Shai Levy, founder of Seventy Eight Percent, wants to create accessories for people that look for more than a logo and seek more than just a product.
“My idea – which sounds simple but is not easy to pull off – is to create products that excel in three fundamental dimensions; functionality, quality and style,” explains Shai Levy, founder and creative director of Seventy Eight Percent. “Many brands execute one of the elements really well, some get two. However, hardly any of the brands in the fashion accessory and luggage markets reaches an outstanding level on all three fronts.”
The luggage, bags and accessories brand was named in memory of Elad Klein, an Israeli born artist, musician and designer who died in a kayak accident in Hong Kong in 2006. Exploring the boundaries between art and design, Elad wrote a manifesto called Seventy Eight Percent, calling for objects to be designed with an intentional flaw. Elad concluded that 78% is the right amount of perfection. Any more would not create the desired effect and less than that would result in a useless product.
“ Hong Kong was actually in need of an alternative ultra-high-quality sophisticated brand. Sales boomed quite quickly, it is still our largest market ”
Its first collection was launched in Hong Kong, within the hallowed halls of department store Lane Crawford, far from the European epicentres of luxury one would perhaps associate with accessories. “Launching the brand in Hong Kong was an amazing experience,” its founder enthuses. “The local market was actually in need of an alternative ultra-high-quality sophisticated brand. Sales in Hong Kong boomed quite quickly and it is still our largest market.”
Launching in Hong Kong also played a significant part in the building of the brand within the minds of its international audience, as a city visited by professionals and executives from all over the world. “International retail buyers often check in with Lane Crawford to spot noteworthy brands,” muses Shai. “These global professionals helped us spread the seeds and gave us priceless international exposure.”
Benny Attache case
Though Lane Crawford was an undeniable coup for the brand, it was but one part of a story already two years in the making. Seventy Eight Percent’s debut collection took a lengthy two years to come to market, giving its founder enough space to ensure functionality and personally witness the ageing process of each design.
“Every step of the process was very meticulous,” reveals Shai. “I started by defining the characteristics of the ‘Dream Bag’; what should it do, what should it look like, what sort of impression should it make. It then took several months to transform that study into a collection of bags, by giving them shapes, perfecting their proportions and curves and by incorporating all the functional features in a clean and refined way.”
“ I started by defining the characteristics of the ‘Dream Bag’; what should it do? what should it look like? what sort of impression should it make? ”
“The materials were also an important factor because they determine the longevity of a product and its character after years of use. They can’t just look nice on a shelf, they must age well. This is a quality that only shows after a few years and I had to make sure that I choose right. It was also important to me that our materials have a story to tell.”
“Our canvas and leather are produced in traditional, artisanal methods by small factories. There is enough to tell about their creation over a full course dinner.”
“Last but not least, I had to find people who could craft the bags the way I wanted and to the level of quality I demanded. I was lucky to find great people but nothing came easy. They had to adjust to my peculiarity and I had to adjust to their abilities. It was a long and interesting process. We all learned from each other and ended up with great prototypes. Following almost six months of field tests and adjustments, the first two collections were ready to be launched.”
Ivory Schults leather Briefcase
The same meticulous philosophy has also underscored distribution, which today comprises the brand’s own online store and thirty selected physical locations worldwide. “To carry our products, a store must share our values in terms of style, sophistication, quality and, most importantly, customer service. The shop owners and merchandisers must understand what Seventy Eight Percent is about.”
“As you know I was fortunate to launch Seventy Eight Percent in Lane Crawford, one of the best multi-brand department stores in the world. My experience with them assured me that having my products in the right hands can take my brand very far and that I must be very selective with my retail partners. What was common sense when I started became a strategy.”
“ My experience with Lane Crawford assured me that having my products in the right hands can take my brand very far & that I must be very selective with my retail partners ”
In the short term Shai plans to keep bringing Seventy Eight Percent to more cities around the world, at this stage through selected multi-brand shops, corners and shop-in-shops. “We are also constantly improving our online presence, which is a significant part of our business,” he continues. “On a longer term, we will have mono-brand stores in a few key locations. I hope to open the first one by the end of 2013.”
Within this unique story lies an undeniable association with lifestyle. And though much has been discussed as to whether one brand can successfully occupy both spaces, Seventy Eight Percent is inherently, and authentically, an original mix. Though the brand currently focuses on accessories, the idea of Seventy Eight Percent as an attitude or way of life, feels open and facilitative towards future category expansion.
Detail of a Schults leather briefcase
“Our core business will stay where our knowledge and expertise is: Luggage, bags and accessories,” Shai asserts. “However, I plan to add products that would contribute to the lifestyle and self expression of our customers, providing that they will all be innovative and unique. The obvious categories for us are eyewear, shoes, ties, cufflinks and the likes, which complete the look and feel of our bag owners and fall within our existing distribution channels.”
“But I see even more exciting opportunities in what I call satellite products, which would be a showcase of our passion for design and quality on another dimension. For an example, I would love to design a bicycle, an office desk and chair, a reading lamp, an espresso cup and more. These products make sense for our brand because they serve the needs of our existing customers and give them the chance to experience our design approach on a broader sense.”
“ I plan to add products that will contribute to the lifestyle and self-expression of our customers, providing they will all be innovative and unique ”
“I want to grow Seventy Eight Percent into a global luggage/lifestyle brand,” declares Shai, “and I would like to see it as a key player in this market. I feel that the brand’s foundations are now completed and that it is ready to be taken to the next level and be scaled up. This is the plan.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, plans for expansion will centre on taking measured steps rather than giant leaps. In an accessories market popularly dominated by luxury conglomerates, Shai is insistent on doing things differently. “I am very careful not to associate Seventy Eight Percent with glam and gloss,” Shai agrees. “Which, in my opinion, has nothing to do with true quality and soul.”
Small leather goods
“We put function and performance in the forefront of our communications because these are the aspects of our philosophy and products that set us apart from other brands in our category and positioning,” explains Shai. “Our followers are sophisticated. They look for special products that can contribute to their way of life and provide them with a unique story to tell.”
“Seventy Eight Percent is a way of life, an attitude,” he concludes. “Our brand is about emotions, perceptions, materials, craftsmanship and design. We create for those sophisticated people that need more than a logo or a brand, and look for more than just a product. These people – mostly trend setters – are confident and powerful enough to carry something different.”
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