Interview with the co-CEOs of Aurate – JCK
Launched in 2015, Aurate has become one of the industry’s best-known digital native brands.
In December, he opened a store on Madison Avenue in New York, followed by a store in San Francisco, which opened on Friday. Here, co-founders and co-CEOs Bouchra Ezzahraoui and Sophie Kahn talk about how they tried to make their stores different, their plans for the future, and why they think jewelry has done well during the pandemic.
Are these your first two stores?
Bouchra Ezzahraoui: We started with a pop-up store, when we had no funding, very early on. We have always believed that omnichannel – getting to know the customer directly in real life and letting them touch and feel [the jewelry]- was super important. We had our first pop-up in 2016, when Sophie and I weren’t even working full-time on Aurate.
In 2018, we hosted a few pop-ups in New York, as well as Boston and Washington, DC. We also opened two full-time stores in New York that we had to close due to the pandemic. It comes back to where we were. We ran the stores not only profitably, but they were also amazing community hubs to get to know our customers, get data about our customers, and also [displaying] products in real life.
Is there anything that makes these stores unique?
Sophie Kahn: We wanted our stores to be very different from other jewelry stores. Because, like Aurate, we try to be different, so the stores have to be different too. If you walk past our store, it doesn’t look like a typical jewelry store that has jewelry on display. We have big rocks at the window, and often people thought we were a gallery. You had a lot of Instagrammable moments, people coming over because they thought it was cool.
When you walk in, we have three sections that tell the story of the brand. The first section is about sustainability, giving back to the earth and beyond. It explains how we use recycled gold and ethically sourced diamonds.
The middle section [shows] once we have the gold and the diamonds, what do we do with them? We finish them by hand with artisans around the world. There are black and white images of how the parts are made and designed.
The final section is basically the customer wearing the jewelry. You see our clientele, which is very diverse, actually wearing the jewelry in different settings. Because they are jewels for life. That’s our goal, and that’s what we want to see. The idea is that when a customer arrives, you guide them through their journey [that shows] what Aurate is.
Do you plan to open in other cities?
Ezzahraoui: Much depends on the data. Our #1 market is California. Before the pandemic, we planned to open in San Francisco and LA, and unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to do so. But we always watched [the West Coast].
Many D-to-C companies are opening retail stores due to the high cost of digital advertising, and they view it as a form of advertising. Was that a factor for you?
Kahn: Our CAC [customer acquisition costs] on the online side increased less than our AOV [average order value]. We have become more and more efficient online. As we grew, we became profitable as a business. It’s not that we’re doing this because online acquisition costs are so high. Rather, we have always believed in the power of retail. So yeah, it’s free marketing, it’s extra revenue, it’s extra profit.
In the beginning, when we weren’t so big online, the stores created credibility. It’s less relevant now that we’ve established ourselves, but, at the end of the day, it’s still free marketing.
Do you have any targets for the number of stores we would like to see: ?
Ezzahraoui: The number is not established. We think about it in economic terms, but also in terms of the location of our customers.
We certainly have other plans to expand and expand the retail presence. We were in retail before the pandemic, so we know what that entails and what resources go into it.
Kahn: Even in New York, we had three stores. So we just opened one on Madison Avenue. But we had stores in Williamsburg [Brooklyn] and SoHo, we could easily reopen. [We’re looking at] LA, Chicago, parts of Texas.
What is your average price?
Ezzahraoui: Our sweet spot is $400 to $500.
You are considered a millennial brand. What is the average age of your customers?
Kahn: Bouchra and I are really ambitious about what we wanted to accomplish. We don’t want to be a niche and have only one segment. So, yes, there is the core, which is between 25 and 35 years, the millennium. But the younger population also buys us, as well as the older population, from 45 to 65 years old.
Our Madison Avenue client is older. Our client from Williamsburg was younger. We have opening price levels at $50. We have a colorful necklace that completely sold out in 48 hours, around $100. We have a diamond necklace that sold for $5,000. Which also sold out within 48 hours. We play at both ends of the spectrum.
How much business do you do?
Kahn: We don’t really share that, unfortunately.
OKAY. Can you share how many clients you have?
Ezzahraoui: It’s in the hundreds of thousands.
You have received funding in the past. What are your plans for the future? Are you looking for more or could you see yourself going public?
Ezzahraoui: In 2020, entering the pandemic, we became profitable, which was an important step. And we continue to be. It gave us a lot of luxury to think about the road we want to take. We absolutely want to develop further. For us, funding is more about being strategic. Who do we think is a good partner?
We will definitely be looking [for] a growth partner who understands the business and can take us to the next level.
You do not use other designers. In your opinion, what distinguishes Aurate’s jewelry?
Kahn: I design everything, so I have very strong [sense] of who is our wife. It’s this balance between being feminine but also very daring. The bold classic piece.
That being said, we have two pillars. We have the classics, i.e. jeans and jewelry t-shirts. These are items that everyone wants and needs, that you will buy and eventually keep and send to the next generation. Then you have your capsules which are more about storytelling. We did a lioness capsule with Kerry Washington, with a whole story about female empowerment. Rather, they are storytelling moments where we can be a bit more experimental.
You said your model is “disruptive”. Why?
Kahn: The first part is the price quality. That’s how it all started. Bouchra and I were having brunch as friends from graduate school. I got this crazy green finger from an overpriced ring, and Bouchra is from Morocco and she knows the value of gold. It got us talking about why we can’t afford real gold. Why can we, for a certain budget, only get terrible quality? Aurate’s beginning was to provide high quality at an affordable price.
Ezzahraoui: For me, this sparked and started the conversation about how the market treats women and only sees them as recipients of gifts, which is not necessarily the case. Women should be empowered to buy for themselves, they should be very educated about what they buy for themselves. In the same way that they buy t-shirts, they should be able to buy these hoops, in high quality and even at high prices. They make 80% of purchasing decisions and households in the United States
When we started, the conversation about sustainability and ethical sourcing wasn’t really on the market. We’ve been hammering on this topic since day one. A lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon as these things have become more relevant and customers have become more vocal. But that wasn’t really the case in 2016 or 2017.
Kahn: The most important part is to put the customer first. Because we are D2C, we have a lot of data and we use it to design. Instead of looking at the sky and deciding how I feel that day, it’s about talking to our client, figuring out what they need. and design from there.
The jewelry industry had a great year last year. Any reason you see for this?
Ezzahraoui: Our product is timeless. Fine jewelry is emotional, but it is also an investment in a way. In a world where you have all these fears of inflation and people are thinking about where they should allocate their money, gold has always been a hedge against inflation.
A lot of people have been stuck at home for two years and had disposable income and when you think about it, what’s the next emotional thing you want to do? Buy something for yourself that means something.
Top: Aurate co-founders and co-CEOs Bouchra Ezzahraoui and Sophie Kahn (photos courtesy of Aurate)
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