How do you refine a wineglass? That’s what Rachel Cohen and Andrés Modak found themselves asking when they launched their new online home-goods brand, Snowe. The couple wanted to create stemware that was durable and stylish but still affordable. So they ditched heavy crystal for Italian glass, emulated hand-blowing techniques to render the glassware seamless, and added a titanium coat for extra strength. The result? A wineglass that shines and sounds like crystal, and won’t break like cheaper glass.
Snowe is just the latest in a new crop of housewares startups that, in the vein of Warby Parker and Everlane, cut out the middleman to offer luxury products at a lower cost. Boll & Branch and Parachute focus on bed linens—their sheet sets cost, on average, less than half as much as those from brands like Restoration Hardware and Ralph Lauren—while Tuft & Needle and Casper sell high-quality mattresses for a fraction of the typical price. Snowe’s stemware goes for $80 for a set of four; crystal and even luxury glassware can cost twice as much.
Cohen and Modak founded Snowe after they were unable to find items for their own house that were both inexpensive and well designed. They tasked their team with rethinking the basics to come up with subtle yet profound improvements, such as dish towels that can double as aprons and flatware that’s curved for effortless stacking. "We wanted to simplify the shopping experience and really focus on premium materials and qualities," says Cohen.
They may have jumped in at the right time: The global housewares industry grew to $331 billion in 2014, according to the International Housewares Association (IHA). Online sales have been growing as well, says Perry Reynolds, VP of marketing and trade development at IHA—and design has become a key factor. "The industry has changed completely from being price-driven to design-driven," he says.
"It isn’t just a beauty contest—it’s about functionality and materials. It doesn’t have to cost more to be well designed."
A version of this article appeared in the February 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.