S’well founder Sarah Kauss first heard from Starbucks when her company was experiencing what one might call a period of explosive growth in its workforce.
Katie Garbis, now S’well’s director of marketing and public relations, had just joined the company, which produces fashionable, reusable water bottles. With Garbis’s arrival, staff size doubled. At the time, S’well’s Manhattan headquarters accommodated two people, with perhaps just enough room left over to add a third officemate, should the need arise.
That was the summer of 2012 and S’well was in its second year, its eye-catching, stainless-steel water bottles earning flattering mentions in fashion publications and showing a modest uptick in sales. Kauss was surprised that Starbucks had taken notice of the company she’d founded with her savings. Starbucks wanted the Harvard Business School graduate to visit the coffee company’s headquarters in Seattle to share her story. It turned out the interest in S’well bottles on the part of Starbucks signaled a surge for the company that caught even Kauss off guard.
The appeal of S’well is that its products are both fashionable and functional. Available in a wide range of colors, designs and finishes, they’re non-leaching, non-toxic and double insulated, which keeps liquids cold for 24 hours and hot for 12 hours.
Today S’well has 35 employees and a worldwide buzz. It’s looking at its second consecutive year of 400 percent growth and Kauss credits Starbucks as being a major contributor to her company’s expansion.
Bottles were introduced at 120 Starbucks coffeehouses in Atlanta and Austin, Texas, in 2013 and promptly sold well without any press or marketing.
“We got lots of emails with exclamation points from our buyers,” Kauss recalled with a laugh.
An exclusive bottle has since been featured in Hawaii Starbucks stores as part of a signature local collection and S’well bottles are available at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle. This summer has seen the arrival of a signature New York Times Square collection exclusive to the Starbucks store in Times Square. Beginning this month (August 17, 2015) 17-ounce bottles in three colors will appear nationwide at 3,300 Starbucks company-operated stores across the U.S.
Supporting Water Charities
There is a strong charitable component to S’well’s business model. S’well supports the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, donating $100,000 in support of UNICEF’s efforts to provide clean drinking water to children around the world. The company also supports Drink Up, a campaign spearheaded by first lady Michelle Obama to encourage children to drink more water, and American Forests, which bolsters threatened forest ecosystems.
“Since the beginning, I’ve wanted to work with water charities,” said Kauss. “The whole idea of S’well is to try to get people to drink tap water and use less bottled water. At the same time, I’ve always wanted people to appreciate the resources we have and give back to the developing world that doesn’t have clean water.”
As a company that relies on agricultural products, Starbucks has long been aware that the planet is its most important business partner. Starbucks addresses climate change by minimizing its environmental footprint and creating meaningful and sustained change. This work includes building more energy efficient stores and facilities; conserving energy and water; investing in renewable energy; and exploring new solutions for recycling and making sustainable cups.