When Nina Runsdorf began planning ahead for her business this year, little did she realise what was to come. Luckily, the jewellery designer had recently overseen a relaunch of her website, which proved fortuitous in the early months of 2020, when she was forced to close her New York atelier, leaving little choice but to get online and get connected with her clients.
This meant ensuring she was utilising all the digital tools she had available to her. From Zoom calls, to WhatsApp and Slack, adding inventory to her website and maintaining an active presence on social media, Runsdorf made sure she was in constant communication with her clients - both private and wholesale- during the first lockdown of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Connection, stressed Runsdorf, is the driving force behind the success of her brand. “I feel that it is the most important. Whether it’s the clients, the sales people or the managers of the stores, the most important thing is to have a personal connection. I think it sets you apart and creates lasting relationships.”
And the use of digital was essential to maintaining those personal connections, she added. “In the past, digital didn’t play a huge role. We really weren’t available online, but in the current climate of what is happening in the world, digital is extremely important to my brand. The client is able to see what is new, discover collections in a different way and stay up to date with us while being distant.”
Indeed, there has never been a better time to stay connected with customers online. With a second and third wave of lockdowns in place across various different countries around the world, companies and brands will have to continue amplifying their digital efforts, in a bid to boost revenues and reach customers online. One of the harder-hit industries was luxury, making this period one of the most difficult challenges the market has ever had to face.
The crisis has already had a dramatic impact. The market for personal luxury goods contracted for the first time since 2009, falling by 23 percent to 217 billion euro, according to the latest report from consultancy Bain and Company in collaboration with Fondazione Altagamma, the Italian luxury goods manufacturers' industry foundation, however the recent financial results from companies like LVMH, Kering and Hermès are showing early signs that appetite for luxury goods is bouncing back in Asia.
And while sales in stores have fallen, it comes as no surprise that luxury purchases online have risen throughout the crisis, doubling its market share to 23 percent in 2020 from 12 percent in 2019 – with online set to become the leading channels for luxury purchases by 2025.
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For small luxury jewellery brands like Nina Runsdorf, where traditionally it might have been hard to consider selling pieces online due to their higher price points, this has meant a chance to re-examine its business model by evolving and adapting to the situation, something Runsdorf was well placed to handle after deciding to expand her business. To do so, she appointed consultant Anne Muhlethaler, formerly of Christian Louboutin.
Muhlethaler, whose experience spans across wholesale, retail operations, strategic brand communications as well as digital innovation, was instrumental in helping the brand embark on its first significant investment into digital channels like social media and e-commerce.
Take the brand’s personal appointments for bespoke pieces, which typically would have been held in Runsdorf’s luxury atelier in New York, now being conducted via video calls. “We work together face-to-face to really understand what they are looking for,” said Runsdorf. “We create a relationship and understanding through constant communication.”
Ensuring a strong brand identity and maintaining that through the customer journey is also another point that Muhlethaler believes helps Nina Runsdorf stand out from the crowd. “The brand has to have one single voice,” she said. “Everyone who is a part of Nina Runsdorf understands what that voice is to portray to the outside world.”
“For me, the definition of luxury is simple, privacy and made of the best quality,” added Runsdorf. “I feel that making the transition over the past 15 years from larger department stores to smaller boutiques, as well as our private atelier is a much more luxurious and private way of life.”
“It gives me a greater connection to my work and the people around me,” Runsdorf continued. “Luxury, whether it’s a pair of shoes or a pair of earrings, should be made of the best materials. Super luxury is bespoke, one of a kind and never compromised.”
Applying the same attention to detail to her brand’s digital channels, and treating the website and her social media channels with as much care and curation as she does her atelier, helps Runsdorf to ensure the customer experience online is as luxurious as it would be in person. And as the customer experience is constantly changing, the importance of creating relevant and interesting content on a qualitative basis to communicate with her clients remains key to ensuring the constant work, evolution and care when providing an omnichannel experience.
Maintaining that mindset, also led Runsdorf to decide to explore further ways of driving more meaningful connections for the brand, to demonstrate its values and what the company stood for, resulting in a partnership with non-profit organisation First Workings, whose aim is to help underprivileged high school students in New York gain social capital and workplace skills through paid internships.
In many ways, Runsdorf’s own journey towards starting her jewellery brand has been through seeking out and maintaining personal connections. Runsdorf, whose designs are worn by actresses Sandra Oh and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as well Oprah, first began making silver jewellery in the kitchen of her parents’ farmhouse in upstate New York aged 11.
But it was a series of opportunities, from creating a jewellery brand with her sister after graduating from college, then working at Ralph Lauren and Banana Republic in design roles, and working for her father in law’s company that led her to gather experience and expertise needed to launch her eponymous jewellery brand, with her signature style ring: The Flip Ring, a ring featuring a swinging pear shaped precious stone designed to capture the movement of light on its wearer.
Runsdorf is celebrating her company’s 15th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion she launched a new collection of jewellery featuring Tree Opals, 15 million years old fossilised wood gems, alongside other extraordinary Yawah Opals, brown diamond beads and set on warm rose gold : Tree of Life, a call back to Runsdorf’s early days of jewellery design centres on the organic shape, size and colour of the precious and semi-precious stones she works with.
Looking forward, Runsdorf is open to many different ideas for the next stage of her brand’s growth, particularly in the lifestyle segment. But more importantly, she hopes for it to be organic.
“When I think of how I began until now, everything happened organically," she said. "And with this collection called Tree of Life (and this pandemic), I am reminded of how important it is to be rooted before growing. And how interesting and unique the extensions of the brand can be, like the branches of a tree. I want the growth of my brand to be organic, and I hope it spans generations.”
Cover Image: Photo Courtesy of The Coveteur. Photographer: Alec Kugler.