Cynthia Rowley’s idea of accessible, entry-level luxury isn’t confined to sunglasses and fragrances.
The New York City–based designer has attached her name and brand to a slew of products—all bear her colorful and whimsical design; all alone are mundane, by nature. Mouse pads, portable phone chargers and staplers can be found printed with Cynthia Rowley’s prints. There are even office paper reams and Band-Aids wrapped in Cynthia Rowley’s signature floral.
“Everybody is trying to find some form of diversification to present a more lifestyle angle as a brand,” said Rony Zeidan, founder of the agency RO NY. “You get credit for trying something new and different and seeing if it works.”
Most recently, Rowley released a new line of tech accessories, which includes everything from iPhone cases to logo-printed charging boxes that can be used to plug the Cynthia Rowley USB sync cable into a wall.
“It’s important to me to have an accessible touchpoint,” said Rowley. “The girl who purchases our headphones and phone cases will grow into the CR woman of the future, when she has access to more luxe items.”
It’s a common tactic used by luxury brands to pad out their bottom lines with more regular, and more affordable, purchases. Most commonly, designer brands will look to beauty products, sunglasses and other accessories, and fragrances to start luring in younger, aspirational shoppers who may evolve into ready-to-wear and handbag buyers down the line.
Rowley sells sunglasses and beauty products, and has also taken up space in the less crowded areas of office supplies and back-to-basics tech products.
“Especially in the startup and social media age, offices want to be more well-decorated. They don’t want traditional office furniture, and we’re past the days of ping-pong tables and kegs,” said Mary Kate McGrath, editor-in-chief at lifestyle media company PureWow. “There’s a new rise of the office that feels more like a home.”
Associating your designer brand with reams of office paper and pencil cups runs the risk of diluting the desirability of higher-end items and isolating the consumer who doesn’t want to wear a gala gown from the same name designing Band-Aids. Rowley, however, considers the strategy “relevant and forward-thinking,” a sign that her brand is moving in new directions. She said that her motivation for the office line was to be somewhere other designers aren’t.
“Her customer, if they see her in a Staples, will think ‘Oh, that’s cute,'” said Zeidan. “As long as it stays on-brand.”
Designers like Tory Burch and Rebecca Minkoff have also invested in the tech space with items like FitBits and charging-cable purses. The method seems geared at revitalizing luxury brands and keeping them in touch with new technologies.
“There’s always a moment for personalization in the tech space. People want something that elicits an emotional moment,” said McGrath. “She can find a new audience, and that’s what we all need to do.”
Rowley’s line of office items is produced in partnership with Quill, the online office supply store owned by Staples. They aren’t sold in Cynthia Rowley’s e-commerce store, though Rowley’s tech accessories are.
According to Pinterest, there are more than 12 million pins associated with office design. Open office spaces, working from home and having online inspiration readily available on social media seem to fuel one’s desire to upgrade their boring staplers and ho-hum mouse pads. Data from metrics company Cision found that office décor has been written about 23,000 times in the past six months. What’s more, there have been 15,000 social media mentions of the topic.
Cynthia Rowley isn’t the only brand to embrace the office space: Kate Spade has launched a line of work-ready accessories as part of its move to offer products that touch on every aspect of its customers’ lives. In 2015, when Kate Spade launched 14 new products in categories outside of its core offerings of handbags and accessories, it welcomed a slew of new customers; 40 percent of those who bought the products were first-time shoppers of the brand. The company’s overall sales in 2015 increased by 9 percent to $1.2 billion.
The Cynthia Rowley brand declined to share specifics around sales figures. Rowley said that tech accessories currently represent a small share of the overall brand, but it’s among the brand’s fastest growing categories. At Quill, the Cynthia Rowley-wrapped paper reams were among the top 10 best-selling products of 2015, according to the company.