Minimum viable niceness – when high design and average quality make a happy consumer

In the consumer world, design and appearances matter. People want to feel good using the items they buy, for wearing or for everyday use. And with ever-improving just-in-time supply chains and the rapid dispersion of ideas via the internet, it’s hard to keep the best designs a secret. Which has given consumers the M.O. to comparison shop, to find a nice version of the thing they want that will work well and cost less than the ultra premium. We are looking for minimum viable niceness.

There are a few brands that have come up with a mass market model, that have cracked the “fast-follow” code such that they can rapidly roll out a cheaper rendition for a fraction of the price. No, this isn’t the Canal Street equivalent of a “Louis Vuitton” handbag anymore; these items will last well beyond one use. Here’s my view on some of the “nice with a good price” go-tos.

Wayfair

When kitting out my new home, I found lamps and bed frames that looked straight out of a Chelsea furniture store, but at a fraction of the price. I was pleased that products matched the website pictures to the tee.

Macy’s

Their buyers seriously know what they are doing. I’ve seen brands like BCBG that are rapidly losing their brick and mortar footprint have much more stylish pieces at Macy’s with 40% markdowns on top. I also found my futuristic leather couch for a fraction of what the high end decor stores would charge.

Beauty in general

A lot of skin care product quality depends on ingredients more than brands. I advise getting a facial or two and picking the brains of your estheticians. They often have a few recommendations that are inexpensive. And for make-up, I learned from a beauty business person that all eye shadows are basically the same.

Ann Taylor

This one is sort of a hidden gem. I have found some great dresses and accessories there that are nearly runway. It’s hit or miss – but the hits are well worth the browsing.

Stitch Fix

I am continually impressed with their stylists’ ability to find on-trend items, personalized to me, at reasonable prices. I’d give Stitch Fix a try if you don’t have a nose for fashion wins but, rather, “know it when you see it”.

You may be wondering how we got to this point of having so many moderately priced, stylish consumer product king pins. The advent of “masstige” brands like Target in the 1990s brought the the public the idea that they could own decent stuff that represented personal styles at a very reasonable price. This was easier to pull off in the fashion industry to start, where the styles of the season are established a year or so ahead of time, allowing fast fashion houses like Zara and H&M to crank up their supply chains as soon as Italian models hit the runway. The next frontier for affordability after fashion was home decor and furnishings. We saw brands like Ikea and Wayfair give West Elm and RH a run for their money. And beauty brands like L’Oreal convey modest luxury while also being available at CVS. So now, in our great nation, personal style can be done at prices that work with the people and for the people.