Launching a luxe cashmere brand in 2020, Samantha Honstetter faced her fair share of setbacks.
The original plan, she told Sourcing Journal, was to launch Bellemere NY in February. But, when the nascent brand’s manufacturer shut down due to the initial Covid-19 outbreak in China—and stayed closed until April—that launch date had to be pushed.
Then, as U.S. cases began to take off in the spring, Honstetter said she chose to relocate her family out of New York City. The choice to escape the then-epicenter of the U.S. outbreak was not uncommon at the time. But, for her and her loved ones, it entailed more than a shift to the suburbs; for them, it meant moving across the Atlantic to her family’s hometown in Switzerland.
Relocating to Europe soon posed its own complications. After Bellemere managed to get its product ready in July, the time came for the launch photo shoot in New York City. Coming from Switzerland, Honstetter said she had to first quarantine in Hong Kong, and then fly to the U.S., delaying the shoot date.
“So, many twists and turns, but we finally managed to get the shoot done in August, set up our e-commerce platform and make our launch date on Oct. 1,” Honstetter said.
The inaugural Bellemere NY collection features an array of sweaters, coats, joggers, hats and scarves for men and women. The direct-to-consumer collection starts at $74 for a hat and tops out at $460 for 100-percent handmade wool coats. All products come with aftercare customer service as well as a cedar ring and specialist de-fuzzing comb.
Since DTC prevents potential customers from having a chance to feel the quality of Bellemere’s product, the cashmere brand offers the option of receiving a swatch sample prior to purchasing. “As our yarns are of superior quality, we do want people to be able to feel and touch it for themselves,” Honstetter said.
Standing out online
In a crowded DTC marketplace, Honstetter said Bellemere sets itself apart by offering “the highest quality at a lower price.” In addition to using what she described as “the highest-quality yarn,” this means opting for a higher knitting gauge. Indicative of how tightly a garment is knitted, this measure correlates with how durable the final product will be. According to Honstetter, Bellemere’s garments use 12 gauge, compared to the standard four to seven gauge that’s common throughout the sector.
Another aspect distinguishing the luxe brand from its DTC competitors, she said, is its custom solutions. Since Bellemere utilizes small-batch manufacturing, Honstetter said it is able to offer a bespoke sweater service for an additional 20 percent of the standard purchase price. Customers simply have to select a style from Bellemere’s collection and provide their unique measurements.
For now, the cashmere brand founder said she plans to stay focused on e-commerce. “Customer buying behavior is changing and, especially during Covid, people are shopping more online than in-store,” Honstetter said. Furthermore, she added, as a classic product, cashmere is “a perfect fit for e-commerce.” The founder said the brand may consider selected select B2B channels in the future, but for now plans to stay focused on its digitally native consumer-direct roots.
Bellemere NY joins a growing collection of sustainability-minded cashmere companies that put quality first to ensure a longer-lasting product that produces less waste in the long run. Honstetter noted the growing interest for cashmere specifically in terms of its environmental impact.
“Consumers are increasingly interested in green and demanding sustainable products, so the textile industry is seeking to have a lesser impact on the environment,” she said. “Careful use of raw materials and natural resources in production is the trend for us. In today’s world people are increasingly looking for high-value items that perform, last and make us feel great on the inside and out.”
Bellemere NY says its cashmere supplier Zhong Ding Textile is 100 percent traceable and has passed numerous international certifications, including the Responsible Wool Standard, The Good Cashmere Standard and the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare. It also uses high-automation, low-energy consumption spinning, dyeing and finishing equipment, Honstetter added.
Additionally, by producing garments on demand, the brand said it avoids overusing animals and lands. Designing all items at the factory and shipping them to the final destination lessens its carbon footprint, it added.