• Elaine Tait

The Beauty (and Innovative Power) of Simplicity

Lately it seems like one day a month my mailbox (and I am talking about the traditional, old-school one that physically sits outside of my home) gets completely overloaded with catalogs. While I hate to admit it, these catalogs often go directly into the recycling bin. However, there is one catalog that I am always eager to receive. The catalog is for Cuyana, which means “to love” in Quechua. Cuyana has been around since June 2013 and has a philosophy that deeply resonated with me the first time I read about it. Cuyana, “designs essential pieces…with the most premium materials and finest craftsmanship” and operates with the philosophy that “fewer, better things lead to a fuller, better life.” Simply stated, Cuyana has thoughtfully chosen to manufacture quality apparel in a small number of categories – touting quality versus quantity and living into that in every sense of the phrase. Instead of inundating consumers with endless options of apparel, bags and accessories, Cuyana has specifically chosen to focus on producing a few items in essential fashion categories, and do so in an elegant, craftsmanship way. While every aspect of Cuyana’s brand and product offering is impressively designed and executed, Cuyana is not alone in how it marries social responsibility, simplicity and minimalism to be innovative.

Today, so much of my time and focus is on “innovation.” And, we often think of innovation when we think of products, services and brands that introduce the most exciting, complex technologies of the times (Tesla, lab-grown meat, 3-D printing – to name a few). But, to me, Cuyana is a beautiful example and reminder that innovation can come from simplicity and minimalism. So, I set out to explore products and brands that were innovative not for what they are and have, but what they have thoughtfully chosen to not be.

Below are three key themes across ten brands that exemplify that, sometimes, less is truly more:

DIRECT, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, BRANDING – When thinking of types of brand names that exist, we know that brand names can be suggestive, generic, real – but randomly associated, and/or imaginatively conceived. They can also be completely and utterly literal and we are drawn to them not for having a fanciful name that draws us in to learning more, but because they – through simple branding and design elements – draw us in because they are completely pretense and gimmick free.

  • This bar saves lives. – For every bar sold, a life-saving food packette is provided to children in need

  • That’s it. – A clean, healthy and simple snack with two ingredients

  • Boxed water. – Following a mission and focus on sustainability, this company has thoughtfully designed a brand and packaging that is environmentally motivated

  • Fresh and naked (UK) – In the UK, F&N delivers fresh, unwashed salads and focuses on operations that handle the product as little as possible

FOCUS ON (FEW) INGREDIENTS – It may be counterintuitive, but limiting the quantity of ingredients in order to more fully draw out their quality can be far more demanding than a complex compilation of materials. There’s an artistry and expertise involved in creating something truly extraordinary from what is commonly available, particularly when simplicity makes it impossible to mask imperfections. And so we’re drawn to these products not only because they offer something we can understand and trust, but because they signal higher quality, naturalness, and elegance.

  • Blueprint Juice – A practical approach to the juice trend with complete transparency on ingredients prominently placed on the front of the packaging (more prominently than the brand logo)

  • W. Basics – With a tagline “Ingredients so good we only need 5 or less of them, S.W. Basics takes a different approach to the formulation of the traditional skincare product with fewer ingredients that offer a gentler benefit

  • The Honest Company – With rapid category and product expansion over the past few years, The Honest Company delivers Family-friendly health and personal care products that are “unquestionably safe, eco-friendly, beautiful, convenient, and affordable”

SIMPLICITY AND FOCUS – Simplicity can take many forms, as an intense focus on the quality of a narrow range of products or, perhaps, by infusing each of a wide array with the principles of simplicity in their design. Amazing innovative power is freed up when brands hone their offerings to that which best embodies their purpose and core values. That authenticity, in turn, resonates with consumers who realize sometimes it is simplicity that offers the most luxurious self-indulgence.

  • Cuyana – High quality, crafted apparel brand that offers few products across few categories and focuses on quality versus quantity by delivering a few staple fashion items in a quality-centered way

  • MUJI – A Japanese company that offers household goods, apparel and food products. The brand name translates as “no-brand quality goods”

  • Shake Shack – A permanent food cart that delivers “high-quality versions of the classics” like burgers, fries and milkshakes. Every element of the brand experience is centered around marrying simplicity and quality

Don’t get me wrong, we all appreciate, are inspired by, and in awe of revolutionary technologies that impact the future and meaningfully change the way we live our lives. But, there is success to be studied and learnings to be taken away from the innovations that shape us, our categories and our markets by simplifying our lives in a different way.

At Great Lakes GrowthWorks we are passionate about innovation and strive to help deliver new concepts, brands, products and service offerings that drive growth in the most impactful way for our client. And, across all of our innovation engagements, a sense of authenticity and connection to the brand’s core purpose remains top of mind for us. Shake Shack, one of my examples above, has been successful for doing a few things very, very well for exemplifying authenticity across each and every aspect of the brand and its offering. So, I will leave you, our clients and our friends, with some great advice from Randy Garutti, CEO of Shake Shack in a Forbes interview – something that is relevant to all of us in many aspects of our lives – “Do what you want to do really well in its most basic version, and don’t set up a business that has to be created in order to be scalable.”