Black-Owned Watch Brands Rise – The New York Times

Black-owned watch brands are having an unprecedented year.

“June was our best month ever,” said Randy Williams, founder of Talley & Twine, a 6-year-old Virginia-based watch company that saw revenue more than triple between April and August, with sales jumping $250,500. to $830,000 over the same period. period in 2019.

And Mr. Williams is not alone. Between May and July, Springbreak Watches in North Carolina sold nearly 2,000 watches. They sold 347 between May and July 2019.

Although the pandemic has wreaked havoc on some industry sectors, Swiss exports down nearly a third, some pockets are blooming, said Zach Weiss, co-founder of online retailer Windup Watch Shop. With physical stores closed in many regions, “it’s been a really good year for online sales,” he said. “We saw a lot of traction in the price below $1,000.”

The majority of black-owned watch brands in the United States — online businesses selling fashion watches for less than $500 — fit neatly into this category. But their recent success transcends a singular uptick in sales. Many say they are also experiencing an increase in media coverage, requests for collaboration, and coveted placements in online retail stores.

Most say they have no doubt that, following social justice protests across the country, the #BuyBlack movement has played a role. Searches for black-owned businesses have skyrocketed this summer, according to a spokesperson for search engine Yelp.

But the reasons for the recent success are nuanced. Most black-owned watch brands have built a strong online presence, and all owners point out that their sales were already on an upward trajectory – which many attribute to their ability to speak directly to customers via social media.

“People want to see brands that have faces, not faceless brands these days,” said Marcel Benson, founder and CEO of the Benson Watch Company of Lanham, Md. He said his initial marketing approach was “polished,” an effort to match those of some big brands, but these days he keeps it simple: “It’s really just me telling my story,” he said. “I think that resonates with a lot of people.”

Here are five of those stories.

Mr Williams, 38, said he started designing watches on impulse. “I didn’t find what I was looking for,” he said in a video interview from his office in Portsmouth, Virginia.

The result was the Worley watch: a quartz chronograph, devoid of numerals except for an oversized seven, with subdials for seconds and minutes and an independent sweep seconds hand.

Mr Williams launched the Worley on Kickstarter in 2014, six to eight months after its initial design. Within a month, she had exceeded her crowdfunding goal and today the model is the basis of three collections of 46 millimeter men’s watches and 41 millimeter women’s watches. They come in a variety of colors with the choice of a leather, canvas, or metal strap, priced at $125 to $235.

The company has grown to include two full-time and six part-time employees. But, Mr. Williams said, his path to entrepreneurial success was not obvious. Raised by his grandmother in Camilla, Georgia, where almost everyone went to work in the local chicken factory, Mr Williams said he felt “suffocated”.

“Coming from a small town and being a young black guy,” he said, “people really don’t expect much from you.”

His transition from small-town boy to businessman inspired the company’s title. Talley & Twine was the name of an intersection in Portsmouth’s Ida Barbour housing project, which was razed in the late 1990s and rebuilt to provide attractive, affordable housing for residents.

“To me, it’s inspiring,” he said. It shows “you don’t have to end the way you started”.

It took two years for watch enthusiasts Andrew Mutale and Benjamin Iroala to perfect the six Miyota quartz watches they launched on Indiegogo in January 2019.

During the development of the watches, they visited factories in Japan and collected samples from manufacturers elsewhere in Asia, Mutale, 25, said in a recent video interview from Chicago, where the company is based. He and Mr. Iroala, now 23, intended to assemble the high-quality patchwork of Japanese and Chinese components used in Asorock Watches’ first three collections (they plan to release a new one). in December).

“Some manufacturers will be good in one area but not in another,” Mutale said.

The watches – the Monolith, SpeedRacer and FirstLady – range from 38 millimeters to 45 millimeters, sell for between $105 and $135 and feature an engraving of the Nigerian coat of arms on the case back.

Mr. Mutale, born in Zambia, and Mr. Irola, born in Nigeria, came to the United States as teenagers. For them, the goals of the company are twofold: to represent black African men in an industry where they are underrepresented and, as Mr. Mutale put it, to “make an impact” on their home continent.

