Surprise! Generation Z adopts designer “mystery boxes”

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Beth Froggatt, a 27-year-old barber shop owner from Sheffield, recently added a square black handbag from Off-White to her wardrobe. She wears the bag, which has a chunky chain strap, both with denim dresses and evening dresses. “I love it. Virgil Abloh is one of my favorite designers,” she says. But Froggatt never really chose it for herself; instead, this handbag, which costs £ 830 , arrived in the mail as a featured accessory in a £ 500 ‘mystery box’ from a company called Heat.

Mystery boxes offered by trendy upstarts including Heat, Scarce and Hybe are a relatively new and straightforward concept. Shoppers buy a box when they ‘deposit’ online – from £ 299 at Heat – then receive a package of luxury surprises with guaranteed retail value (£ 299 at Heat gets you £ 500 + in merchandise, 500 £ and over £ 850). Products from Saint Laurent, Céline and Balenciaga are all up for grabs. “I also received a Palm Angels logo hoodie worth £ 500,” says Froggatt, who liked the three things she received. “Buying designer brands cheaply is a huge selling point for me.”

The clothes come from inventory that would otherwise end up in discounted outlets – or landfills. During the pandemic, factories, brands and retailers were left with mountains of unsold stock. As of April this year, Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M had £ 3.4 billion in merchandise left over. But offering consistently slashed sales to cope with the deluge affects a brand’s equity – and some brands always destroy their unsold inventory rather than risk devaluing it.

“The fashion industry is extremely wasteful,” says Jacob Metzger, 34, co-founder of New York-based Scarce, which launched its first box in December 2020. “We wanted to prevent this old inventory from being lost. landfilled or not left in a warehouse We wanted to give it a second life.

Logo looks, like this Balenciaga top presented by Scarce, are popular with new mystery box shoppers © Brendan Wixted

Joe Wilkinson, 24, co-founder of Sheffield-based Heat, had a similar mission: “We kept thinking, how do we get this dead inventory inventory to the end consumer?

Making it desirable is the main task. Capitalizing on the ‘unboxing’ trend, where YouTubers open products in front of the camera, Wilkinson built a pre-launch hype around Heat targeting its target demographic – logoed clothing, paid influencer posts and branding. suitable for Gen Z reminiscent of the flame emoji.

“We had to prove the concept to the brands,” says Wilkinson, who has a background in UI and UX design and previously sold sneakers at a profit in resale markets. The shares were initially acquired through Selfridges and Harrods; Heat got special discounts on clothes about to go into sales.

Since its launch last November, Heat claims to have sold more than 16,000 boxes. It has now generated sales of over £ 6million and has expanded its customer base to 660,000; boxes can sell out in 10 minutes. The company is now buying stocks from JW Anderson and Givenchy, while Scarce works with Gucci and Rick Owens, and Ireland-based Hybe is ditching Nike’s sneakers. “These are the products that brands typically keep off the sales rails,” explains Wilkinson. “Carryover parts that are just slightly updated every season. Brands don’t want them to end up in a point of sale because that devalues ​​the product for seasons to come.

A rare mystery box for women.  Buyers can choose to showcase their favorite brands, eliminate certain colors, and choose sizes

A rare mystery box for women. Shoppers can choose to showcase their favorite brands, eliminate certain colors, and choose sizes © Brendan Wixted

The sites are brilliant and easy to navigate; shipping is fast and the goods arrive wrapped in fabric in the ideal type of packaging offered by Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion. “They meet a real need of luxury companies,” said Peter Baldaszti, managing director of Budapest brand Nanushka, which sold dead animals to Heat for the first time this year. “We have to maintain our position in the market. . . and he releases products in a discreet and brand-appropriate manner. He adds: “They are targeting an audience that has not yet been recruited.” Namely, streetwear fans aged 18-35. The Box brands offer access to this new generation. Maybe they can’t afford Gucci at retail just yet, but they want to wear the logos.

“It’s a great lead generator for brands across the board. . . we have a very engaged audience, ”says Metzger, citing Scarce’s 143,000 Instagram followers. Rare co-founder Yossi Shetrit adds: “They buy a box, they tag us, they feel like part of a community. Buyers are alerted to declines through Instagram countdowns and email; drops that sell out almost instantly.

While surprise is presented as a selling point, shoppers can filter their preferences – Hybe sells specific boxes for Gucci or Supreme, while Scarce and Heat allow buyers to highlight their favorite brands or eliminate certain colors. .

Streetwear items, such as this Palm Angels jacket brought to you by Heat, are popular among mystery box shoppers motivated by the hype

Streetwear items, such as this Palm Angels jacket presented by Heat, are popular among mystery box shoppers motivated by the hype © Heat

Of course, not everyone likes the things they receive. YouTube user Sachit Mehta received a Fear of God coat and A Cold Wall * cardholder; the coat was so “oddly colored” that he gave it back. Some buyers return them for quick cash from the discounted discounts. British YouTuber Jake Buckell bought a £ 500 box last year; he sold his Givenchy backpack, worth £ 795, via Instagram.

Metzger doesn’t think resale is a problem, however, and buyers can only return the entire box rather than an individual item. “Maybe they get a track or two that they like, and one that they don’t,” he says. “We encourage them to continue passing things on to people who will truly appreciate them. Our customers love to be part of the circular economy.

But are boxes really a solution to overproduction? Giving brands a clever way to get rid of overstocking doesn’t force the industry to stop making too many clothes. If adopted en masse, it might hinder, not help. Heat says he’s even considering partnering with brands to offer exclusive items on his site for direct purchase. This would, in effect, create a new stock – thus adding to the flood. It also glorifies to some extent a slightly greedy approach to shopping.

But for now, the mystery format has its fans. Froggatt did not resell any of its goods; she loves brands and appreciates the convenience of shopping that way. “It saves me time choosing what I want and finding what’s available in my size,” she says, preferring to scroll through it online or endlessly hitting the rails.

Says Wilkinson: “It’s immersive; it’s exciting. In these times of Covid in particular, people need experience. “

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