For our whole lives, we’ve been trained to believe that certain things just cost what they cost. We just accept it without questioning it, with little to no understanding of the structure of how things are made, marketed and priced. If Gillette sells four razor cartridges for $16, then that must be what they’re supposed to cost. If a pair of Oliver Peoples horn rims cost $350, then that must be what a smart-looking pair of horn rims cost. If a bespoke suit from a custom tailor costs $4,000, then that must be what a finely-crafted, made-to-measure suit must cost. And if it costs less, it must be either cheaply made or produced by unfair labor.
It’s a model that disrespects men who may have discerning tastes but not necessarily the means. In a post-crash, post-Occupy, 99% world, it’s a model ripe for disruption.
In the past few years, a handful of game-changing companies have surfaced, rewriting an aging script by providing handsome, well-made, workable and affordable goods for discerning men who aren’t in the 1%. With direct connection to (and direct shipping from) the manufacturer and with the help of a little thing called the Internet, these startups decided to skip the layers of middlemen and provide quality goods and services directly to the customer.
In 2006, the expensive suit offerings from top designers and the subsequent expense of tailoring left Canadian college classmates Heikal Gani and Kyle Vucko discouraged and dissatisfied. So they came up with a business plan that enabled men to measure and order custom suits online. That plan disrupted the traditional model by eliminating the middlemen, i.e. “the layers of companies and individuals employed by fashion houses to purchase fabrics, manage suppliers and sell their products in overtly opulent retail stores.” In 2007, Indochino was launched. Today, Indochino remains a small outfit with about 60 employees in Vancouver and Shanghai, creating amazing custom suits and shipping them directly from the production facility to men all over the globe. They have no brick and mortar storefront and they do their own marketing, much of which happens with social networks and partnerships with bloggers. (Full disclosure: Indochino has provided me with a couple of suits to review in the past. I was just as enthusiastic about them when I bought my first couple of custom suits on my own dime.) Their custom suits range from $379 to $699. When compared to the four figures commanded by other exclusive retail outlets for the same service and quality, there’s no contest. Personally, it’s extremely hard for me to try on an expensive suit off-the-rack and get the same feeling I get from my custom suits from Indochino, especially considering the costly tailoring required to make the designer suit fit perfectly.
Dollar Shave Club
As of this writing, the handle and one blade of the Fusion Power-Glide razor, arguably Gillette’s most popular product, costs $11. A package of four replacement cartridges cost $16 at CVS. Mark Levine and Michael Dubin were two San Diego guys frustrated by the over-the-top design and cost of men’s shaving gear. In March of 2012, they launched Dollar Shave Club with a hilarious award-winning video starring Michael Dubin (“Mike”) that went viral. Dollar Shave Club works on a three-tier subscription model where men pay a monthly membership fee ($1/month, $6/month or $9/month, depending on the blade model) in exchange for a month’s supply of cartridges that are sent directly to the subscriber’s mailbox. The first shipment includes the razor’s handle at no extra charge, and a new supply of blades arrives every month thereafter. As a current subscriber to the 4X ($6/month), and as someone who has extremely sensitive skin, I couldn’t be more pleased. Are Dollar Shave Club’s blades any good? Just ask Mike…
Five years ago, I passed by an Oliver People’s shop and fell in love with what I saw in the window: a pair of very handsome horn-rimmed glasses inspired by those worn by Ari Onassis. I couldn’t really afford them, but I paid nearly $400 for them anyway. Advantage: Luxottica. In 2010, Wharton schoolmates David Gilboa, Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt and Jeffrey Raider founded Warby Parker, an online shop that offers beautifully designed and well-made eyewear. They sell exclusively through their own website, offering in-person try-ons in their New York City showroom and at participating boutiques around the country. They also have an at-home try-on option where they will send you five pairs to try for a five day period, after which you return the frames in the prepaid return box. Most pairs of glasses at Warby Parker cost $95, including prescription lenses, while none cost more than $200. How do they do it? I’ll let them tell you:
The industry is controlled by a few large companies that have kept prices artificially high, reaping huge profits from consumers like you who have had few other options. By refusing to deal with these companies and selling our glasses to you directly through our website, we cut out the middlemen who egregiously mark up prescription eyeglass prices. This makes it possible for us to offer you great-looking prescription glasses at a great price. We never compromise on quality or style — we simply give you direct access to higher quality, better looking eyewear.
And speaking of Warby Parker, the newest old business model shaker-upper is brought to us by Warby co-founder Jeff Raider and his former co-intern Andy Katz-Mayfield. Together, they launched a stylish and affordable shaving system this year called Harry’s (as in Tom, Dick and…). Like the founders of Dollar Shave Club, Raider and Katz-Mayfield created a smart solution for a great shave at a great price. Not only do they sell blades like Dollar Shave Club (not in recurring billing/subscription form), but Harry’s also sells different handle options and shaving cream. The two handsome handle options are: The Truman ($10, including one blade cartridge), which has a zinc alloy core and a polymer coating available in ivory, olive, orange or navy; and The Winston ($20, including one blade cartridge), which is constructed from precision-grade aluminum. The blades themselves are made from German engineers who specialize in honing high-grade steel, and the cartridges are sold in packages of 4 ($8), 8 ($15), 12 ($20) or 16 ($25). The lathering shaving cream, which features essential oils, peppermint and eucalyptus, was developed by the same chemists who’ve created shave creams for high-end brands. A 3.4 ounce tube goes for $8. The collection is very handsomely designed and wonderfully priced, offering another brilliant solution to the rip-off shaving racket. And for what it’s worth, Harry’s gear will look great in your bathroom, too.
When I created this blog, I decided that all the goods and services I covered must meet four criteria. The goods and services must be:
- well-made; and
It’s exciting to witness a new generation of smart companies that disrupt an old, unreasonably-priced model by offering handsome, affordable, well-made and workable solutions. But not only is it fun to watch, it’s a pleasure to award them my business. I’m a happy customer.