastic response from our audience. And we like being able to engage with them in a way that doesn’t feel sell-y.
Our audience is really engaged with the content that we’re creating. We just wrapped up our third annual customer survey, and we found that a whopping 85% of our customers read our content. Major, right?
If your audience knows who you are, how you talk, and what you stand for, there’s an intimacy and familiarity that comes with that.”
What went into your decision to create a cohesive experience of commerce and content throughout your e-commerce site, as opposed to the typical concept of having your blog and shopping experience separate but still on the same website?
From the very, very beginning, it was really important for us that Of a Kind be a place where the editorial and the retail intermingled—we wanted to avoid exactly those silos you identified, which, to us, felt a little dated. The dream was that people would come to the site to read and end up buying—or that they’d come to the site to shop and end up diving into the stories.
Do you think there are benefits for other startups and brands to better incorporate their commerce with content? Potential downsides?
In our experience, you can really develop a stronger connection to your audience through good content. If your audience knows who you are, how you talk, and what you stand for, there’s an intimacy and familiarity that comes with that.
Companies like Equinox and Pressed Juicery are doing an awesome job on that front—reading the content that these companies put out creates feel-good vibes around their brands. But, in order for this to work, you have to know who you are and who you’re talking to. Otherwise, any efforts can fall flat or just seem, well, off.
When starting a company from the ground up or beginning to work with content for the very first time, what would be your advice for a business to help build a strong narrative?
Be authentic. And don’t always talk about yourself: If people discover other interesting things through your content, they’ll start to trust you—and keep coming back.
What’s the deal with the Content Strategist? At Contently, storytelling is the only marketing we do, and it works wonders. It could for you, too. Learn more.Image by JPL Designs/Shutterstock.com