A Trendspotter’s Virtual Notepad: 2015’s Products, Business Models and Apps

Posted on December 30, 2014 by Marian Salzman

Ian Muttoo[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]

I just finished my year-end trendspotting flurry, and with extreme help from my colleagues at Havas PR and across the industry, I compiled list upon list of top trends to watch for in 2015—in fashion, in retailing, in social responsibility, in marketing and PR, in specific localities and so on. But for every trend we identified and explained, there were two dozen more prospective trends that popped onto the broad screen we monitor. By recording here the tens of trendlets we spy on the horizon, I’m ensuring that we’ve marked the spots, no pun intended.

While the end of the year is always a busy time for trendspotters, trendspotting and newscrafting are hardly seasonal occupations. Even before I pushed all those year-end lists out into the ether, my notebooks, in-boxes, news feeds, social streams and mental files were filling with reports and observations of the next little idea currents or brands or people bubbling up around the zeitgeist.

New concepts are being crowdsourced and incubated, new people are creating new business models, new apps are changing every facet of life, new places are hot, the old is being reinvented to be relevant again, and some simple pleasures are more pleasurable than ever. Not all of this will make it onto next year’s official lists, of course. Some may fizzle out while others go viral. But since transparency has long since gone from being a trend to being an incontrovertible fact of life, it’s time to share a little work in progress.

Welcome to part one of my transparent virtual notepad. As 2014 becomes 2015, this is where I track who, what and where.

Clothing and Accessories
LD West is selling a new breed of holster, thankfully not related to America’s ongoing problems with guns. Marketed to men and women, each holster holds a wallet on one side and a phone on the other—a solution to both the ever-increasing size of phones and the need for a “quick draw” to check every update. That’s a lot easier to put on than many things, which is why we have ZippedMe, a new device— invented by a grandmother in Oklahoma and sold via a virtual store—that helps women zip up their own dresses. This is a nod to the many women who are choosing to define success in a way that includes being single.

Meanwhile, the retro is becoming newly relevant. Friendship bracelets are back: Marni reinvented them as necklaces in its spring 2015 shows, and BuzzFeed recently published a DIY guide to making 15 styles.

Speaking of friendship and gifts, Ten Thousand Villages is an ethical company that started in 1946 and was once known as the Overseas Needlepoint and Crafts Project. (Check out the Haitian wall art, since I’m hoping helping Haiti becomes trendy again in 2015.) The sexier name is already serving the organization well.

And I’m watching Zesa Raw, a small artisanal specialty food and beverage wholesaler and retailer founded by my friend Michelle Jean, a Haitian-American social entrepreneur. Her venture “delivers island secrets in the form of Rapadou Cane Sugar, Black Gold Organic Coffee and Black Gold Organic Cocoa.” (More on cocoa later, since cocoa is one of the words that seems to be popping right now.)

LOLI founder Tina Hedges (full disclosure: another friend) combined the Birchbox model with socially responsible practices: Subscribers get a box every month of delicious beauty products that are organic, fair-trade and based on aromatherapy, dermatology and integrative medicine. (Nonlinear note: So many innovations tout themselves as Birchbox-like or Uber-esque. Time will tell which ones share the remarkable success of those two businesses.) Along those lines, Suga Sweet Organics is a completely customizable line of cosmetics, soaps, scrubs and masks, made to order by hand and with all-natural ingredients, of course.

ISAORA is a new style-driven line of high-performance outdoor and athletic clothing. The brand ambassadors are super cool, and the blog is a visual delight, cementing ISAORA as not just an apparel company but also a lifestyle brand.

Wearables
Wearable Experiments (We:eX) calls itself a “socially driven wearable technology company” whose mission is “to bring together fashion and technology with a functional design aesthetic, and use creative problem solving to help us live well and have a better quality of life” via wearable technology that’s invisible, waterproof, durable and design-focused.

The GoPro is now ubiquitous among adventurers of any stripe, and Fitbits are more common on wrists than old-school watches that just tell time. A step up, fashion-wise, though is the elemoon, a Kickstarter-launched bracelet with a pattern of lights that the wearer can change, even as it notifies her of calls and texts, helps her find a lost phone and tracks her steps.

