What’s behind the rise of minimalist, direct-to-consumer tableware brands?

Sleek, affordable dinnerware sets are tapping into the millennial desire to aesthetically curate every aspect of their lives.

Kinn, launched in 2020, sells handmade plates, bowls and other tableware. (Photo: Kinn)
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A quick scroll through a few popular Instagram hashtags will tell you how obsessed millennials are with curating the perfect eating environment. A search for #SmoothieBowl will return more than 2.8 million photos of beautifully decorated bowls, while #tablescapes has well over 700,000 posts all showing pleasing place settings.

But before you can take a photo of a beautiful tablescape, you need to have beautiful plates. And these plates can’t just look good: as well as serving up a decent dose of aesthetics, millennial homemakers want items that are also both affordable and durable.

The rise of direct-to-consumer dinnerware

A number of brands are completing this assignment. Canadian brand Fable sells ceramic dinnerware and "flatware" (knives, forks, spoons) and recently raised $2.7 million to expand its range into other items such as glassware. Year & Day sells an array of plates, bowls and mugs that come in four muted shades, while Kinn has taken a similar approach with its collection of handmade tableware. Ceramics brand East Fork, which recently released a tableware collection in collaboration with the Momofuku restaurant group, has said it plans to spend $2.4 million expanding its business and scaling up the amount of clay dinnerware it can make.

Tarica Phung Navarro, the founder of Kinn, says direct-to-consumer tableware brands are offering a new shopping experience when it comes to buying plates and bowls — one that sits somewhere between picking up a cheap set of white porcelain plates from Ikea or Target, and navigating the ornate brands on the shelves at high-end department stores.

“We’re seeing a cultural shift from your grandma’s china and your mom insisting that you do a registry that includes the fondue set and all of that,” she reflects. “What I’m seeing is a breakdown of that formal setting towards something that is unfussy, that is easy to reach for on a day-to-day [basis]. You don’t want to only be pulling out the fine china for Thanksgiving and the rest of the time you’re eating off plastic plates.”

The direct-to-consumer dinner table

While many consumers these days may consider themselves to be aesthetes, the tableware brands have identified that by offering a pared-back selection of products, they can offer a helping hand when it comes to actually turning these visions into reality at home.

Kinn, for example, sells items that can be easily bundled together, by mixing and matching different items and through four different colorways. The idea is that any combination will look good together.

These brands also help customers build a tableware collection that actually reflects the way they eat, and the number of people in their household (or the types of dishes they like to serve at dinner parties). Both Year & Day and Kinn quiz their customers in order to recommend the number of plates, bowls, mugs and anything else they might need, while Misette’s website groups products together by collection, to ensure everything purchased matches, but it does not dictate what a "full set" looks like.

The result is a perfectly-imperfect dining table — one that's fit for the Instagram highlights reel.

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