I'm not just saying this -- I truly believe it, like some people believe in, well, heaven, or free markets, or Santa Claus. As anyone, most painfully my children, will tell you, I am not an extravagant person or a big consumer. I'm pretty thrifty when it comes to most things -- and like my mother I am ALLERGIC to collections of anything.
I always laugh that once my mom gushed over a beautiful little gold clock I gave her for a birthday after she retired, she stopped abruptly, stared me down and said, "Now, don't buy me any more of these."
A few years later, one of my friends was absolutely floored when I gave her my perfectly wonderful wallet because I had bought a smaller new one. "What, you can't own two wallets?" she asked, dumbfounded. It had honestly never occurred to me. What would I do with it?
Lest you think I am some kind of ascetic, I will assure you that I do buy and collect, freely and without remorse, my fair share of dish towels.
Curating the Collection
Long before there was a Beyond Her, I was buying various tea towels, guest towels, and kitchen towels that I considered works of art. If they were truly worthy -- meaning if they were abosorbent, durable, a pleasure to use -- I grew to treasure them. There were (and still are) some I still love to see come out of the drawer or the dryer.
As another textile-loving friend once said, "When they get a little hole, that's how you know a good towel from a bad one." See, I'm not the only one.
And yet, market after market, I see perfectly wonderful, conscious, well cared for people deny themselves this little, yet to me so important, pleasure. "I can't buy them," they say as they fondle the cotton and linen towels, "they're too pretty."
You know what I consider too pretty? The Hope Diamond. A white Bentley. A Manhattan penthouse. But we're talking about a $16 dish towel here. Seriously?
Art for Every Day
Here's my philosophy: Dish towels are something you look and use every day of your life. They sit on your counters, get used as hot pads, line your breadbaskets, get tied on as aprons. Shouldn't they be gorgeous? Especially for under $20?
My daughter told me that her friend clued her into one way to justify seemingly outlandish clothing epxenditures. "It's called 'cost-per-wearing!" she proudly exclaimed. Well, if you use "cost-per-looking" on a dish towel, it's just about the best value in the house.
One of my proudest moments came recently at an outdoor market. A man, and we get very few of them in the Beyond Her booth, was lingering around. He finally approached me and said, "I didn't want to use your towels, but I did. And now I really like them."
Joy! A convert! Evidently, someone had given him a set of Beyond Her towels as a gift, and he hadn't realized they were, truly, built for the real world.
Which they -- and ideally all of the Beyond Her collection -- are. I have holes to prove it.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about business models, as I look for a way to make Beyond Her grow. I can come up with quite a few people who have turned their design aesthetics into successful companies: Martha Stewart, Calvin Klein, Jonathan Adler. I admire them all -- I mean, I truly admire them, for being able to get their businesses beyond the outdoor booth stage. And these folks did it without the internet. Wow.
Martha Stewart, in particular, while not what I would call a high designer, has a look and feel to all her merchandise that is truly unmistakeable. There's a signature look and feel (shall we call it collars-up WASP? -- not that there's anything wrong with that) to everything with her brand on it.
And no matter what it is, anything from poodle jackets to slipcovers, I assume that it will be of good quality. If we know nothing else about Martha Stewart, it's that she is . . . demanding.
This standard is something I admire. It's how I want Beyond Her products to be.
That's a Good Kitty
But guess who is a real icon to me in terms of branding? Hello Kitty, the Sanrio character that adorns gear for everything from toddlers to punk rockers.
I have long been a fan (as shown by my 50-year-old mini-drawer set, which I still have at my desk) although given my aversion to collections of ANYTHING, I don't own much Hello Kitty stuff. I just (heart) it, for 3 good reasons.
1. Clean, crisp, contemporary design. With Kitty and all of her friends, the colors are pure, the lines simple. They are what I would call friendly and straightforward, but they aren't silly or cartoonish, just sweet.
2. A diverse and ever-changing product line -- it seems like they've tried it all. I love a Sanrio store like crazy, with all its colored pencils and notebooks, plush toys and surfboards. I once got so excited at the flagship store in San Francisco I had to go outside and breathe.
3. The products are great products, not just image carriers. If you buy a pen it's a good pen. If you buy a tee, it's a good tee. Whoever does Hello Kitty licensing is keeping their eye on the ball.
Hello Kitty stands for consistent style and cleverness, and quality, and diversity -- plus she makes me smile. I think that's about the best any company could ever do.
Thanks, Kitty, for the inspiration.
Her Point of View
Designer Paule Hewlett takes on design, culture and modern life.
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"Life is too short for ugly dish towels. Really, ugly anything."