Food and Drink
Suddenly everyone is paying special attention to the commodity of cocoa, after a November report—and ensuing social media panic—that the world is on a path to run out of chocolate by 2020. The International Cocoa Organization, which is made up of chocolate-making and -consuming countries, denied the claim, but still the worries persist.

Ruby Rocket’s shows how far we’ve come since the days of Jessica Seinfeld being touted as a revolutionary for her cookbook about sneaking vegetables into kids’ meals. Now they’re in pre-made convenience “treats.” These healthy popsicles combine fruit with vegetables—one is even green and contains spinach. For more adult tastes, Stöger Oil is a gourmet line of organic finishing oils that has been hand-made and cold-pressed for generations by a family in Austria. You can taste the heritage, authenticity and artisanship (to use a few übertrendy words).

Our sweet teeth are being indulged, too. Mochidoki is a high-concept new take on traditional Japanese ice cream balls, made in the U.S. for an American audience looking for the “next best thing in the world of ice cream.” It’s made in small batches with premium natural ingredients sourced from local purveyors, and there are gluten-free options, of course. Sugarwish is a new candy-gift site started by two momtrepreneurs that lets givers send a gift of candy and recipients choose exactly which kinds of sweets—including old-fashioned classics like Bit-O-Honey and Conversation Hearts, as well as the occasional organic jelly bean—will be delivered to their home.

On the flip side, alternaVites sells kids’ and adult multivitamins cleverly disguised as candy crystals for the reported 40% of the population that has trouble swallowing pills. Even healthier, Fresh Nation embodies this year’s clean eating trend: It’s a nationwide delivery service for produce and products from local farmers’ markets. The tagline (under a logo of a tractor) says it all: Buy local. Eat fresh.

Integrative medicine reminds me that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a client. True Food Kitchen, a burgeoning national chain (with locations from Atlanta to San Diego so far) whose menu is based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid.

Then again, enough with the virtuous clean eating! New York’s Prohibition Bakery doubles down on the “forbidden” decadence, infusing good old-fashioned cupcakes with booze. Think margaritas, dark and stormies, and yes, old-fashioneds in cute pastry form.

Loft & Bear artisanal vodka and its 29-year-old master distiller, Paul Ryan Elliott, is another prime example of this country’s haute booze renaissance; he runs the second distillery to open in L.A. since Prohibition. More haute booze: Magnifico Giornata was founded by former wine distributor Bob Manfredonia with the idea of creating a fruit-infused sparkling wine to “create celebratory moments, every day.” (The name is Italian for “magnificent day.”) Within two years of launching, he scored a major partnership with the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Another young entrepreneur is shaking up the wine world with Vinolovers, a personalized, hand-curated alternative to the traditional wine-of-the-month clubs. MBA and Culinary Institute of America graduate Justin Harrison started the company in 2012 to give customers a new way to discover new wines based on their preferences. Further, he expanded his digital business with pop-up shops and a wine and music festival called VinoFest, the next installation of which will take place in his native D.C. in May and then go on the road to cities like Raleigh-Durham and Columbus, Ohio. No wonder he was among the first to receive a grant from the new Digital DC Tech Fund.

Don’t want to wait that long for your hand-curated assortment of wine to arrive? Saucey is an on-demand liquor delivery app launched by three 20-somethings to be “the Uber of spirits.” (There’s that trendy phrase.) The fun part: Saucey partners with local businesses to employ underwear models or Sinatra impersonators as delivery people, as well as professional bartenders to help put the product to use.

More Sites and Apps
Finally a solution to the regret of a poorly planned text message (or one unfortunately auto-corrected or accidentally sent to the wrong person): On Second Thought is a new mobile messaging app that allows users to recall unread text messages. The brainchild of millennial marketing expert (and millennial herself) Maci Peterson, the company was the first place winner at the Kauffman Foundation and UP Global SXSW pitch competition in 2014.

Is the backlash to Tinder beginning? April Davis—the founder of Cupid’s Cronies, a boutique matchmaking service now operating in more than ten states—thinks so. Her company is a boutique matchmaking service whose offer even includes a personalized “wingman” to coach and mentor clients. Curiously, Davis is married to a divorce lawyer, with whom she claims to “share a passion for relationships.”

