"The world is reopening and people are wanting to look good and feel good again," says Courtney Toll, cofounder of just-launched steam iron brand Nori.
When Nori cofounder Courtney Toll lived in a small New York apartment, she used her hair straightener to coax wrinkles out of her clothes.
According to an independent market study of 500 respondents commissioned by Nori, most said they didn't own ironing boars, they didn't like their steamers, and they avoided dry cleaning due to hefty bills. So they turned to methods like hanging clothes next to steamy showers. Toll and cofounder Annabel Love figured there had to be a better way.
"When you think about all of the markets out there, everything from toilet paper to suitcases to mattresses to bidets, there's normally a DTC player that operates within the space that's introduced some sort of innovation, within distribution at the very least," says Toll. "This is a market that really has not seen much innovation since the introduction of a steamer in the 1980s."
After spending time studying the idea while a student at Wake Forest University, Toll ultimately quit her job in 2019 and raised $1.3 million in funding to work on Nori (iron spelled backwards) full-time. The brand launches to the public today.
Most young professionals would agree that irons aren't really an exciting gift or purchase (they evoke navigating the aisles at Target or Bed Bath & Beyond). Nori hopes to position itself more as an investment in self-care than a daily chore – something Toll says will resonate with consumers who want to see and be seen in a post-pandemic world.
"The world is reopening and people are wanting to look good and feel good again," she says, noting that people sick of their athleisure wardrobes might seek out more formalwear. "People are going to be excited to find something that feels like an aspirational buy, that will kickstart their new wardrobe and their new approach to post-COVID life."
Toll says the hardware product's design, "the finish of an iron with the handheld nature of a steamer," was more than two years in the making and inspired entirely by potential customers. Among their requests: the ability to iron the back and front of clothes at the same time and fabric settings in place of temperatures.
"We went through six rounds of prototyping that have been heavily tested by our consumers," says Toll, who argues that traditional ironing brands don't engage with their users. "All of this is just to ensure that we have a superior product that's actually talking to consumers."
Then how do customers sort through their options? "There's really no measure to differentiate between existing competitors," she adds. "They offer the same five features in the same form factors, and so this is really a way to differentiate and also tell people about our brand, our story and why we think this is important." More shopping on the web, she says, can fuel those conversations, since customers will connect with Nori and other brands on their websites.
As people gear up for a return to the office, Toll anticipates another area where Nori can serve consumers is travel.
While business travel will take some time to recover, 56% of Americans expect to travel for fun this year. Toll notes that as travel and hotel bookings pick up, so will interest in brands designed to be used on the go. Among Nori's target millennial and Gen Z audiences, consumers cited plans to use a Nori Press for leisure travel six times more than for business travel, she adds: "Our target demographic is among the first movers to begin traveling at pre-pandemic levels."
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