RIP Rivet & Sway.

Our friends at one of our favorite clients went out of business. A client for whom we did magical work that sold products steadily and built a beloved customer following.

We all experience failure. A catch rolls between the legs. Choreography eludes us from center stage. We botch a new business pitch. But a $3+ million failure hurts differently.

As a brand agency, this failure raises philosophical questions. Does branding really deliver? Are we good at what we do? If work that great failed, then what’s the point?

Home Try-On kit, the expensive heart of the Rivet & Sway experience

Rivet & Sway, an online eyewear boutique for women, was a venture capital play, founded by serial entrepreneur John Lusk with seed money from Scott Armstrong and Steve Anderson of Baseline Ventures. The trio looked at the $16 billion eyewear market and identified that only $300 million was spent online. Huge opportunity, crowded space (notably the heavily funded Warby Parker). To carve out a point of difference, the team focused exclusively on women and remedying the pain points of eyewear shopping: the expense, the inconvenience and the dearth of product designed to flatter women.

The original Rivet & Sway team, from left: Matt Kane, Scott Armstrong, John Lusk, Sarah Bryar, Ritzy Ryciak, Britt Stromberg and Henry Yiu. Photo by Barb Kinney

We came in on day 11 to name the company. And away we went, helping to shape every touch point of the consumer experience

Three years and 10 months later, the website vanishes. The team looks for new jobs. There are post-mortem interviews. A fire sale on product and office furniture. All that remains are the glasses sold and lessons learned.

This teaches us that a thoughtful product, bend-over-backward customer service and impeccably executed branding do not guarantee success.

When you’re expected to scale quickly while driving down the cost of customer acquisition—the key drivers for venture capitalists—you need serious money. And a lot of luck.

So what worked?

At States of Matter we embark on every client journey with an intention to use our powers in design and communications to help build durable companies. It’s personal. We treat each client’s company like our own.

Rivet & Sway packaging

With Rivet & Sway, we were part of the team, sitting at the table elbow to elbow with the founders and executives. John Lusk, Alex Berg and Sarah Bryar, the primary early movers who drove the brand’s creation, trusted our experience and let us run free (within the confines of a startup budget). Together we crafted the brand strategy that set the tone for three years' worth of work.

Whether you like it or not, brands are capable of artistry and do shape discourse.

We had seats at this table because at the most fundamental level, we are communicators. Humans communicate to be understood. The most compelling pieces of communication—be it speeches, art, brands, movies, music, etc.—help us understand how we feel about life and how we engage in conversation about what’s important to us. Whether you like it or not, brands are capable of artistry and do shape discourse.

Clever product naming, stunning photography and a bold tone of voice deepen the Rivet & Sway story

One of the most important metrics for branding firms and consumer brands is the Net Promoter Score, a way to measure customer loyalty. NPS is based on the answer to a single question, “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?

Rivet & Sway’s NPS score averaged between 90-95. Measured against that metric, we successfully created a memorable experience, and our work supported that.

But we didn’t need an NPS score to tell us we were on to something real. Customers wrote genuine, heart-felt love notes and emails on a daily basis, raving about the service, the products and the brand. The company was growing steadily, just not fast enough to attract additional capital.

Rivet & Sway customer love notes

If you peel back the NPS metric and the customer feedback and look at what it’s indicating, it’s a bond. And people bond over having their desires met.

Rivet & Sway influencer marketing campaign with Joy Cho of Oh Joy! Photo by Bonnie Tsang

States of Matter crafted that bond between busy women and their deeper desires—to be respected, nurtured, reassured and entertained. We supported the key business model components of home try ons and 1:1 personal stylist sessions with design and copy that respected women’s time and intelligence. Nuances in the logo, the packaging and product design and naming surprised and entertained. And the brand’s influencer partnerships and events inspired Rivet & Sway’s customers to think about how they could use their own vision to live unapologetically.

Specs on wheels, the Rivet & Sway mobile pop-up shop

We refuse to view the effort as failure. We cared about Rivet & Sway, and the story we told for them matters.

For us, the legacy of Rivet & Sway is possibility. In today’s crowded bazaar of online and offline commerce, you can still build a real and connective brand out of the gate. We will do it again.