30 Brands to Watch in 2018

While some are new, others have been on the rise for a while, and some continue a legacy of forward-thinking practices to stay relevant while forging ahead in the future of retail.

By Jenny S. Rebholz

What’s hot, and what’s not? Remember those lists? We wanted to focus on cool, emerging and innovative companies delivering authentic experiences—whether brick-and-mortar or online—and have been keeping an eye on these (and others we’ve been told to check out). Some are redefining traditional industries, such as the mattress world, while others are continuing to evolve and elevate experiences, such as barber services. Health, well-being, social responsibility and sustainability are at the core of many of these companies, as they strive to make a difference as part of their business models. While some are new, others have been on the rise for a while, and some continue a legacy of forward-thinking practices to stay relevant while forging ahead in the future of retail.

We wanted to keep you in the know and call your attention to these 2018 Brands to Watch.

What is better than a shoe that barely leaves a footprint? Well, carbon footprint that is. Allbirds is all about doing things in a better way, which means looking to nature for materials rather than relying on synthetics. The company uses ZQ-Certified Merino wool, which means it meets stringent standards for sustainable farming and animal welfare. Going natural uses 60 percent less energy to produce than typical synthetic materials. The company even uses castor beans as a sustainable resource for the green polyurethane used in the shoes’ insoles.

Allbirds is a certified B Corporation and partner with SOLES4SOULS. Even the product packaging uses 40 percent less materials than traditional shoe packaging. The design is about simplicity and comfort, no bells, whistles or logos, just comfy wool shoes. Did you know Merino wool minimizes odor, regulates temperature and wicks moisture? These wool runners and loungers allow customers to be sock-free, whether working out or just going about the day. Stores in San Francisco and New York give the brand a brick-and-mortar presence. Give the shoes a try on a life-sized hamster wheel in the SoHo location in New York. allbirds.com

From the studio to the street, Alo elevates the practice of yoga while being a fashion-forward brand that redefines streetwear. This line of performance yogawear is designed for maximum performance. It helps compress, lift and shape the body, while keeping muscles warm. It is anti-microbial and dry-wicking. The company lives and breathes a mission of mindful movement with a solar-powered office, yoga five days a week for employees at its on-site gym, organic food trucks, electric charging stations—you get the picture. And the Alo stores continue that communal feel—organic juice, kombucha or coffee anyone? The Beverly Hills, Calif., flagship even has an airy yoga studio and roof deck. aloyoga.com

The Arrivals
Form meets function—or architecture meets outerwear—with The Arrivals, an independent design studio in “pursuit of foreverwear” that emerged in 2014 in New York. This isn’t just clothing for him and a line for her, rather outerwear for all with its unisex offering. Streamlined designs, obsessed with details and technically advanced, the brand looks to what’s next in material innovations to “maximize life Out There.” The company even has a proprietary Heat Retention Index (HRI) to help select the right piece for a specific environment or purpose. This is a clothing line influenced by architecture that helps customers live fashionably and functionally outside of the box. The brand stands behind its product with a lifetime warranty, just like a building it has been designed to “stand the test of time.” A steady stream of pop-up shops arriving now in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are quickly introducing this up-and-coming brand to a wider audience. thearrivals.com

When it comes to farming, images of red barns, silos, cows and acres of fields come to mind. Not the case at Bowery. This brand considers itself “the modern farming company,” and is focused on precision farming, creating the ideal conditions to grow the purest produce. This means planting crops indoors in vertical rows, in a controlled environment with optimal light (LED lights that mimic the full spectrum of the sun), and only the exact amount of purified water required (95 percent less than traditional agriculture). From seed to store, every aspect of the growing process is controlled. For now, you have to be in New York to find the limited product offering (baby kale, Bowery blend, butterhead lettuce, arugula, kale mix and basil) from the brand’s first farm. This is a company to keep an eye on as they use technology to bring us the future of food. boweryfarming.com

A comfortable mattress direct to your door in a small, “how did they do that?”-size box—that is what Casper, a global sleep company that was launched in 2014, is doing to redefine the mattress shopping experience. In just three years, the company has amassed a cult following of happy sleepers. Named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in the World in 2017, it has gone beyond its mattress, which was crowned one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions, to expand its product line to include sheets, pillows, a matching foundation and even a dog mattress.

