Meet the member-owned brands in our Soho Boxes

A box of chocolates, wine and a backgammon board on a table.

Four of our members, whose products are included in our second edition of Soho Boxes, reveal the stories behind their brands and how they navigated lockdown

By Emma Page   Above image: Soho Boxes (Soho Home)    Thursday 27 August, 2020     Long read

Few of us could have predicted what lay in store as we optimistically raised a toast to the coming year on New Year’s Eve 2019. Within a matter of weeks, the pause button had been pressed on our daily lives without warning. And in that unsettlingly quiet interlude, myriad businesses faced their biggest challenge yet, small enterprises or big, start-up or large scale. 

Many doubled down on their efforts to stay agile. Some members, whose products are featured in a new shoppable range of Soho Boxes launching this week, had to change course unexpectedly, redefine their strategies or respond overnight to the altered buying patterns of lockdown. All of them learned valuable lessons about dealing with the unknown.

‘We knew that the pandemic would turn everything upside down, but couldn’t imagine the extent of the disruption,’ reflects Nick Doman, cofounder of Ocean Bottle, whose product funds the removal of tonnes of plastic waste per year from the world’s coastlines. 

In Doman’s case, hundreds of local plastic collectors faced the need to self-isolate, with an immediate impact on their primary income. Doman and cofounder Will Pearson moved quickly to mitigate the effects. They launched a new limited-edition bottle originally earmarked for a later release, via a COVID-19 relief fund, to help tide workers over while they were unable to work.
A hand holding up a blue bottle with Rio in the background.
Two men sitting on stairs.
‘Will and I are used to being two feet away from each other, in a constant exchange of ideas,’ says Doman. ‘In addition, we sell our bottles at festivals and events. That opportunity evaporated.’ Despite this, the brand found other ways to evolve, conceiving a ‘buy one, send one to the NHS’ campaign and expanding their reach among loyal followers. ‘We love to engage with people who post themselves using our bottles in different settings, whether at home or on the go; that is hugely motivational,’ explains Doman. ‘Knowing we have a mission to fulfil is what gets us up in the morning. And we are still, hopefully, on track to collect seven billion bottles by 2025.’

Sajani Amarasiri had barely finished perfecting the recipe for her Super Green Latte in her mother’s Sri Lankan kitchen when the pandemic put paid to her plans. But she decided to launch Kola Goodies, her powdered wellness drinks range, anyway. ‘We had to change our approach instantly,’ she says. ‘Although we are largely an online retail brand, we planned to do much more in terms of partnering with cafes and shops. Instead, we refined the messaging to focus on the home care element of the drinks and switched distribution channels to embrace influencer partnerships and brand collaborations.’ 

It’s been a learning curve like no other, but San Francisco-based Amarasiri believes her passion for the product is key. ‘It’s about authenticity,’ she says. ‘It’s an ode to my childhood and heritage, inspired by the breakfast porridge, Kola Kanda, that my mum made me as a child. I feel that there’s still room to bring that South Asian wellness ritual to a Western audience.’
A woman smiling behind a kitchen counter.
Sajani Amarasiri (courtesy of Kola)
The pandemic also produced unexpected opportunities for some businesses. Luxury loungewear brand Asceno, known for its coveted silk pyjamas, woke to an increased appetite for casual stay-at-home pieces. ‘We saw a big uplift in silk pyjama sales at the beginning of lockdown and, despite feeling apprehensive about what was going to happen, we wanted to embrace that momentum,’ says cofounder Poppy Sexton-Wainwright. ‘Adding our pyjamas to Soho Home’s Big Night In box seemed the perfect step. Since then, we’ve also seen an upswing in easy linen pieces.’ 

Nevertheless, lockdown has been tough on the wider team who are working remotely, and their wellbeing has been high on Sexton-Wainwright and cofounder Lauren Leask’s list of priorities. ‘Kindness is crucial when running a business, and empathy too,’ they reflect. ‘We are a young, small company, used to being agile. COVID-19 has reminded us how important that is. We took the opportunity to lean into our brand DNA and ensure we felt happy with who we were. That led to a greater drive to commit to a more sustainable ethos, lately incorporating organic linen and bamboo satin into the collections.’
Two women sitting on a bench.
A woman wearing silk pyjamas getting out of a car.
For some, the curtailing of travel has been a significant obstacle. ‘We’re no longer able to head to Japan to have face-to-face meetings,’ says Dan Rubinoff, cofounder of Soto Sake, whose saké has appeared on the menus at Ludlow House, Soho House West Hollywood and Soho Beach House Miami. ‘Doing business in Japan is very proper and ceremonial; it requires that you’re physically present and you need to put in the time to build those human connections.’ 

The unexpected grounding led Rubinoff and business partner Billy Melnyk to reappraise. ‘Every business associated with hospitality has had to rethink how they share their products during COVID-19,’ says Melnyk. ‘You have to find different ways to surprise and delight.’ The duo refocused on online training, as well as spotlighting responsible drinking with friends and family at home. 
A group of people sitting around an outdoor table that has two bottles on it.
Soto Sake (courtesy of Soto Sake)
‘The good news is that those sales have increased, which had yet to happen five years ago.’ But the pair’s main focus is on their evergreen partnerships. ‘It’s not always about delivering greater profit year-on-year,’ Melnyk reflects. ‘Taking care of your employees, customers and vendors has incredible value. If you help those that help you, your business will flourish.’ 

The new collection of Soho Boxes is available for purchase now via
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