9 March 2018 Courier Weekly

Denim trade wars and Chinese fine wine.

PLUS: Smart homes – Phone boxes – Restaurant reviews

US denim: about to lose its top spot?

If the tweets and tantrums are to be believed, Levis jeans could be in for a price hike in Europe.

While it’s bad news for US manufacturers – considered to be the top makers of denim – it could encourage European brands to start sourcing denim closer to home.

Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, a two-year-old brand based in north London, has already started educating clients on where else they can source denim, pointing out different denim destinations’ carbon footprints.

‘As a proxy, we track the distance travelled end-to-end,’ says head of digital and retail, David Giusti. He estimates that Japanese denim travels around 22,000km; the cotton is sourced in Texas, spun into denim in Japan and turned into clothing in the UK. US denim travels about 8,000km end-to-end.

More environmentally-friendly denim for UK brands come from Italy (3,000km) or Turkey (2,500km).

New denim producers are also popping up in the UK. Hewitt Heritage Fabrics launched in 2016, producing cotton selvedge denim in Lancashire. London Cloth Co, a micro-textile mill based in Essex, also produces its own denim.

Four smart home companies to watch.

Last week, Amazon spent $1bn on a doorbell company, Ring.

The ‘connected home’ is taking its time to materialise in most people’s everyday lives – voice assistants can still only perform quite basic tasks and, while Amazon has a patent for a fridge that can see when food is going off, big questions remain around how much these appliances can actually change consumer behaviour.

Regardless, plenty of companies are ploughing ahead with smart home devices. Here are four which caught Courier’s eye:

  1. Klevio, a smart key which lets users open doors from anywhere via an app on their phone. The company is currently running customer trials.
  2. Labrador wirelessly monitors home energy usage – and can switch users onto better value tariffs. The company raised £870,000 on Crowdcube this week, bringing total funding to just over £2m.
  3. Cocoon, a security device that monitors sound patterns to detect when something’s wrong. Based in Leeds, the company sells to more than 50 countries.
  4. Honey Co monitors elderly people in their homes using a series of sensors, and can record visits from care givers.

Viticulture takes over the Chinese countryside.

This article in the New Yorker explores the rise of new vineyards popping up in China’s Ningxia region. The majority are government-backed, but some of the vineyards are private enterprises, such as Helan Qingxue and Silver Heights, both founded in 2005.

It’s a fascinating insight into how new businesses hoping to meet domestic demand for local wine have also created a new tourism economy for the region.

Google offloads iconic restaurant review business. 

The Infatuation, a New York-based restaurant review platform, snapped up Zagat from Google earlier this week for an undisclosed amount.

When Zagat launched in the 1970s, it used user input to make restaurant recommendations. The Infatuation, meanwhile, sends reporters to anonymously review restaurants across the globe.

The Infatuation’s co-founder Chris Stang says the deal could potentially transform the company from a successful but relatively humble reviews site to ‘the best restaurant recommendation engine in the world.’ However, Zagat getting dumped by a giant company like Google raises questions about how well the veteran brand can be expected to do in the age of the internet.

Speaking to Courier, Stang argued: ‘The world is quite fragmented in terms of where people get their information and, to us, that’s exactly why it’s critical to build a strong brand that can deliver content via many platforms.’ However, he acknowledges that ‘both [brands] will continue to need to adapt to the future.’

Google brought Zagat back in 2011 for £93m. Bloomberg looks at how Google ‘almost destroyed’ it.

The evolution of the red phone box.

This week, Londonist looked at how London’s iconic phone boxes have changed over the years.

Small businesses operating in these three-foot-wide spaces are no longer uncommon. Companies such as Red Kiosk Company or telecom giant BT provide phone boxes to rent, while the spaces themselves are exempt from business rates and have low running costs.

But operating with space constraints isn’t without its challenges. We previously spoke to Ben Spier, owner of Spier’s Salads, about running a business in a tiny location.

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