A declining economy. A stagnant category. Bring on the risk.
Vita Raykhman, co-founder and creative director at Amika, left a blooming career as a designer and brand strategist for agencies big and small at the top of an economic downturn to start a company that markets high-end appliances for hairstyling. A move others might have viewed as foolhardy proved to be a daring dash to international brand success.
The year was 2009, and the U.S. was reeling from the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis. Experts argue over the exact year the Great Recession began; the Associated Press cites the Great Recession’s start as early as December 2007. But it was a blog post titled, “What’s a Global Recession?,” written by Bob Davies for The Wall Street Journal (http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2009/04/22/whats-a-global-recession)?” that woke the American public to the reality that this was more than you or your neighbor losing his or her job, retirement savings or worse. This was a global financial phenomenon that would affect everyone, inside the U.S. borders and out. It was at this time that Raykhman decided to leave a job she loved for a budding passion.
More than function
“I was doing the agency thing, and I really loved it,” Raykhman says. “You work with amazing people on the agency side! This was a little freelance project that I was doing at night.”
It wasn’t just any freelance project. It was the beginnings of a business in a category that has dogged beauty entrepreneurs for years. Research group, Mintel (www.mintel.com), noted in its “Hair Styling Appliances—U.S.—June 2009” report, “Despite a wave of product innovations designed to improve the performance and convenience of hair styling appliances, the category is driven largely by replacement sales at a pace that suggests most women wait until their current appliance stops working before purchasing a new one.”
And here was Raykhman leaping into the unknown in a category that bigger, better financed companies found challenging and sometimes downright disappointing. But she also knew something that other marketers in the category often discounted: the power of design as a part of a personal brand.
Raymond A. Nadeau, author of Living Brands: Collaboration + Innovation = Customer Satisfaction, also touts the power of design as part of a personal brand. In previous conversations with Package Design, Nadeau applauded fashion brand Ralph Lauren for understanding that its products support a lifestyle that the brand signifies. Out of that understanding comes a respect for the fact that our lives have almost become a type of live performance, a reality play of sorts, where the brands we buy are the props.
Nadeau also noted this is evident in the popularity of celebrity-endorsed or licensed product. He acknowledges that there are perceptions that consumers who buy something like a perfume by J. Lo are indulging in hero worship. More times than not, Nadeau says it’s not hero worship, it’s more akin to choosing J. Lo to costar in the consumer’s play or movie.
For Raykhman, the path to her brand’s success was in providing the props that professional hairstylists use every day to brand their businesses and themselves. “Our innovation was we were one of the first companies to create tools in different prints and colors, because we realize that for the creative professional, the stylist, the way the product looks is important because they express their style with it,” she recalls.
Pattern to profits
While her prints and colors defied category norms, Raykhman’s holistic approach to product and package design did not. Both product and package reflected the same aesthetic ethos, including a loud pattern that communicated first with images versus words.
“I don’t think shoppers read packaging as much as people think,” Raykhman opines. “The first impression is what is important. Connect with the consumer with a sensual appeal, on a gut level first, and then invite them to read more about the product.
“So we try to always think of the experiences that someone has when they see the product on shelf and when they have it back at home and the features that your product has,” she adds. “What are you trying to communicate? So in this case, we have this magical ingredient [sea buckthorn berry], which is rare and very potent. It comes from Siberia and is used by locals to treat wounds and to heal because it has several nutrients.
“It grows in winter in Siberia,” Raykhman explains, “and it is bright orange like a tropical fruit. We are trying to communicate that sense of how vibrant it is and how effective it is and how many resources it offers. So that was the inspiration for the color and the pattern.”
In the Amika pattern, in addition to the bright orange used to communicate the efficacy of the sea buckthorn berry, there are several cooler colors to represent Siberian winters, including blues and lilacs. The juxtaposition of colors conveys a cool crispness that is distinct enough to cement the pattern into the consumer’s mind as part of the brand DNA.
Map to the future
That pattern is now being leveraged in different ways and on different vehicles by Amika. “We used to give these promotional bags at trade shows and they became this runaway hit,” Raykhman says. “Lines would go across the trade show floor with people asking for these bags. We had so much demand that we came out with a line of bags. These types of brand assets are fun, and they help people fall even more in love with the brand because the bags go with our brand fans to the beach, to their gym and more. It rounds out an experience with the brand.”
And the pattern doesn’t have to shout from the shelf to be recognizable anymore. “At Sephora, we have the Movos, which is a big innovation in the industry,” Raykhman adds. “It’s a wireless styler.” Movos borrows from the consumer electronics industry not only in naming—wireless versus cordless—it also has the sleek consumer electronics aesthetic.
For Movos, Amika used a matte, soft-touch paperboard and spot UV coating to express the pattern. “We wanted to create something that is slick and very clean but also has some vibrancy for the busy and crowded retail space,” she explains. The package also encourages the retail shopper to handle the packaging because as Raykhman says, “As a shopper moves the box in hand, there’s quite a play of light.”
Today, Amika is sold in 35 countries and growing. Raykhman was able to grow the startup in seven short years because she identified the true need in the target market, defied category cues to the point where her printer asked if the pattern was a mistake, and built a visual aesthetic that communicated the brand promise in a distinct, memorable yet malleable way.
Package Design thanks BolognaFiere, which owns the Cosmoprof and Cosmopack shows, for introducing us to Raykhman and allowing us to film from the busy Cosmopack show floor. View the interview on the Package Design Matters channel on packagedesignmag.com, and learn more about both beauty industry trade shows at www.cosmoprof.com.