When the idea for Stuart & Lau first came about, I was working in a real estate role for Ralph Lauren in Hong Kong. I was on the road often, always carrying everything in tow.
At the same time, my friend – and now business partner – Jimmy Lau was struggling with similar experiences in New York. Throughout our respective travels, we both carried the heavier ballistic nylon, canvas or leather varieties of men’s bags. One morning at breakfast, we began lamenting over how cumbersome our bags were, and the challenges they created.
We decided to build something better; and within a few weeks, we sketched out our original briefcase.
As we developed our product and built our business model, we realized that the factors driving our design decisions were impactful to the business model itself. We embraced how this interconnectivity could be mutually reinforcing, keeping us on track while driving both design and business decisions. So was born our way of thinking about both the product and the business, and an overall philosophy.
In execution, this philosophy plays out in several ways:
Creating streamlined, quality products
Bags are typically built with fillers such as cardboard and plastic to give shape and facilitate more efficient manufacturing. Instead of following suit, we customized a fabric that could hold the form itself, allowing us to remove all the heavy (and cheap) interlayer materials and distill the design down to just the essentials. At the same time, we also made our bags more durable through the materials and design.
In practice, being both nimble and resilient means creating systems that integrate the frequent inflow and outflow of contractors or freelancers. Easier said than done, but we strive towards this goal by focusing on cloud services and platforms and shareable best practices, and creating template brand guidelines for freelancers.
Leveraging the minimalist approach
As a small startup, we remove anything that is not vital from focus, minimizing moving parts and prioritizing only what is necessary. We use freelancers and contractors to minimize headcount, outsource all fulfillment and logistics to third party services and use a quality-over-quantity approach to content creation. In the realm of social media, we focus only on Instagram and Facebook, where our brand performs best, and have opted against the conventional notion that a brand should have a presence on all the major channels, such as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, SnapChat and Google Plus.
As it relates to customer service, we always provide a human response; but at the same time, we draw upon a robust database of saved templates to cut time when answering frequently asked questions.
As Stuart & Lau calls home to two international megacities, we always think of our customers in global terms. With our feet simultaneously planted in New York and Hong Kong, we draw upon both communities for style cues that transcend borders. We look for what each city has to offer and design, to some degree, to an international palette.
That global mindset goes hand in hand with our approach to operations. For example, New York, the world’s hub for fashion, media and retail, presents clear advantages in PR, marketing and distribution. Likewise, Hong Kong is the global capital of sourcing and manufacturing, as well as the key player for distribution and trendsetting in Asia. We quickly learned to leverage the natural assets of each hub, allocating limited resources to the most efficient channels.
About the author: Matthew Stuart Janney is the co-founder of Stuart & Lau, a fast-growing collection of men's luggage and bags.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.