When we speak, Joe Wilkinson and Mario Maher are packing Bottega heels and Givenchy bags into cardboard boxes ready for Black Friday (November 25) when the fashion set will splurge £990 on them. In exchange, their customers will get three super-luxe items — worth, in total, anywhere between £1900 and £3200. Bargain! But there’s a kicker — buyers will have no idea what they’re going to get.
Yes, the latest cost-of-living-defying trend is spending close to a grand on a Heat Mystery Box. It’s a kind of luxury goods lucky dip - and for Wilkinson and Maher, who founded the company three years ago, it’s a pretty lucrative business model. “We’re both from Sheffield,” says Wilkinson. “We like to cause a bit of a fuss.”
I’m sure you’re thinking: what money prolapsing psychopath would invest in clothes they haven’t even seen? Fair point. But there is method in the madness as they’ve sold 30,000+ boxes, and this January raised $5 million funding from Antler and LVMH Luxury Ventures. The boys selling surprises are striking gold.
It began with a £250 ‘Streetwear Box’. The two friends clocked on to a wicked problem that many luxury brands faced — what to do with unsold stock they want to keep cool? Discount them and loose brand value. Or they could burn it —as labels including Burberry were exposed to be doing in 2018 — but then risk condemnation. “We saw the Mystery Box as a vessel to solve all those worries,” Wilkinson says. Shift the overstock for cheap — without a trace.
With the help of YouTube unboxing videos, Heat went viral and the first 1000 sold out in a week — 95 per cent to boys. Brands soon realised it was a channel to new buyers and, like Casablanca, Canada Goose and JW Anderson have, want to partner. “It’s a chance to convert that Gen Z customer into a customer for life,” says Wilkinson. Once you own a label, emerging or mega, you care about it.
Now they have a 600k-strong Instagram following and have introduced new box tiers available every month. There’s a ‘Streetwear Plus Box’, £500, with the likes of Palm Angels and Bape, a ‘Contemporary Box’, £650, with Maison Margiela and Casablanca types; and this month they launched the ‘Superbrand Box’, with Prada, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, that sold out in an hour. “We thought wow, that’s a £1000 mystery, not £100,” says Maher. “People are seeing this as a new way to shop.”
Last night I received a £650 Contemporary Box and admit, hauling it home, I was excited. Inside was a great shearing collar JW Anderson jacket (RRP £990), brown Bianca Saunders slacks (RRP £635) and a Sunnei green t-shirt (RRP £125). The lads have taste. I might not have bought it all, but I will certainly wear it.
They do offer returns, but have found disappointment levels are low. “Our returns rate is below 20 per cent, better than the industry average when you know what you’re buying,” says Wilkinson. Still, they want to better it with a just launched Style Profile feature. You can select colours you hate, fits you want to avoid, and the brands you love. “It’s almost been a one shoe fits all until now, but we’re starting taking customer preferences on board past gender and sizing,” he continues.
You pay for their curation, a stress-free way into a market saturated with products, and content if you want to film yourself. Still, the boys remain surprised. “It’s crazy people will spend £1000, and buy multiple boxes in the same drop. But it’s event-based shopping,” says Wilkinson. “The younger customer isn’t browsing pages and pages of products. What’s exciting about that?”
The next Heat drop is on Black Friday, November 25, heat.io