8 Cool Brands That Save You Money by Skipping the Middleman
Direct-to-consumer brands have proliferated as companies seek to change our shopping habits in home, fashion, and more—and save us money by cutting out mark-ups.
For many of us, it started with a mattress: Casper wasn't the first bed-in-a-box, but it was the first to become widely known. With its one-perfect-mattress ethos, we learned another thing, too: We were paying way too much for mattresses. And, as it turns out, a lot of other things too. In recent years, direct-to-consumer brands have proliferated as different companies seek to change our shopping habits around everything from watches to socks. And while there's no one way these brands should look, a trend has definitely emerged: high-quality basics that eschew trends for a classic, pared-back aesthetic.
If you've ever been browsing the racks at a store lamenting, "I just want one normal dress!" chances are you've already gotten hip to the price-saving, streamlined shopping experience of shopping direct-to-consumer brands. It's right at the crossroads of sensible, fashionable, and trendsetting. In other words, shopping at its best.
But with so many new options out there, it can be hard to keep track. Here are a few of our favorites to shop.
Like many O.G. direct-to-consumer brands, Warby Parker started with a realization of just how steep the mark-up is between factories and consumers. Glasses prices are artificially high, and one company actually owns many of the different brands and retailers. Another dirty secret: Glasses from brands like Chanel or Ralph Lauren were merely licensed by those brands (and managed by that same company), driving prices up more. Warby Parker cuts out the licensing fees and inflated prices but still uses the same factories as the big guy. Prices start at $95 for high-quality frames, but it’s not just the value that people love. Warby Parker offers an array of classic frames that still feel fresh and modern.
Brooklinen founders (and husband and wife) Rich and Vicki Fulop fell in love with a set of sheets on a trip to Vegas. But when they went to buy them from the hotel store, they found out the sheets were $800. Determined to find out why luxury sheets are so expensive (and why standard sheets are often not so great), they eventually launched Brooklinen, which cuts out many of the same steps that lead to mark-ups, like distributors, name licensing, and brick-and-mortar stores. The result is buttery-soft sheets that start at $99—not $300.
If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the 40 shades of off-white at the hardware store, Clare is for you. Designed to make painting your home simple instead of headache-inducing, Clare’s curated color range gives you just enough options. Once you’ve selected your color, all the supplies you need are delivered to your door. You can even try color swatches and take the brand's “color genius” quiz to narrow it down. And the paint doesn’t just look good: Clare paints are GREENGUARD Gold certified, low-odor, and have zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Italic takes the direct-to-consumer model to a whole new level, cutting out one step many direct-to-consumer brands still use: This brand doesn’t even put its name on its products. Instead, Italic sources from factories that make a wide variety of luxury goods, from bags to tableware, and sells them at cost. It’s kind of like if the store-brand generics you see on the shelves at the drugstore got a really chic upgrade: cashmere from the same factories that make goods for Prada, for example, or jewelry made by former artisans for Cartier. You can even request products you’d like to see Italic sell.
Wanting to eliminate “decision fatigue” from furniture shopping (and the sometimes weeks-long wait for delivery) Albany Park founders Daryl and Jessica Sharpton (yup, another married couple) wanted to make sofa shopping easier. They eventually came up with three collections that satisfy various needs such as value, comfort, and style—all shipping in three business days. All collections come in fabric as well as leather finishes, giving you ample room to play around as you find the just-right sofa for your space. Oh, and before you’re having flat-packed flashbacks: all assembly is designed to take no more than 15 minutes and can even be done alone.
The perfect black yoga pants can be elusive (or just really expensive). Girlfriend Collective founders Ellie and Quang Dinh, another husband-and-wife pair, started the brand to fill a hole in the market: direct-to-consumer, eco-friendly, size-inclusive (XXS-6XL) athletic apparel. Their super-comfy basics are great for lounging as well as sweating, and are made from recycled materials like plastic water bottles. Their aesthetic also fits another truism of direct-to-consumer brands: High-quality basics that feel like classic pieces you’ll want in your closet for years.
Stop us if you can figure out where this is going: Traditional luxury jewelry is all about opaque business practices that create unnecessarily high prices. Enter Ana Luisa, a jewelry brand that wanted to do it better. That meant not only cutting out the name-brand mark-ups but also using recycled materials and offsetting their carbon footprint. The result is jewelry that is luxurious and unfussy—modern heirlooms you can buy in a very modern way.
East Fork Pottery
While many direct-to-consumer companies work by sourcing from factories, East Fork stands out for another reason: It actually makes its mugs, bowls, and plates in Asheville, North Carolina. The brand's carefully considered pieces are designed to be “beautiful and functional”—durable enough for everyday, but still making the everyday feel special. Even the mix of clay is carefully considered and sourced from throughout the Southeast. While East Fork’s pieces aren’t inexpensive, they are the kind of everyday statement-making pottery you can treasure for years.