And the company has made big strides to up its reach in the past year, now partnering with Target to bring Casper products directly to consumers in-store on a national scale. And in more recent news, the company just opened a a new concept shop (the first of 15) at Ponce City Market in Atlanta, featuring staged bedrooms called “nap pods” that are meant to both showroom and test drive the product. Yes, customers can actually book a pod, close the curtain and take a 30-minute nap in-store. Now that’s what we call brand experience. casper.com

Current Meditation
Just as some people need a gym membership to keep them devoted to their workouts or a trainer to help them achieve their goals, the art of mindfulness may be more successful with a little guidance. Those who frequent yoga class may get a few minutes of pure meditation, but Current Meditation is focused on the practice of meditation. In today’s world of distractions, the Current Meditation studio is a place where students are guided through both ancient and contemporary practices adapted to meet their needs, helping them learn how to be mindful in the modern world. Located in Phoenix, the space is thoughtfully designed to provide an immediate sense of calm.

But the Phoenix studio is just the beginning. The Current Meditation model is already seeking franchisees to become the world’s first meditation franchise, with a vision to inspire millions to cultivate a healthy state of mind. In a world where mental illness is often in the headlines, mental wellness is a mission, and Current Meditation aims to lead the pack. becurrent.com

Do you want same-day delivery? In 33 markets, Deliv can help make that happen, and it can help retailers provide that service, too. How? It uses omnichannel platforms and GPS-enabled smartphones to mobilize its crowd of drivers. A crowdsourcing delivery network! This is a fast, flexible and more affordable shipping option. Deliv is widely considered one of the most successful same-day, last-mile delivery services, and has serviced thousands of retailers including Macy’s, Best Buy, Office Depot and PetSmart. deliv.co

Dollar Shave Club
Join the club! That seems to be a trend from everything from stylist-selected clothing every month to weekly meal prep. California-based Dollar Shave Club started with razors in 2012 and now has men’s needs covered for everything in the bathroom. Reviews talk about quality products at an affordable price. You choose a razor set, select a delivery frequency for replacements and don’t have to make a long-term commitment. And the brand has expanded to offer products for the shower, hair styling, skincare and, yes, even butt wipes.

Obviously, we aren’t the only ones watching this brand. Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club in 2016 for $1 billion, and now is set to launch the club in Europe in 2018. Big shaves ahead. dollarshaveclub.com

It’s back to basics for Everlane, classic clothing items that don’t respond to a trend. These pieces help build a wardrobe of classic basics and become staples, pieces a customer can purchase at an affordable price. The brand launched in 2010 with a T-shirt that came to have a waiting list of 70,000. Dedicated to “radical transparency,” it wants its customers to know the story behind the product, including the true cost, the process and the factories where the clothing is produced. A new showroom in its New York studio and a new retail experiment in San Francisco, The Everlane Lab, give customers a chance to explore the brand in person with personal stylists.

And watch out for a big brick-and-mortar boost coming soon from this e-comm giant. “We were quoted about four years ago [saying] we’d shut the company down before we opened a brick-and-mortar store, and we’re opening brick-and-mortar,” CEO and Founder Michael Preysman recently told WWD. Keep an eye on this one. everlane.com

Do you know what “food deserts” are? They are the many U.S. communities with little access to healthy, affordable food, which often leads to high rates of obesity, diabetes and stress. The mission of Everytable is to make good food available for everyone. The brand’s business model reduces the cost of a standard restaurant model, so its chefs can make meals with fresh ingredients to be sold in the company’s small, grab-and-go storefronts. The company contends that healthy food is a human right, but $9 green juices and $12 salads make healthy foods a luxury most people can’t afford. At Everytable, meals are priced according to the neighborhood where each store is located. The company is bringing better dietary options to those in food deserts, as well as more affluent communities. Since debuting in July 2016, the company has quickly grown to five locations in the Los Angeles area, including Santa Monica, South L.A., Downtown L.A., Baldwin Hills and Century City.