The brand, named after the granite outcrop that dominates the Nigerian capital of Abuja, is donating 10% of the sale of each of the watches to fund a library that men want to build in Nigeria.

And over time, they hope to shift their manufacturing from Japan to Africa. The objective: to create jobs and “give people knowledge and skills”, declared Mr. Mutale.

In 2017, Mr. Benson quit his job as a financial consultant to pursue his passion for watches. The move, he said, was made in the spirit of the company’s motto, “Time should be spent doing what you love”.

To date, it has launched two lines of watches, both designed by Mr. Benson. Introduced on Kickstarter in 2015, the initial design was the Cardinal, a Swiss quartz watch inspired by a mid-century dress watch (which Mr. Benson refuses to identify). The wristwatch, priced from $150 to $175, is available in six colorways on the brand’s website and will soon be available on Gilt’s online shopping platform.

The second was a line of limited edition chronographs called Phoenix. With all of his 100 models now sold, Mr Benson, 31, plans to reissue the watch in the spring and said he would donate part of the sales to help young entrepreneurs.

Over the next few months, Benson hopes to raise enough capital to “really scale the business”, he said. “Capital has been, and will likely continue to be, the biggest hurdle.”

Mr. Benson’s future plans: move his manufacturing from Asia to an in-house operation. “It’s a long-term goal,” he said, but “we’re slowly moving towards it.”

Introduced in 2013 by former fraternity brothers Kwame Molden and Maurice Davis, Springbreak Watches aims to “bring back the fun” of wearing a watch, Mr. Molden said in a video call from his home office in Charlotte, Utah. North Carolina.

The brand debuted a series of 42-millimeter eco-friendly wooden watches crafted in a choice of zebrawood, sandalwood and maple, priced between $69.99 and $89.99. It has since launched two other unisex lines: a series of classic 42-millimeter stainless steel mesh strap watches ($89.99) and the lively Colorway collection.

Available in a variety of vibrant colors, including neon green, the Colorway’s playful quartz wristwatches ($79.99) have, from a revenue standpoint, “skyrocketed them,” Ms. Molden, 34 years old. (Mr. Davis, also 34, is a U.S. Army major and has an advisory role at the brand.)

So far, the company has only one employee: Mr. Molden’s mother-in-law, Margaret Lewter, who packages and ships Springbreak watches made and assembled in China from her farm in North Carolina.

In contrast, the brand garnered around 56,400 followers on Instagram. This community of customers and fans, Mr. Molden said, is Springbreak’s source for everything from photography and videography to models and artist collaborations. “We pay them and invest in them,” he said. Creating opportunity and giving people a platform, he added, is “part of who we are”.

In keeping with Mr. William’s goal of being “one-stop shopping” for the wrist, Springbreak recently made a foray into bands for the Apple Watch and now offers a variety of patterned canvas colorways for $39.99. $. The bracelets, as well as the company’s watches, will soon be available on Nordstrom’s online store.

An aquarium isn’t an obvious source of inspiration for a watch, but 28-year-old Eddie Johnson, founder of Verdure Watches, looked no further than his living room aquarium when designing his latest collection, called Lure.

Sold in four colors and priced from $399.99 to $499.99, the 40-millimeter automatic watch features a gravel-patterned bezel and a guilloché dial reminiscent of fish scales, Johnson said in a video interview. from his home office in Hackensack, NJ.

The watches have been made and assembled in China from Mr Johnson’s sketches and feature the brand’s signature loop-style lugs.

Mr Johnson’s first four-model Premier collection was launched in 2015 following what he described as a disheartening three-year trial-and-error hunt for a manufacturer. It was funded in part by his father, a lawyer who is an avid watch collector and whom Mr Johnson attributes to his love of watches.

He called the Swiss quartz collection a “test” and soon moved on to his Sophomore line: four automatic watches featuring what he called an unorthodox semi-skeleton dial, on which part of the balance wheel and gears can be seen. moving.

“It’s beautiful,” Mr Johnson said. “A lot of people don’t realize how many parts there are in an automatic watch.”

Mr Johnson’s ambitions include releasing a tourbillon and a moon phase watch. But now he has produced a series of sketches for the chronograph he plans to release next year. “I have so many things I want to discuss in terms of watches,” he said.

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