Black-owned watch brands are having an unprecedented year.
“June was our best month,” said Randy Williams, founder of Talley & Twine, a 6-year-old Virginia-based watch company that saw revenues more than triple between April and August, with sales dropping from $ 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 in some areas of the industry, Swiss exports down almost a third, some pockets are booming, said Zach Weiss, co-founder of online retailer Windup Watch Shop. With the closing of physical stores in many regions, “it’s been a very good year for online sales,” he said. “We saw a lot of pull in the price under $ 1,000.”
The majority of black-owned watch brands in the United States – online businesses selling fashion watches for under $ 500 – fit into this category perfectly. But their recent success transcends a singular increase in sales. Many say they are also seeing an increase in media coverage, requests for collaboration and coveted spots in online retail stores.
Most say they have no doubts that in the wake of social justice protests across the country, the #BuyBlack movement has played a role. Searches for black-owned businesses have exploded this summer, according to a spokesperson for search engine Yelp.
But the reasons for the recent success are mixed. 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 through social media.
“People want to see brands with faces, not brands without a face these days,” said Marcel Benson, founder and CEO of the Benson Watch Company of Lanham, Maryland. He said his initial marketing approach was “polite,” an effort to match those of some big brands, but these days he’s keeping it simple: “It’s really just me telling my story,” he said. he declared. “I think that resonates with a lot of people.”
Here are five of those stories.
Talley & Twine
Mr Williams, 38, said he started designing watch models on impulse. “I couldn’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 second and minute sub-dials and an independent second hand.
Mr Williams launched the Worley on Kickstarter in 2014, six to eight months after its initial conception. Within a month, it had surpassed its crowdfunding target and today the model is the basis of three collections of 46-millimeter men’s watches and 41-millimeter ladies’ watches. They are available 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, said Williams, his path to entrepreneurial success was not clear. Raised by his grandmother in Camilla, Georgia, where almost everyone worked at the local chicken factory, Mr Williams said he felt “smothered”.
“Coming from a small town and being a young black kid,” he said, “people really don’t expect much from you.”
His transition from small town boy to businessman was the inspiration for the company’s title. Talley & Twine was the name of an intersection in Portsmouth’s once notorious Ida Barbour housing project, which was razed in the late 1990s and rebuilt to provide attractive and affordable housing for residents.
“For me, it’s inspiring,” he said. It shows “you don’t have to finish the way you started”.
Watch enthusiasts Andrew Mutale and Benjamin Iroala took two years 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, Mr. Mutale, 25, said in a recent video interview in Chicago, where the company is based. He and Mr. Iroala, now 23, planned to assemble the high-quality patchwork of Japanese and Chinese components used in the first three collections of Asorock Watches (they plan to release a new one in December. ).
“Some manufacturers will be good at one area but not be good at 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 back of the case.
Mr. Mutale, born in Zambia, and Mr. Irola, born in Nigeria, arrived in the United States as a teenager. For them, the goals of the company are twofold: to represent black African men in an industry where they are under-represented and, as Mr. Mutale said, “to have an impact” on their home continent.
The brand, named after the granite outcrop that dominates Nigeria’s capital Abuja, is donating 10% of the sale of each of the watches to fund a library the men want to build in Nigeria.
And over time, they hope to move their manufacturing from Japan to Africa. The goal: to create jobs and “empower people with knowledge and skills,” said Mutale.
Watch company Benson
In 2017, Mr. Benson resigned as a financial consultant to pursue his passion for watches. This decision, he said, was made in the spirit of the company’s motto, “Time should be spent doing what you love. “
To date, it has released 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 at $ 150 to $ 175, is available in six colourways on the brand’s website and will soon be on Gilt’s online shopping platform.
The second was a line of limited edition chronographs called the 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 a portion 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 probably will continue to be, the biggest obstacle.”
Mr. Benson’s future plans: to move his manufacturing from Asia to an internal operation. “It’s a long term goal,” he said, but “we are gradually moving towards this goal. “
Launched 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 during a video call from his home office in Charlotte, Caroline. North.
The brand debuted with a series of eco-friendly 42-millimeter wood watches crafted from a choice of zebra, sandalwood and maple wood, selling for between $ 69.99 and $ 89.99. It has since launched two more 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, Colorway’s playful quartz wristwatches ($ 79.99) have, from a revenue standpoint, “pushed them all the way,” said Mr. Molden, 34 years old. (Mr. Davis, also 34, is a major in the United States Army and has an advisory role with the brand.)
So far, the company has only one employee: Mr. Molden’s mother-in-law, Margaret Lewter, who packs and ships the Chinese-made watches assembled by Springbreak from her farm in North Carolina.
In contrast, the brand has gathered around 56,400 followers on Instagram. This community of customers and fans, 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 opportunities and giving people a platform, he added, is “part of who we are.”
In keeping with Mr. William’s goal of being a “one-stop-shop” for the wrist, Springbreak recently made a foray into Apple Watch bands and now offers a variety of patterned canvas colourways 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 Eddie Johnson, 28, 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 at $ 399.99 to $ 499.99, the 40-millimeter automatic watch features a gravel-patterned bezel and a guilloche dial reminiscent of fish scales, Mr Johnson said in a video interview. from his home office in Hackensack, NJ.
The watches were made and assembled in China from Mr. Johnson’s sketches and feature the brand’s signature buckle lugs.
Mr Johnson’s first Premier collection of four models 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 to whom Mr Johnson credits his love of watches.
He called the Swiss quartz collection a “test run” and quickly switched to his Sophomore line: four automatic watches featuring what he called an unorthodox semi-skeleton dial, on which part of the balance wheel and pendants gears can be seen. moving.
“It is magnificent,” Mr Johnson said. “A lot of people don’t realize how many parts there are in an automatic watch.”
Mr Johnson’s ambitions include the release of a tourbillon and moonphase timepiece. But now he has produced a series of sketches for the chronograph which he plans to release next year. “I have so many things I want to tackle in terms of watches,” he said.