Some might call this a food experiment. Those enjoying the same meal for a slightly higher price can increase their satisfaction by knowing they are helping others have access to food that would otherwise not be available. “Every body. Every block. Everytable.” everytable.com

Express worldwide delivery of luxury fashion. No way? It’s true. Farfetch was started in 2008 by Portuguese entrepreneur José Neves and is committed to bringing the world’s best boutiques and brands to wherever you are in the world. A curated collection and cutting-edge editorial is part of the digital experience, as well as ways to make the shopping experience as enjoyable as possible. An on-the-go app offers instant updates, Farfetch Private clients can take advantage of a personal shopping team, and you can create wish lists, choose from nine languages and select your local currency. The Farfetch offices are found in 11 cities, including London, Tokyo and Los Angeles, and they express ship from partners to more than 190 countries.

In 2015, Farfetch acquired London boutique Browns and developed Farfetch Black & White (an e-commerce platform that will power brand websites) and Store of the Future (an initiative to power physical stores for its partners) to offer new technology and business solutions to brands and retailers around the world. In 2016, the company secured a Series F round of investment of $110 million, is currently valued at $1 billion and boasts a vision to “create the retail experience of the future, with our customer at its heart.” Pay attention. farfetch.com

The FEED Shop & Café
Buy a bag and feed children. Lauren Bush founded FEED in 2007 as a way to engage people in the fight against hunger. As Bush traveled the world as the World Food Programme (WFP) Honorary Spokesperson, she witnessed hunger firsthand. Knowing that food, such as a nutritious school lunch, can break the cycle of poverty, she wanted to make a difference. The brand is now celebrating 10 years and 100 million meals. In the spirit of continuing to connect people to the cause, the mission is coming to life at The FEED Shop & Café, the first retail location in Brooklyn, N.Y. The shop features an assortment of products, in-store exclusives and a rotating curation of socially conscious finds, while the café offers the FEED Heritage coffee blend, roasted in partnership with La Columbe. Every product has a number stamped on it, representing the amount of meals or micronutrient packets provided with its purchase. feedprojects.com

Beauty-focused website “Into The Gloss,” founded by Emily Weiss in 2010, shares with readers the products that models, make-up artists and the strong women Weiss admires use, and why they use them. What better way to reward its cult following of dedicated readers than with “a beauty brand you want to be friends with.” Glossier is sold in the United States via glossier.com and offers the ability to directly interact with customers. While there is a New York showroom where you can experience the full skincare and make-up line in person, this is a digital beauty brand that is focused on “enhancing—never hiding—your real skin.” Glossier can leverage customer feedback to continue to elevate its product offering with items that are relevant to its customers. Through the “Into The Gloss” platform, ongoing conversations allow customers to engage with the brand on a daily basis. Content-rich and customer focused, this is a brand making real connections. glossier.com

Beauty in a box, Julep is a brand that invites customers to enjoy make-up and choose to be “Brave Pretty.” By taking a beauty quiz and choosing a subscription type, customers become Julep Mavens and receive monthly beauty boxes. Founder Jane Parker wants Mavens to look good, but more importantly feel good. Maven Meetups and Live with Jane are ways Parker is creating a brand community. The Julep Beauty Lab also offers opportunities for the brand to co-create products, asking customer feedback and crowdsourcing product names, colors, textures and even applicator shapes. In the brick-and-mortar world, the brand has also opened three Julep boutique nail salons in Bellevue and Seattle, Wash., all offering parlor memberships where frequent customers can pay monthly to get their mani, pedi and facial pampering on. And in the spirit of many of the Brands to Watch, the company is demonstrating its social responsibility by supporting organizations that empower women, such as Good360, Habitat for Humanity’s Annual Women Build, Malala Fund and Dignity for Divas. julep.com

Lemonade, a destination for seasonal food and refreshment (including lemonade, of course) has people excited about eating their vegetables. The menu of healthy, simple, seasonal, fresh food, or “California comfort food,” was brought to the California area by founder Alan Jackson. The first location was opened in West Hollywood in 2008, and in 2009 Jackson partnered with Ian Olsen to continue to redefine the fast-casual dining experience. There are now 28 locations throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. Fast-food trade publication QSR magazine included it on its list of 40 rising star fast-casual brands in its Tier One category, which is for larger chains ready to break onto the national stage. lemonadela.com

