Sarah Kauss has taken the humble water bottle and made it into a fashion item. Drapers speaks to Kauss about her sustainable motivation and how she runs her business like a fashion brand.
Does a water bottle count as an accessory? If it’s a S’well bottle, the answer is probably yes. The insulated, decorated bottles range from £25 to £45. They are stocked by retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, and have become a favourite with fashion independents across the UK. Founder Sarah Kauss speaks to Drapers.
What were you doing before you founded S’well?
Before S’well, I was a CPA (certified public accountant) at [investment firm] EY, and later led the international business development division for a real estate company.
What prompted you to start the business?
While on vacation in Arizona, a sip of warm water and a mother-daughter conversation on career happiness led to my “Aha!” moment. I’d always carried a reusable bottle, but it wasn’t keeping up with my style or working as well as I wanted. I assumed other people like me might want a reusable bottle that looked better, worked harder and did more good for the world. Luckily, I was right.
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Why do you think there’s been such demand for a “fashion” bottle?
People appreciate beautiful design and want to stay hydrated. Marrying this desire with a product that also works amazingly well and does good for the environment and communities [S’well’s charity partners include UNICEF] in need helps create amazing excitement for our brand.
How do you come up with new collections and designs?
We follow trends – global, cultural and everything in between – to design patterns that will resonate with consumers. S’well operates like a fashion brand, releasing two collections per year for spring and autumn. We also collaborate with an array of established designers, brands and up-and-coming artists to create exciting, new looks throughout the year. Previously we have worked with footwear brand Keds, textile designer John Robshaw and Swarovski.
What are some of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
Besides not having enough time in the day? We’ve had the amazing experience of tremendous growth in a relatively short period of time. This means that we find ourselves not only trying to keep up with hiring smart and amazing people, but also creating new processes to develop efficiencies and better communication.
25oz white marble
How would you describe your own personal style?
I like to keep it casual but professional with bold colours and designs. I love a printed dress with a fabulous pair of shoes.
What is your favourite things about your job?
Working with such smart, passionate and thoughtful people who believe in the brand and its mission.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
My first boss at EY taught me how to make my career my own. From the beginning, she encouraged me to present my own work and select the clients and projects to work on that interested me the most. Her advice helped build my confidence early on and has led to many life-changing experiences through the years.
Favourite clothing brand
Favourite places to shop
Last fashion purchase
Stella McCartney sandals
I took a much-needed spa weekend vacation in Connecticut a few weeks ago to the amazing Grace Mayflower Inn and Spa.
Last book you read
The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return by Mihir Desai. This is a beautiful book for everyone, and not just about finance.
Last film you watched
I need a vacation to catch up on my films!
I started my career as a CPA at EY but my first real job was scooping ice cream.
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur! But, if I couldn’t do what I do now, I’d want to be a travel reporter for The New York Times.
What would we find you doing at the weekend
If I’m not working, you’ll find me relaxing by the water watching the waves.