Is This Colombian Leather Brand The Antidote To Fast-Fashion Fatigue?

Photo: Courtesy of Beckett Simonon.
Your next great leather piece, be it that biker jacket you've been searching for for years or the perfect pair of oxfords, can be sourced from a direct-to-consumer brand you probably haven't heard of: Beckett Simonon. With a bit of an Everlane-esque aesthetic and a Kickstarter-like pricing model, the brand has actually been around since late 2012, but just rolled out its innovative new business model — and started producing women's pieces — last month.

Here's the gist: A new "campaign" or collection drops on the first of every month, with a tightly edited handful of styles from a specific category. Everything is made-to-order, and prices are cheapest at the beginning of the month: For the first 15 days of the month, you'll pay half of the item's price; for the latter half, there's a slightly less generous discount. As with a Kickstarter project, the discount decreases the longer you wait, which should deter purchase-procrastinating.

Last month's campaign consisted of a small selection of jackets, available in leather and suede versions. The newest campaign, which dropped today, is all about shoes, with two classic silhouettes: a Chelsea boot and an oxford (shown below).

"We believe that beautiful, ethically handmade products shouldn’t cost a fortune, period," cofounder Andres Niño told Refinery29. Niño and Nicholas Hurtado, the other cofounder, have been friends since high school. Niño is the business brains of the operation, while Hurtado handles design (working with two junior designers that started as interns at the company). They were born and raised on Bogotá, Colombia, which is where Beckett Simonon's HQ are located. However, it's both a Colombian and American brand, technically, since the company is incorporated in both countries. Its U.S. outpost handles operations and business, while its Colombian office oversees design, sourcing, customer service, and web development.
Photo: Courtesy of Beckett Simonon.
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The brand's manufacturing is mainly handled by a family owned factory that's been around for three decades, located 20 blocks from its Bogotá home base. "Many people don’t know this, but Colombia has a very strong heritage in leather and textile work," Niño explains. They've also worked with a factory in Portugal, and are looking to expand production to Spain and Italy to utilize regional artisan talents in those countries. These factories have to "meet our strict requirements of ethical working conditions and an extreme attention to detail," Niño explains.

While direct-to-consumer fashion startups may seem a dime a dozen over the past few years, there are some key differences about Beckett Simonon's setup. "Most of the online-only brands eventually started opening brick-and-mortar stores, like Warby Parker, Frank and Oak, Greats, and many others," Niño says of other companies that have tinkered with middleman-free models over the past five years or so. "There wasn’t really a huge disruption. However, we didn’t want to follow this path: Since our inception we wanted to always keep prices as low as possible, so brick-and-mortar was out of the question."

Besides sticking to an online-only M.O. for the long haul, Beckett Simonon's business model involves no inventory, since everything is made-to-order. By contrast, the brand's direct-to-consumer competitors have a "traditional, full-package model with their factories, meaning they provide a design, and the factory procures raw materials and does everything on the back end," Niño says, calling this "the most expensive way to work." Beckett Simonon sources all of its own raw materials as another cost-cutting measure.
Photo: Courtesy of Beckett Simonon.

An added bonus of being bespoke: There's an element of immediacy and, perhaps, exclusivity. Once a particular campaign wraps up at the end of the month, that month's items are no longer available. Down the line, bestsellers may, indeed, become available again, thanks to an "all-time classics"-type tab on the site. But for now, if you dig something on the site, you have to commit to it that month.

The company's first stab at one-month-only campaigns in February went better than Hurtado and Niño anticipated: The duo reached their sales goal for the month in just a week. By the end of February, they'd exceeded it by 200%.

One caveat of a tiered-pricing conceit that rewards earlier birds? Less punctual (or decisive) customers have complained about missing out on the cheapest first-tier prices. One possible solution that Niño and Hurtado might test out at some point: keeping the prices consistent for the entire month, and instead rewarding early birds with express shipping. In fact, they've already been fiddling with the tiered format: In February, prices spanned a slightly wider range, with three, 10-day tiers (versus the two price points set out for March).

Photo: Courtesy of Beckett Simonon.
Beckett Simonon is also a fascinating experiment in really pivoting a business model. When Hurtado and Niño launched the line three-and-a-half years ago, they were solely selling mens' "luxury footwear at incredibly low prices," Niño says, (Before Beckett Simonon, the duo's first fashion foray, which they launched shortly after graduating from college, was a leather goods label, Hasso, which was sold in 13 countries.)

Last year, Niño and Hurtado tested out their tiered pricing system on Kickstarter with a premium collection "mainly to prove one of our theses: that people are willing to pre-order and wait for a luxury product — without the luxury markup — if the price is fair," Niño explains.

The crowdfunding experiment's success is what prompted the duo to do away with inventory all together, and they think it could have larger implications for other labels. "It's great to see how you can validate your ideas on Kickstarter with a relatively low investment," Hurtado says. "This could potentially change how the fashion industry works; I think this is where [the industry] is headed in the future." Fashion projects on Kickstarter have historically had relatively low success rates, but that could certainly shift in the future.

"Our overall message is that it's better to wait a few weeks for a product that will last you a lifetime, instead of immediately getting something that will only last a couple of months," Hurtado says. That's been the M.O. of luxury brands for years. If it ends up working for a lesser-known, less expensive brand (where your purchasing decision isn't at all tied to a designer name on the label), well, that's about as anti-fast fashion as it gets.
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Photo: Courtesy of Beckett Simonon.
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