Little Barn Apothecary
Founded in 2015 by Joshua Morgan and Brad Scoggins, this line of small-batch, unisex apothecary goods is handcrafted from organic and wild-harvested ingredients. These modern, pure and plant-based products are available internationally online, as well as at more than 700 spas and shops around the world. The brand also is growing its brick-and-mortar presence, which started in 2016. With two locations in Atlanta, Little Barn Apothecary has recently opened its first Florida retail store at The HUB 30a in WaterSound Beach. The company’s own collection of products and curated lines from other likeminded, sustainable brands offers customers luxurious self-care goods such as soaks, washes, mists, scrubs, oils, balms and candles. littlebarnapothecary.com

It is time to disrupt the rental car world with car-sharing. Customers download the app, choose their car and location, take a drive and then return the car to where they picked it up. A mobility service offered by General Motors, MAVEN offers hourly rates on the newest cars with the latest technologies, and includes the fuel cost and navigation, as well as other perks that are typically upcharges from traditional rental companies. There are no monthly or application fees or weekend rate increases like Zipcar. Millennials represent 79 percent of this customer base with an average member age of 34. With locations in just more than 10 cities, MAVEN seems to be an excellent alternative to car ownership that is quickly gaining traction. mavendrive.com

Inspired by the world and sold in 36 countries and 40 U.S. states, Miansai offers handmade accessories. The company has enhanced its online presence, has flagship stores in New York’s SoHo neighborhood and Venice Beach, Calif., and a growing fleet of mobile retail units. Vintage Piaggio and Fiat vehicles, as well as two refurbished airstream trailers, offer an inspiring experience as authentic as the merchandise. This mobile marketing opportunity has taken advantage of locations in Brooklyn, N.Y.; the Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX; and the Prudential Center in Boston. The upcoming SS18 collection, inspired by travels to Havana in the Viñales region of Cuba, pays homage to Miami Art Deco. Customers will find a carefully curated selection of men and women’s accessories that marry traditional Art Deco architecture with the rich history of Cuba. miansai.com

How do you take an outfit from day to night or from work to weekend? The answer is clothing from Nic+Zoe. Or so was the mission of Dorian Lightbrown when she founded the company in 2006. The collections, uniquely centered on knitwear, are meant to be easy style solutions for women while supporting the many aspects of their lives. The brand has approximately 800 points of sale throughout the United States and Canada in major department stores, such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, as well as in 600-plus specialty stores. There currently are five retail locations in the northeast with three more in the works. The full collection is available online at nicandzoe.com. Adding a dress collection has expanded the brand’s mission to supporting women throughout the busy moments in their lives. This Boston-based brand continues to grow at an explosive pace. Within the last three years, Nic+Zoe has seen a more than 46 percent increase digitally. nicandzoe.com

This brand emerged in the 1970s in France to exploit the women’s trousers trend, and it has been growing ever since. From store openings to expanded operations to an e-commerce website, Pimkie knows how to evolve and grow. In 2016, the company looked to its more than 5,200 employees to help define the future of the brand and launched its 10-year “Vision.” From 716 stores and 1 million Facebook fans to 800,000 Instagram followers and 42 million items sold, the company is connecting with consumers and forging ahead ready to tackle the future of retail.

For the past two years, the brand experimented with “Mini Fashion Bars” at hotel rooms in Antwerp and Brussels, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin; London; Milan and Paris, where hotel guests would arrive to a closet of rentable and buyable Pimkie clothing items in their closets upon arrival. The clothing and accessories were curated to match the city’s local weather and style trends, and customers would pay for their usage upon check-out. A novel idea for the weary traveler with an eye for fashion. pimkie.com

Privé Revaux
You want to look like a movie star? You just need a killer pair of sunglasses, right? For those who think they can’t afford them, thank David Schottenstein, an entrepreneur who wanted to disrupt the eyewear market. With celebrity support and the creative direction of Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn, superstar celebrity stylists, the brand offers more than 100 handcrafted and polarized designer frames for $29.95. People Magazine called Privé Revaux “the $30 sunglasses pretty much every celebrity is wearing right now.” And each style is named to give customers the look and feel of a movie star persona—The Godfather, The Artist, The Boss, etc. This brand is about access and expressing your personal style, which it is achieving with more than hundreds of thousands of units sold in more than 70 countries.

