Founded only in 2006, BuzzFeed has become one of the most successful and influential media outlets of the past decade. They have conquered editorial, digital, visual, and social media. Now with their Product Labs, opened ten years later in 2016, they are set to take on the world of merchandising, as well. The office is run by Ben Kaufman, who founded the Mophie portable charging phone case company at only age seventeen and subsequently began his own startup, Quirky, dedicated to niche consumer products for the Internet age. A few years later, Kaufman and his team were acquired by BuzzFeed to translate their editorial success into an online, and eventually a brick and mortar, shop.
What makes the Product Labs so innovative is how differently they function compared to other consumer merchandising companies in partnership with BuzzFeed. While most groups rigorously test products to track their popularity among consumers, BuzzFeed has utilized their status as social media tastemakers to flip the script - to have a dialogue with their customers about what they like and intuitively respond to the demand.
“Someone tweeted at us ‘You guys should make this into a book - verbatim’ and we did,” Christina DiRusso, the Head of Marketing for BuzzFeed Product Labs, recalled with a laugh. She explained to the Manhattan Sideways team that the origin of The President and the Big Boy Truck, a satirical children’s book about President Donald Trump, was taken from a post on the editorial side. This is not the only time the Labs have capitalized on something that the president said: After Trump called the media outlet “a failing pile of garbage” in his first press conference since the election, Kaufman and his team made t-shirts and trash cans to mark the occasion within two hours. This quick reaction time is thanks in part to 3D printing and in-house production, which allows them to keep up with the speed of a web browser. Most of the team comes from the world of physical products, giving the media experts at BuzzFeed the consumer know-how to keep sales going.
“All of our products are inherently social,” DiRusso shared as she showed us around the colorful office. One of their most successful items is the customizable Tasty Cookbook. Since Tasty - which makes videos that populate many Facebook newsfeeds featuring interesting and simple cooking tutorials - is one of BuzzFeed's most popular elements, this product is a perfect example of the editorial side feeding into the shop. The book features a rotating list of the most shared recipes, personalized based on the customer’s categorical preference. The children’s edition of this book also features the customer’s name on the front of the book, adding yet another personal touch. Another one of their exciting projects is the Glam Spinner, a fidget spinner with lip gloss in it, made in partnership with beauty company Taste Beauty, who are known for novelty products like Felicia the Flamingo lip balm.
Perhaps their most noteworthy product is Homesick Candles, a line of candles with scents designed to smell like each of the fifty states and Puerto Rico, as well as a few notable cities. The idea is that no matter where you travel you can always experience the smell of home. Homesick currently occupies the storefront of BuzzFeed Product Labs in the Flatiron district and will likely stay there for the remainder of 2017, as it is the first long-term installment of a rotating merchandising space. The space has hosted other events, such as meet and greets with the popular BuzzFeed internet celebrities "The Try Guys". Our favorite Homesick scent over at Manhattan Sideways is, of course, "New York", which features “forest brush crunching underfoot and the autumn fragrance of pumpkins and apple orchards. Sweet hay and rushing river mix with spice notes of nutmeg and cinnamon to finish.”
This Swedish Lutheran church is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2015. The church, organized by two missionaries, was named for Gustavus II Adolphus, who was King of Sweden from 1611-1632. Though the church opened in 1865, it was not until the early 1900s that English services began on a regular basis and electricity was installed in the building. The membership fluctuated over the years that followed, as the church introduced attractions such as the Sewing Club, Help Our Neighbors Eat Year-Round, and the Basement Coffeehouse Program for college students and young adults. In 1961, the church had the honor of hosting a memorial service for the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. In celebration of this milestone anniversary, Gustavus Adolphus is renovating its interior, and replacing the chandeliers and stained glass windows in preparation for a festival in the fall of 2015.
“We come together on the common ground of arts, letters, and women owning their own destinies, ” stated Executive Director Dawn Delikat. For well over a century, Pen and Brush has been dedicated to supporting women in the visual arts and literature. The organization was founded by two sisters and painters, Janet and Mimi Lewis, who were frustrated with being barred from art societies solely on the basis of their gender. Knowing of so many talented women suffering a similar fate, the siblings decided to create Pen and Brush to “stop asking for permission and forge their own way in the city. ”Though the group was nomadic for thirty years, it was able to purchase its first location in 1923. Decades later in the early 1960s, the ladies celebrated paying off their mortgage by dressing in their finest ballgowns and burning the contract in the fireplace. “Women persevering is as much of our understory as anything else. ” The organization carries the torch passed down by these remarkable women, whose members include First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and a number of Nobel laureates. Today, Pen and Brush’s goal remains the same, albeit adapted to twenty-first-century circumstances. As such, it makes space for both women and non-binary voices — better reflecting our evolving conceptions of the gender spectrum — and works to bring in the diversity that has been kept out of the canon “not for lack of talent, but for lack of access. ” To this end, Pen and Brush functions as an art gallery and a book publisher, where visual artists and writers from across the world can submit their work. The group evaluates submissions, seeking pieces “that need to be supported, ” either for expressing something that has not been said before or for demonstrating an incredibly high skill level. This has meant giving career-making opportunities to veteran artists looking to break the glass ceiling of their field, gifted students just out of an MFA program, and self-taught artists who received no formal introduction to the art world. Achieving true equality in the arts and letters may seem a daunting task, but Pen and Brush is tireless in its mission to give a platform to brilliant women and non-binary creators. “We can’t give up on them. We have to build into the future so that we can keep passing that torch, so maybe someday, it won’t be needed. ”
Living Fresh Men’s Spa was the first men-only spa in New York when it opened in the early 2000s. Here, men can relax and enjoy luxurious spa treatments in the privacy of this serene, dark wood and stone-paneled space. The store’s entrance is small, so most people are unaware of its existence. Once we walked inside, we were both enchanted and impressed by how extensive and comprehensive it is – a contemporary, warmly lit seating area leads back to a well-appointed bar, manicure and pedicure room, and a long hallway of private spa rooms dedicated separately to facial, body, and hair removal treatments and services. Living Fresh Men’s Spa also works with botox and filler treatments, laser hair removal, ReFirm skin tightening, and acne laser therapy. Each thoughtfully-appointed treatment room has its own sauna and shower. We found Living Fresh to be a luxurious setting for busy, stressed, or simply hygiene-obsessed men to take care of their bodies and release some of the tensions brought on by the daily cacophony of New York. From Tuesday through Saturday, after 6pm, men can enjoy 20% off single service massages.
We stumbled into BXL on a blisteringly hot day and were met by their refreshing air conditioning -- reason enough to stay. But even more, BXL is a splendid space, with warm wooden floors, banquette seating indoors and tables set up outside when the weather cooperates... and a very kind European owner. We spoke to Klaas about his restaurant and learned that having grown up in Belgium, and completing his training, he became the private chef for their ambassador. He was disarmingly charismatic and kind as he told us about BXL’s menu – he emphasized the "all you can eat" mussel pots that come with a cold Stella for $22. 00 and the array of different sauces to choose from: white wine shallot broth, white wine and cream, endive and cream, wheat beer, cream with bacon and onions, coconut milk with lemon grass and curry. Mussels are not the only food choice. There are other great Belgian dishes, plus simple burgers, pasta and salads. Without a doubt, stopping by BXL for a cold beer and some friendly conversation was exactly what our team needed.