In late 2016, retail strategist Coral Chung and investor Wendy Wen entered the $11 billion dollar handbag market with Senreve, a direct-to-consumer brand they developed to fill a void in the space: luxury handbags with ample room for a laptop and other modern-mom essentials.
Carried early on by celebrities including Jessica Alba and Priyanka Chopra, the Maestra and Doctor styles quickly became “it” bags, mandating waitlists and fueling Senreve’s popularity. One year in, the company reports it’s experienced tenfold growth since its launch.
According to Chung, her background — working with brands and retailers while consulting at Bain, and working with the analytics and data at Medallia — proved an asset in Senreve’s early days.
In a recent interview, she explained what she had to learn in her first year as a DTC brand owner, and what she and Wen plan to do to maintain Senreve’s momentum in year two. Edited highlights, below.
What do you expect from year two?
We’re really focused on growth this year. We’re growing the team — we now have a strong core team of 15 people; we’re going to expand our product, to include new fabrications and custom options; we’re opening a beautiful new office and showroom in San Francisco — right in Union Square, next to Hèrmes; and we’re looking to team with strategic partners outside of the U.S. I loved the early stages of the company, where everything was stealth, and we really took our time on product development — but going into this year has been more exciting.
When did you start thinking about international expansion?
We are very much an evolving and learning type of company. Within a couple of weeks [after launch], through social media, we got such an influx of demand from people in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Dubai — a lot of the metropolitan cities where young executives live. It forced us to figure out international shipping and fulfillment, fast. Our customer is very global, and there are a lot of conversations happening right now with potential retail partners in Europe and Asia. I am evaluating and would consider partnering with Alibaba, which is basically the Amazon of China.
How has your marketing strategy evolved?
In the beginning, it was very organic — a lot of word-of-mouth by pockets of women who were lawyers or worked on Wall Street, and women with careers in marketing or tech. We also focused a lot on Instagram — we still do. Because it’s visual, it allows us to tell our brand story. We partnered with different social media influencers and traditional Hollywood celebrities, and we’ll continue to so that. And we’ve done a lot of different events in and outside of the U.S. to allow women to interact with our product: press previews, panel-focused events, trunk shows. We did about two events per month in the first year, and they inspired our upcoming space in San Francisco.
Why open a showroom, rather than a traditional store?
There are a lot of things happening in brick-and-mortar, and we thought a lot about what makes sense, in terms of a shopping experience for the woman of the future. We felt very strongly that it should be a multi-use space. In the beginning, it will be appointment-only and provide an intimate experience, with personal styling, monogramming and other special services. For customers, it will feel like they’re entering the world of Senreve; we’re not going to staff it with a typical store associates, and it’s not going to have a typical store feel. We’re going to see how it goes, and we’ll go from there.
How concerning is the recent talk of the DTC brand threshold?
Going in, I thought a lot about what category has a major opportunity for disruption and a major pain point that I’m able to address. The global handbag market is huge, so it has a very different dynamic than the niche-y markets of a lot of DTC brands. For us, there’s no ceiling.
Plus, we’ve always had this multi-pronged approach. “Direct-to-consumer” is kind of buzzy, and, yes, we are DTC in the sense that we want to manage the customer experience end-to-end. However, we do want to partner when it makes sense. We recently chose to partner with Nordstrom — we’re selling in their top stores — and that’s been really successful for us. We’re not concerned about maxing out any time soon; we’re more concerned about meeting demand and making sure we’re not sold out all the time.
What are your plans to expand Senreve’s reach in the year ahead? Any collaborations in the works?
We’ll likely have one or two [collaborations] this year, toward the end of the year, but we want to do it right. They won’t be about marketing buzz; we set a much higher bar, in terms of what product we’ll release in the market.
So far, we’ve been able to balance growth and brand, which is very hard to do. A lot of DTC brands will tell you there’s constant pressure around growth, and oftentimes, they’ll sacrifice brand for growth. We’ve had a lot of opportunities where we could accelerate our growth or double our growth, or grow ten times our size, with different partners or different methods. We’ve said no. It’s really important to have that discipline, to not be tempted by opportunities that aren’t good for the brand.