The company has also recently debuted prescription sunglasses, and has introduced the Privélege program—an annual subscription service that grants exclusive discounts and early access to limited-edition frames. priverevaux.com

How are you? “Busy.” How often do we hear or say that? Rituals is a collection of home and beauty products that wants to help customers stop, take a breath and have a moment of mindfulness. According to the brand, “Rituals helps you slow down, to find happiness in the smallest of things. It is our passion to turn everyday routines into more meaningful rituals.” Whether burning a wild-fig-scented candle or using luxurious bath products, the brand is translating ancient traditions into its products and infusing that wisdom into modern life.

The company produces a seasonal digital Rituals Magazine that helps customers not only better understand its product and principles, but also live a more mindful life, with headlines such as “Follow Our Journey into the Orient” and “Benefits of Practicing Yoga at Night.” The Rituals mobile app offers guided meditations and inspiring and heroic stories, in addition to simply showcasing product. The company embraces its social and ecological responsibility through a number of initiatives, including membership of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which strives to improve global cotton production. rituals.com

Scissors & Scotch
Men want to be pampered, too! Omaha, Neb.-based Scissors & Scotch offers traditional barbering services and modern spa treatments in a relaxing atmosphere, with a complimentary handcrafted cocktail included. This barber shop/lounge combo anticipates 175 new franchise locations across the country in the next five-plus years, including cities such as Denver; Des Moines, Iowa; and Oklahoma City. It is elevating the haircut experience for men, making it more than a chore to check off a to-do list. Scissors & Scotch has created an experience, a time for men to relax, recharge and even connect. It has provided a communal atmosphere, where customers want to come in and hangout, even when it is not time for a service. scissorsscotch.com

Stitch Fix
Founder Katrina Lake made personal styling accessible when she shipped the first Stitch Fix order out of her Cambridge apartment in 2011 while attending Harvard Business School. The online personal styling service saves customers time while offering guidance to evolve their style sense and wardrobe. In 2016, the company expanded its offering to service men. In 2017, the women’s offering was expanded to plus sizes and a Premium Brand offering was launched for men and women.

Fill out a 10-minute online style profile, select a date to receive a “Fix” and the process begins. Through a proprietary styling platform and recommendations by the Stitch Fix styling algorithm, clients are shipped five items of apparel and accessories. Customers don’t have to make time for a trip to the mall and fret about dressing room lighting and mirrors. They can try each piece on in the comfort of their home and see how it works with other items in their closet. Buy want you want and ship the rest back. Shipping is free. A $20 styling fee is charged for each shipment, and clients provide feedback on what they like and do not like to guide the “stylists.” This helps each Fix to get better with time. The shipment schedule is up to the customers—on demand, monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly—and selections are tailored to meet their specific tastes, lifestyle and budget. The company now has more than 75 data scientists and more than 3,400 employee stylists giving 2 million-plus active clients nationwide access to this exclusive shopping experience. stitchfix.com

Connecting with people through food, Sweetgreen is sharing the farm-to-table experience and showing that eating healthy is easy, fun and approachable. There is a community feel in all that the company does as it strives to create an experience where passion and purpose come together. That is reflected in its physical locations, where the company seeks spaces that are distinctive and have an interesting history. Sweetgreen preserves and honors the existing structure; it then incorporates music, block parties and festivals to celebrate eating healthy and living well. The brand has also started a program called “Sweetgreen in Schools,” where it goes into the public schools and educates fourth and fifth graders on healthy eating. There is a passion and a purpose behind this brand. Founded in 2007, it continues to build a community of people who support real food and promote everyone’s ability to live well, to “live the sweetlife.” By the end of 2017, we should see close to 85 locations now up and running for this fast-moving brand. sweetgreen.com