A tool for optimizing digital communications instead of doing damage control, Candid is a Canadian Instagram platform that delivers cutting-edge user-generated media experiences to improve engagement for brands around the world. Photographers are key clients, but the company offers a complete marketing suite for the visual web to retailers, agencies and global brands.

Since the no-reservations restaurant trend is likely to continue, and since our attention spans are only getting shorter, NoWait is a free wait-listing app for anti-reservation, casual-dining restaurants. Showing how apps are evolving to humanize and automate to address our basic human needs, it provides real-time information on wait times in the area and lets diners get in line remotely so they can show up when their table is ready. And for restaurants that do take reservations but have none left, there’s a new workaround: I Know the Chef helps diners secure reservations during peak hours when OpenTable runs out of prime-time seating.

While they’re waiting (virtually) for a table, people can now check in with iStockAlerts, an app launched by a high school student to help the everyday investor trade smarter by creating “buy,” “sell,” and “hold” recommendations for stocks based on nine technical indicators and a proprietary algorithm. And they can book someone to watch the kids: ChipperSitter.com will launch in January as “the Uber of babysitting” (there it is again), an on-demand sitter and nanny locator headquartered in New York. And sell some clothes, while they’re at it, using a new app called Poshmark designed to turn women into “closet entrepreneurs” when they sell their used clothing with their phones.

New business models are showing up everywhere (even when their products are generally hidden): Enclosed is a luxury subscription service for women’s underwear that both delights subscribers and allows luxury brands like Agent Provocateur, Eberjey and Maison Close to test and bring products to market.

BloomNation is the Instagram generation’s answer to Teleflora or 1-800-Flowers; this service links online customers in 25 cities to local indie floral designers who will recreate a bouquet shown on the site or build a bespoke one. Frederiques Choice is another unorthodox, high-end florist operating exclusively online. So far, the company serves the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Ireland and Sweden. Look for it to go further.

In a more hardcore vein, FirstBuild is a collaboration between GE Appliances and Local Motors to enable crowdsourcing of next-generation home appliances. A community of industrial designers, engineers, makers and early adopters can co-create to dream up design solutions for smarter products, the most promising of which are then built in a “microfactory” and sold in a dedicated web store.

Physical Products and Services
Suburban Jungle Realty Group specializes in a new niche: helping people move from an ever-more-expensive-and-crowded New York City to Connecticut, Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey by assigning prospective buyers hyperlocal consultants based on the appropriateness of any of the 600 towns in the tristate area. More groundbreaking: the group’s business model. It works only with buyers—keeping their best interests at heart—and is free of charge.

JustGoGirl offers an empowered take on women’s “athletic leaks”—their spin on the problem isn’t that women are aging but that they’re pushing themselves to their limits and beyond in CrossFit and other rigorous workouts.

Social Business
Prosperity Candle is one of a growing number of companies (see free-trade footwear company Oliberté, conscious, “slow fashion” and lifestyle brand Zady, and organic linens company Boll & Branch) that are pushing beyond the one-for-one charity model to create a “hand up”—not “hand out”—form of giving that is more sustainable. Prosperity Candle is also part of the business and social movement that believes that we could all use a little more feminine energy to right the wrongs of our current situation: its mission is to help women in areas of conflict and national disaster by training them to execute a tangible, scalable entrepreneurial candle-making business.

Not that the one-to-one model is dead. LSTN Headphones puts a novel twist on it by selling reclaimed-wood headphones and making a donation to a hearing foundation for each pair sold. So far, it’s outfitted more than 20,000 people with hearing aids. And 1:Face goes better than one to one: Its $40 colorful watches, launched in 2013 on Indiegogo, each correlate to a specific charity—for example, the red watch provides treatment for four children with AIDS, and the black one supports eight cancer patients. The company has already almost reached its goal of helping one million lives.

Rising Tide makes a difference not by donating profits or setting up microloans. The scalable car wash business makes a point of hiring workers with autism and training them in process-driven labor while providing living wages, professional advancement opportunities and independent living skills.

Finally, some social entrepreneurs worth watching: Anne Williams-Isom is the chief executive officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Casey Santiago came up with the idea to crowdfund the medical costs of pregnant women in the developing world.

[photo: creativecommons.org/Ian Muttoo]

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