S’well – From empty bottle to meaningful fashion accessory – Interview with Sarah Kauss, Founder and Chairwoman

Sarah Kauss, Founder

For those who do not know about S’well (are there any such people left?) –  S’well sells re-usable and very chic water bottles, that became ‘de-rigeur’, shortly after Sarah Kauss started selling the now iconic 17oz, insulated bottles in 2010.

And how that happened is, of course, a story that interests us students of Brand Elevation*. Here is a brand that transform what should be a commodity –bottles – into an iconic fashion accessory at $40 a pop.  In fact, we can talk about S’well having kicked in gear a massive category elevation and value creation.  Reusable water bottles are estimated to have have generated over $8bn in worldwide sales in 2018 alone and still grow at a rate of 3-5% year-on-year.  It’s ‘guestimated’ that S’well has a $150 to 200 million dollar share in those sales.  But the privately owned company doesn’t share financials.  And today S’well is not only selling bottles but a broader portfolio of re-usable containers, as we will hear in the interview.

Sarah and I talk about the Why, What and How of creating the S’well brand and of  keeping it going and growing.  As we will discover, again, many of the ‘principles of Ueber-Branding’ are at work.

Click play below and  –  Enjoy!

swell bottle line-up



* Brand Elevation is also the title of our latest book, a how-to guide to giving a brand meaning, making it peerless and priceless. Click here to order your copy now.

For deep insights into what drives the success of purpose-driven brands like S’well read our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueberbrands,” and other posts on this blog-cast.  ”

We recommend this fascinating account of “How Fancy Water Bottles Became An 21st Century Status Symbol” by Amanda Mull in The Atlantic.

Here is a link to the S’well website and some of the ‘About’ content we talk about in the interview.

About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here: https://bit.ly/UeberBooks
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2 Responses to S’well – From empty bottle to meaningful fashion accessory – Interview with Sarah Kauss, Founder and Chairwoman

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting interview! Compliments!
    Harald Rösch


    • JP Kuehlwein says:

      I was thinking if you when Sarah said ‘I did not see us compete with those bottles with a carabiner in them.’ That’s differentiation. Of course other brands have created substantial value in that segment, too.


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