Building Bulletproof Brands — how the internet destroyed moats for physical goods brands

In medieval times, a moat was a body of water around the castle that kept away enemies. In business, a moat serves a similar purpose, acting as a competitive advantage that one company has over the rest.

The physical goods business, specifically in the apparel, fashion, footwear, beauty, cosmetics, accessories and furniture space, has changed more in the last two decades that it has in the previous centuries combined. As as result, the formulas for building lasting brands are radically different than they used to be.

This leads to an important set of existential questions for brands and investors operating in the space: What makes certain brands last? Do moats exist for these brands? And how has the internet changed what is defensible and what no longer is?

Building Bulletproof Brands is a three part series that begins to answer some these questions. Part I explores how the internet fundamentally changed the playbook for building durable physical goods brands. Part II presents a new formula for building bulletproof consumer goods brands that’s rooted in the power of networks, and showcases how Supreme, Glossier and Peloton are putting this new approach into action. Part III (to be released on 7/4/17) looks at how brands can used use network-based incentives to grow, how these mechanisms will reshape how brands acquire new customers, and what these changes mean for companies and investors.

This is the deepest and most complex series I’ve ever written. I hope you enjoy it!

— Richie

Building Bulletproof Brands — Part I: Why don’t brands last like they used to?

How does one build a brand that lasts for centuries? Today, in the consumer goods space—specifically in apparel, fashion, footwear, beauty, cosmetics, accessories, and furniture—it's an especially challenging quandary given the ferocious speed at which Amazon and fast fashion giants like Zara and H&M are growing, while other legacy physical goods brands are struggling. The internet…

Building Bulletproof Brands — Part II: Networks are the strongest moats for consumer goods brands

Part I explored how the internet fundamentally changed the playbook for building durable physical goods brands. Before the internet, mastering product, brand, distribution—signified as (product + brand + distribution)—was enough to make a brand defensible, specifically in the apparel, fashion, footwear, beauty, cosmetics, accessories and furniture space. Additionally, a small set of brands,…

Building Bulletproof Brands — Part III: How networks and tokens could reshape the economics of physical goods brands

Part I of this series looked at the changing landscape of brand longevity and how the traditional formulas that used to make brands defensible are now obsolete. Part II proposed a new formula that harnesses networks as the only defensible moat for physical goods brands. Now, Part III looks at how brands can 1) use branded tokens and network-based incentives to grow; 2) how these…

Word of mouth without a network effect is not a competitive advantage

In Building Bulletproof Brands, a Loose Threads series about how the internet destroyed traditional moats for physical goods brands but also created new ones, I wrote about how the power of word of mouth is not what many think. As new physical goods startups launch and raise money every week, many are keen to mention a company’s “unparalleled growth via word of mouth” or "IRL virality" as…



Long-form series about the inter-workings of the consumer, retail and commerce industries.

As the fundamentals of the new consumer economy continue shifting, some issues are so complex that they require more space and time to explore. Our Longform Series consist of multiple articles that are thematically similar, allowing us to fully present these challenges and opportunities. Since these series take months to create, only a few come out each year and we hope you make some time for them.

Building Bulletproof Brands

This three part series explores how the internet destroyed traditional moats for physical goods brands while also creating new ones that are stronger than ever before. The series uses Supreme, Glossier and Peloton as examples of these new opportunities in action.

The Scale Series

This five part series explores how brands scale—successfully and unsuccessfully—in the fashion industry. The series showcases how Michael Kors, Totokaelo and Kit & Ace have overscaled, while Supreme, Rick Owens, A.P.C. and Comme des Garçons have thrived.

Decoding Amazon’s Fashion Ambitions

Getting consumers to buy luxury products on is just one small piece of a much wider strategy to disrupt the fashion industry like never before. This article originally appears in the Business of Fashion.

The Scale Series — how brands scale—successfully and unsuccessfully—in the fashion industry

What does scale mean in the fashion industry today? Globalization has radically reshaped the possibilities for brands to reach more people than ever before. But scaling globally requires meticulously managing a brand to ensure it does not default on its promise. Just because a brand can scale doesn’t mean it should.

The Scale Series explores how brands have scaled successfully and unsuccessfully in the fashion industry. Part I dives into the funding climate that got us to a place with an abundance of capital looking for outsized returns. Part II looks at brands that unsuccessfully scaled and ruined the brand along the way. Part III explores brands that have successfully scaled while keeping their brand intact. Part IV proposes a new framework for scaling a fashion brand globally without cratering the brand in the process. And Part V offers some closing thoughts on the power of small businesses and small-scale entrepreneurship.

This series took four months to put together and clocks in at over 11,000 words between the five parts. I hope you enjoy!


The Scale Series — Part I: How and why brands overscale

A person starts a business to grow it. The general goal is to earn some revenue, and then some more revenue, and then lots and lots of revenue, while being profitable along the way. The process of getting there is often called scaling the business, with different definitions of what scale is.  This is Part I of The Scale Series, a five-part series that explores how brands…

The Scale Series — Part II: Brands that overscaled

In Part I, we looked at the factors that both businesses and brands need to consider when scaling. With this foundation, we'll now examine some of the failures and some of the successes in the fashion industry. This piece will look at the former, while Part III will look at the latter.

The Scale Series — Part III: Brands that have endured

In Part II we looked at brands that have overscaled their promise. Now, we'll examine successful fashion brands that have balanced their creative and commercial aspirations over the long term, which allows the strength of a brand to compound.

The Scale Series — Part IV: Localized Luxury

The early 2000s were full of brands launching adjacencies, some of which we looked at in Part II and Part III. Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Burberry and many others created endless diffusion lines and offshoots that tried to take the spirit and cache of the mother brand and infuse it into sister brands that sold lower priced products. While some of this worked, many brands also struggled as they…

The Scale Series — Part V: Bigger isn’t always better

Part I of this series explored the capital conditions that got us to a place where many brands swung for the fences, while Part II and Part III investigated some of the successes and failures in this growth environment. Part IV proposed a new framework for scaling brands globally while keeping them potent. Finally, it’s worth talking about the idea of scale itself. That itch that many…