How to launch your own luxury brand

Entrepreneurs in the high-end travel and fashion industries share advice on developing a business

Entrepreneurs are passionate people. However, some of them may not know exactly how to apply that zeal to start something of their own until fate kicks in.

Take Ashley Smith, founder of Otherworld apparel, an upscale clothing company based out of New York City’s WeWork 175 Varick St space. She was working in advertising and marketing for companies like Naked Communications in Australia and Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, but deep down, she wanted to be her own boss.

“I’ve always known that to be completely fulfilled professionally, I had to have my own business,” says Smith. “It’s just the way I’m wired.”

After traveling in 2012 and 2013 to places like Turkey, Thailand, India, and Bali, she was inspired to create her own luxury brand that would combine landscape photography, textiles, and travel.

“It came together pretty organically, which is the reason I knew I had to move forward with it,” she says. “When you’re passionate about something, it generally feels easy and right.”

Building a luxury brand

Smith is one of many entrepreneurs focusing on the luxury market, which can prove to be extremely lucrative if entrepreneurs strike a certain chord with their wealthy customers. According to Bain & Company’s 2014 estimates, the luxury industry raked in $73.3 billion in the United States, and more than $25.5 billion in New York City alone.

Smith started Otherworld just a year ago, and already her clothing has appeared in the Lord & Taylor flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. She says that if other entrepreneurs want to make an impression in the luxury market, they must show how their brands fit into a certain lifestyle.

“In the luxury marketplace, you’re selling an aspirational lifestyle,” Smith explains. “So get clear on what the brand means to your audience, beyond the products. In the case of Otherworld, we’re selling a lifestyle influenced by travel, style, wellness, and celebration. So everything we do—from the products we develop, to our communications, social media, and influencer marketing choices—should align with these four values.”

Jeffrey Ward, founder of Savvy Navigator, says his company aims to attract wealthy individuals who love to explore the world.

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“My customers have a high net worth, are very well-traveled, and are looking for different travel experiences,” he says. “When they stay in a hotel or lodge, they want it to be a really nice place. Some of my customers are kids in their 20s who are getting married and are in the workforce. They traveled with mom and dad when they were younger, and now they have high standards. They typically have good budgets, too.”

Though Ward says that all businesses must solve a problem for their consumers, luxury brands take it one step further: They should serve an emotional need as well.

“It goes above and beyond solving the problem that the customers are facing.” he says. “It’s really about that emotional connection with the brand.”

To forge a connection between his audience and his watch company Broome & Mercer, Jimmy Pinto has been striving to produce content that will resonate with them. This includes posting photos of Millennials, his core demographic, wearing the watches in different environments. He also connects with them through the humble backstory behind the brand on his website.

Pinto advises aspiring luxury entrepreneurs to also do content marketing to reach their customers.

“Measuring what kind of content and when it resonates with your audience takes dedication and time,” he says. “Not everything will work. The key is to identify what is and do more of that.”

Nicholas Hahn, managing director of Platinum Porter, a company that provides upscale travel services, says that it’s all about giving the customers what they want and need. Since his customers are used to the finer things in life, Hahn knows that he and his employees have to be on their toes at all times, ready to satisfy.

“There’s always a higher level of skepticism from wealthy and elite clients,” he says. “They have higher expectations.”

With the top employees by his side, however, Hahn can fulfill his duties to his clients and then some.

“Within the luxury realm, you have to have a genuine interest in providing a high-level service or product,” he says. “It requires you to be at the top of your game all the time. You must anticipate your clients’ needs, and the expectation is that you’ll always exceed your expectations. You always need to build a great team, because they’re the most important thing.”

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