Sitting at home during lockdown in January 2021, with a newborn baby, Laura Jackson was, like many others, scrolling on her phone looking for homewares. After hours of searching, she found a rug, a ceramic mug and a tasteful print, all from different sellers on different websites, and started wondering if there was a quicker way to buy. She realised there were luxury fashion ecommerce platforms “where a whole team of buyers think about every single product to bring their customers the best of the different brands out there,” she says. “I wanted to create a beautiful, well-curated marketplace for homewares.”
Known to her 153,000 Instagram followers for her love of interiors, Jackson is regularly contacted on social media about where to buy items, from lampshades to serving platters as well as working on collections for high-street brands including Habitat, where a co-collaboration with the brand and her friend Alice Levine sold out in three hours. “I know I’m really good at finding brands, recommending them and essentially selling them; I love the discovery,” she says.
Along with her brother-in-law Daniel Crow, formerly a senior buyer at the online lifestyle brand END, she launched Glassette in November 2021, with about 120 brands ranging in price from £7 striped candles to a £3,100 embroidered daybed. “In a noisy marketplace, we extract the best and offer a level of curation,” she says.
She is one of a number of figures from fashion and social media using their following and aesthetic to curate and sell homewares from obscure sources around the world — a service previously only available to those with a budget for an interior designer. Their new popularity is because “there is such a thing as too much choice,” according to Kate Watson-Smyth, founder of the curated shopping platform Design Storey.
Lucinda Chambers, former fashion director of British Vogue and co-founder of lifestyle etailer Collagerie, agrees: “The choice is now so overwhelming, you can have 10 tabs open on your computer and go down a lampshade rabbit hole that lasts for hours”.
Meanwhile, fashion buyer Pauline Vincent launched her digital homewares platform La Romaine Editions last June because, despite the online choice, “I was still wondering where I could find the homeware I actually wanted to buy.”
Part of the broad appeal of the online curators is their mix of high-low price points: it is something the fashion world is comfortable with, but has been slower to catch on in interiors. At Collagerie, where fashion picks include £965 Bea Bongiasca floral earrings, a £48.95 denim jumpsuit and New Balance trainers, customers can also buy a £4.99 H&M soap dish and a £1,210 pouffe.
On Design Storey there are £6 shaker pegs from Etsy, while La Romaine Editions features a €300 mouthblown glass candlestick by the designer Boris de Beijer and a set of four hand-painted plates priced at a more accessible €72.
Lisa White, director of lifestyle and interiors at the trend forecasters WGSN, says this grouping of cheaper objects with luxury items makes them seem “relevant and desirable no matter what they cost.” It is, White says, the air of curation by a trusted tastemaker that gives the items credence.
While their tastes and the types of buyers they appeal to differ, what the curators have in common are large social media followings and a desirable aesthetic consumers want to emulate. “Customers are looking for people-led brands,” Crow says. Chambers agrees: “We saw that there was a particular need for a trusted authority that could see everything that’s out there, and bring a really curated, tasteful edit.”
As such, the curators’ backstories are important; consumers want to know the person behind the brand. While Chambers’ co-founder Serena Hood also came from Vogue, the two of them together bringing an established following, Watson-Smyth has run the Mad About The House blog and podcast for many years and has 273,000 Instagram followers.
Jackson is known as a television presenter, but also for running a supper club, co-authoring a cookbook, and more recently, for her love of interiors on social media. She uses her east London home as a backdrop for her purchases and work by British craftspeople. The decorative artist Tess Newall, for example, painted a bespoke mural in her daughter’s nursery; furniture maker Fred Rigby designed their dining table.
Just as she has done for her home, Jackson has a hand in designing some of the ranges on Glassette, suggesting new colourways or shapes. Similarly, La Romaine Editions and Design Storey work with makers to design exclusive limited run collections for their audiences, adding an air of exclusivity to their curatorial role. A collaboration between Glassette and small brand The Vintage List before Christmas sold out a 220-unit run of glasses in under a fortnight. “There is an appetite for that limited edition drop,” Crow says. “It creates an energy and speed to purchase.”
The fact that customers are racing to buy limited-edition glasses reflects our growing interest in homewares. Globally, the homewares market grew about 5 per cent during 2016-21 to a current market value of about $175bn, according to market research firm Fact. MR. That is set to rise further to more than $200bn by 2023, it estimates. In the UK, consumers will spend an estimated £14.2bn on homewares this year, according to analytics company GlobalData, up from £11bn in 2015.
Chambers has also seen a shift in consumer focus from fashion to interiors. It doesn’t surprise her: “taste runs across everything from the clothes you wear to the way you decorate your home,” she says.
To meet demand — and the drop in fashion sales during the pandemic — a number of fashion brands pivoted into the sector. The designer Henry Holland switched clothes for ceramics; historic British department store Fenwicks launched its first in-house homeware brand last November, and online fashion retailer Matches.com has seen its homeware category grow 35 per cent for SS22.
Along with a swell of new kitchen-table businesses, it has created an increasingly crowded retail environment, but one that allows the curator model to thrive. Glassette has not only attracted customers, but also investors, raising £1.2mn in its first seed-funding round. Increased interest in homewares has boosted sales turnover at Collagerie 600 per cent since the first lockdown, totalling £3.12mn since launch, according to Hood.
Of course, the model of curating what we buy is not new: department stores have been around for more than a century, and independent bricks and mortar stores do the same. Vincent says she was inspired by the “multi-brand concept” at stores such as her former employer, Galeries Lafayette. But the way we shop has changed: 63 per cent of UK consumers bought their homewares online in March 2021, according to YouGov, up from 48 per cent in March 2020.
Yet, for Vincent, a fashion sensibility was exactly what was missing from the way interior products were being presented online. “I saw there was already a white minimalist style, and also a bohemian style, but there was something missing — something more contemporary and inspired by fashion,” she says. Vincent edits her selection of products (mostly French designers and makers) around a theme, such as flowers, to encourage her customers to pair pieces together, something White of WSGN says, “brings meaning to the objects by telling visual stories”.
This storytelling is how the online curators lure customers to the virtual checkout. As well as engaging their audience through highly stylised Instagram feeds, the online stores are presented like glossy magazines, with interviews with designers and other tastemakers from different disciplines, such as the digital entrepreneur Abisola Omole talking on Glassette about how to create a comfortable home, while designer Tory Burch selects her favourite products over on Collagerie.
Interior designer Sophie Ashby launched an online retail platform, Sister, in October 2020. Her quarterly digital journal, which reaches more than 2,000 subscribers and features interviews, recipes and early access to new products, seeks to engage her audience, as well as, she says, “curate and contextualise” items such a s £60 marble eggs or a £1,850 bouclé swivel chair.
For Jackson, a keen storyteller, featuring a wide range of brands, collaborations and influencers serves to broaden the appeal and reach. She particularly wants to target more men — perhaps with a future collaboration with a technical outdoor-apparel brand.
“There has traditionally been a type of person who is ‘into’ interiors,” she says. “One of the reasons we started Glassette was to target audiences that fashion and homewares traditionally have ignored. That way, we can continue to grow.”