Tru by Hilton
Hilton knows success today depends on delivering an authentic experience, and that is exactly what its Tru brand is all about. Say hello to a brand new hotel experience that’s vibrant, affordable and young-at-heart; familiar, yet unexpected. From smaller rooms with more efficient storage to larger bathrooms (with more counter space…yay!), comfy beds and bigger TVs. More lobby space for work and entertainment enhance the communal feel with perks such as free, fast Wi-Fi, charging outlets and free wireless printing, as well as 24/7 complimentary coffee, tea and hot chocolate. And when you need a midnight snack, no worries, there is a 24/7 Eat. & Sip. market. Just launched in January 2016, there are currently more than 420 Tru hotels in various stages of development with more than 50 expected to open in 2018. tru3.hilton.com

Tuft & Needle
Tuft & Needle broke the mold on mattresses and disrupted the industry, with comfortable, affordable mattresses (starting at $325) that roll up and deliver with ease. Introduced online and finding growth in the digital world, it has now brought its revolutionary mattress experience into the brick-and-mortar space. In general, the typical experience of buying a mattress has been compared to the automobile industry with thoughts of pushy salesmen trying to make the best commission possible. Everything about the Tuft & Needle product and experience is new and improved for the mattress industry. With its first store in San Francisco, three stores in the Phoenix area and the most recent Seattle opening, customers can watch for more stores coming soon in markets across the United States. Designed as an airy loft to feel more like a home, the retail space provides areas with a sense of privacy for trying out the product. Simple, raw and honest materials are used to achieve a clean design that allows the product to be simply displayed.

“We’re making a bigger play in the brick-and-mortar space, because our customers want it,” says Nick Arambula, COO of Tuft & Needle. “Historically, the physical storefront was used as a tool to push product to customers, but did little to design an environment that customers could enjoy. Using customer feedback to help shape the in-store experience—much like we do with product development—our retail spaces are the physical embodiment of our brand: thoughtfully designed, beautifully accessorized and full of friendly, informed team members. We are turning the traditional retail model on its head, and this is just the beginning of what’s to come.” tuftandneedle.com

WAH Nails
From the moment Founder Sharmadean Reid introduced a fanzine in 2005 to its first nail salon in 2009 to now having the WAH London Nail Care Line, WAH Nails is a place for nails as an artform. Reid wanted to own a salon where customers could have “whatever you wanted on your fingertips.”

Record launch parties, art shows, film nights—this is a salon at the pulse of the community, a place with a distinct vibe. In the London Soho salon, the brand even uses a virtual reality application—the WAH Nails Virtual Reality Designer—where customers can select their skin color and experiment with various digital designs on their virtual hand. An authentic and functional usage of VR in retail for WAH Nails’ Gen Z and young Millennial demographic, versus the one-off gimmick. The WAH London Nail Care Line is full standalone range created by Reid so that customers have everything they need to perform nail art and nail care at home. Fashion, street-style art and technology come together in this nail care line. wah-nails.com

Zume Pizza
In an age where autonomous service (think Uber’s self-driving cars and Walmart’s robotic grocery carts), food service is a natural contender for automation. Enter Zume Pizza, a Califorina-based brand that uses a robot assembly line to make pizza and even bakes it en route in its delivery trucks. These passionate pizza makers are reimagining the pizza industry, bringing customers in the Palo Alto and Mountain View, Calif., areas the freshest local ingredients made in a collaboration of human pizzaiolos and pizza-making robots (Pepe, Giorgio, Marta, Bruno and Vincenzo). The bots handle the more repetitive, low-skill and dangerous tasks, while the human employees are freed up to get creative and take on the high-skill jobs. Zume trucks, outfitted with dozens of smart ovens, as well as a fleet of cars and scooters, optimize delivery. The “Cooking en Route” technology allows pizzas to be “Baked-on-the-Way,” so that the customer gets a fresh-out-of the-oven warmth and freshness, literally. The Pizza Pod box is also biodegradable and compostable packaging made of 100 percent sugar cane, and was designed to keep the pizza hotter and the crust crispier.

For Zume’s self-proclaimed “Pizza Nerds,” technology makes pizza better. From selling its first pizza in April 2016, this startup is now $48 million closer to its ambitions for driving food automation service. In October, Zume secured a round of series B funding that gets it very close to its goal of $50 million. More to come from this innovative startup in the near future. zumepizza.com


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