While luxury brands were at one point most predisposed to enter the “lifestyle space” as prestige more strongly evoked a lifestyle, the onset of digitally-native, direct-to-consumer brands has sparked newfound activity in the category from brands across all product verticals and price points. Though launching a brand is easier than ever, modern entrepreneurs enter a highly competitive economy—those that establish themselves as or aspire to become “lifestyle brands” further misconstrue the ease with which they can gain cultural relevance.

Generally, these brands improve on and digitize the 1.0 model of Ralph Lauren, incorporating modern marketing and media—speaking directly to the shopper on social media, not just via wholesale and billboards—to tell a story around the brand and the products they create. But overwhelmingly, these brands sell consumer products that are marketed as fostering a certain way of life, but whose accessibility and resonance are often limited by a dearth of meaning. The brand value is unidirectional: the “lifestyle” is determined by the founder (often a celebrity or a figurehead behind the startup), rather than inviting a dialogue with consumers. Regardless of whether the brands self-identify as “lifestyle brands” or aspire to become them, most fall short of entering the culture, and are too focused on profiting off of a “lifestyle” to actually become one. Given this rationale, the companies discussed here are 2.0 brands.

1) Away digitizes and adds multimedia to the 1.0 model, but without a overarching mission, it—like Ralph Lauren—must continue to expand its product assortment to maintain relevance.

Today, the fast-expanding, digitally-native “lifestyle brands”—a title that is both self-proclaimed and disseminated by the media—include celebrity-driven brands like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, Drew Barrymore’s Dear Drew and Halle Berry’s Halleworld, to Abercrombie, LVMH’s Clos19, and the cannabis brand Fire & Flower. In the midst of this activity is Away, a luggage company founded in 2015.

Away is the archetypal 2.0 brand—more of a transition or juncture than a standalone chapter in the brand-lifestyle-culture spectrum. The company’s entree into multimedia marks a notable shift from the 1.0 model—Away has a podcast, Airplane Mode, as well as a quarterly print magazine, Here, which it launched in 2017 (distribution). The media component, a tactic embraced by other contemporary brands (Goop’s newsletter, Glossier’s Into The Gloss), adds to the customer experience—placed in each suitcase sold, Here aligns with the wanderlust promoted by Away as a travel brand, which is what led the customer to purchase a new piece of luggage in the first place (aspirationality).

But while Ralph Lauren’s brand stands for a value (socioeconomic aspiration) and popularized this value through an aesthetic (preppy style), Away simply masquerades as a “lifestyle brand” to try to sell as many products as possible—selling product is the end, not the means to the end. Though Away markets these products as items that improve the travel experience, it does so only functionally or aesthetically, as it serves the product. Neither the brand nor its products advance travelling as a culture—plus, Away sells commodities, which customers already own.

Because it sells commodities—and even though these products are marketed as durable, one-time purchases—Away must continue to enlarge its product assortment ad infinitum in order to retain and acquire customers and grow its revenue. Scaling the company looks a lot like the timeline of Ralph Lauren—on overdrive. As SKUs expand from suitcases and carry-ons to garment bags, makeup bags, weekenders and other travel accessories, the company even jokes about starting an Away airline, providing anything a traveler needs to embark on a journey. But in doing so, it creates an aesthetic, rather than a way of life—commodities, rather than products with inherent value. It seems unlikely, or extremely far off, that Away would achieve the resonance that Ralph Lauren holds simply by championing modern-day travel—regardless, accomplishing this would still fail to create or further a lifestyle. Likely, the faster Away seeks to foster a way of life, the more it will hinder its ability to gain cultural resonance. Fostering a culture is long-term process that requires a rich history, and Away won’t be able to short circuit its development with a large number of SKUs and a continuous influx of venture capital.

2) Goop represents Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle, but remains aspirational for the vast majority of consumers.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s company Goop started as a health and wellness newsletter in 2008 and later launched a site to sell products, including its own private-label brand, G. Label, whose product assortment continues to expand outward. It now sells hundreds of products, many of which are its own, and the rest of which come from other brands.

Like Ralph Lauren, Goop is the brainchild of a single person. Though the spike in celebrity brands and influencer marketing highlights the generally held dictum that, from the customer’s point of view, the merits of a brand are more visibly manifested via an actual person than a corporate entity (distribution). However, Goop’s price points are aspirational to the extent that they severely limit the conversion rate of newsletter subscribers—a free email service—to customers (aspirationality, accessibility). In other words, the Goop lifestyle is so “Gwyneth” that it’s out of reach for the majority of potential customers. Unlike Fenty Beauty, for example—founded by Kendo and Rihanna—which seeks to create an inclusivity line of cosmetics for customers of all skin colors at a mid-range price point, Goop’s products hold little internal value to consumers beyond Paltrow’s endorsement, meaning that the value of the brand is focused solely on its celebrity backing (authenticity).

It’s tempting to argue that Paltrow’s dominion over Goop might prevent the brand from overscaling, since every aspect must tie back to her lifestyle in some way. But as evidenced from brands like the Honest Company (Jessica Alba’s brand), a celebrity at the helm all too often leads to massive overvaluation, which requires the companies to keep growing at an unhealthy pace. In early 2018, Goop raised $50 million, which increased the brand’s valuation to $250 million and the company announced it will direct the funds to expand its ecommerce operations, bring the company to international audiences, and grow its private-label product line (scalability). Though Goop expects to double its revenue in 2018 and says it tripled its revenue year-over-year for 2016 and 2017, its 2016 revenue was estimated at $15-20 million, meaning that 2018 revenue should surpass $100 million. Time will tell if this is possible with Goop’s high price points.

Effectively acting as a retailer, Goop’s quest to sell a wide range of products that come from other brands is a short-term move designed to further spread the “Goop lifestyle” to products that Goop either does not, will not or cannot yet make itself (a common 2.0 brand trait). Yet this wide array of SKUs, like with Ralph Lauren, sees product as the end result—the only way to live the lifestyle is to buy the product from Goop or the brands it endorses. This severely limits the impact of the brand, since product—and inherent commerciality—is only the means to an end in a lifestyle, not the end in and of itself.