Tequila, that infamous breed of crazy-inducing booze so beloved of Hollywood superstars looking to lock down their retirement portfolios (see Clooney, Timberlake and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson for the tip of the A-list iceberg) is on the cusp of being usurped by mezcal. The cooler cousin of the archetypal brain-bender, it’s imbued with more mystical vibes and the kind of artisanal credibility to make any self-respecting crafts spirit connoisseur go moist at the shot glass; while Mezcal is actually made in more regions of Mexico than tequila it involves a slower, more painstaking underground production, making it a small-batch style labor of love (and a brand storyteller’s dream).
It’s also a cleaner drink – by law there’s zero tolerance on artificial fillers – making it a magnet for the wellness warrior/hedonism-lite generation gen Z & Y whom, while not tee-total, would generally prefer that a banging night out didn’t interfere with their 6:30am SoulCycle session.
Now emerging from its predominantly US confinement, it’s a booming global market, growing 10.4% annually to a predicted $395.8m by 2026, as part of an agave-shift to overtake even rum. While currently a drop in the ocean compared to tequila consumption, the big boys of Pernod Ricard and Diageo (respective owners of Del Maguey, Mezcal Unión and Casamigos which is now also into mezcal) have already moved in, but single brand awareness is still negligible, creating an open playing field for those with the tactical smarts and capacity to read the Covid-era (read: youth-centric) room more succinctly.
Enter the just-launched Rosaluna – an indie label crafted by a collective of acclaimed brand-builders who thrive on doing things differently that’s already making significant inroads into the market (scroll to the end for the cold hard metrics). Now applying their strategic nous born from lives forged in the beauty, health-food, fashion and music worlds to mezcal, here’s the inside track:
From Beauty Don to the DONDA Collective: Inside Rosaluna
Rosaluna, several years in the making, is the brainchild of an American foursome including Freddie Martignetti, an investor and adviser at global VC firm Highland Capital, and entrepreneur Pepe Mireles, with two and half decades’ experience in real estate, hospitality and interior design. But the strategic thrust is led by Terry Lee – former COO at underwear subscription brand, MeUndies, and investor to brands including organic e-market, Thrive Market, and Nate Brown, a prolific yet stealthy creative director (don’t try and connect with him on Linkedin) best known for his work with superstars Jay-Z, Drake and Beyoncé.
For the production the team has partnered with siblings JJ and Frida Méndez León Jiménez, part of a mezcal dynasty whose family have been crafting it for over six generations in the hills of Oaxaca, Mexico, making it a rare single estate heritage operation.
Brown, whose success at least partly lies in an understanding of the modern brand experience as being both content-driven and brilliantly borderless (he’s directed stage visuals, music videos, fashion performances and pretty much any intersection of those you can imagine) is renowned as an arbiter of cool. He has a track record for coming to the right table at the right time or, perhaps more accurately, having an innate gift for igniting the right creative touch-papers just where and when they need it.
Earlier in his career he with worked with now-defunct but eternally iconic US luxury department store Barney’s on a series of experimental mixed media concepts which became its editorial site The Window (an online forum instrumental in catapulting fashion fledglings like Alexander Wang into the limelight) while latterly being part of Kanye West’s enigmatic DONDA creative collective.
As such, the traditional D2C brand playbook will be flexed, possibly torn apart. As Lee says, “We don’t even really see other mezcal brands as competitors.”
Humility & Accessible Luxe: Playing to a Populist Cool
They may play down competition and indeed categorisation – demographic is a dirty word (“I think the term itself is quite predatory, it’s more about attending to a psychographic” says Brown) – but the brand undoubtedly skews youthwards. Hence an approach embedded in a wider shift towards inclusive luxury and populist cool, crystallised by fashion brands of the moment such as Telfar, whose affordable blockbuster ‘the Bushwick Birkin’ bag and motto ‘Not for You, For Everyone’ symbolises the attitude of a generation pushing back against price-prohibitive ring-fenced cool.
Brown & Lee say that while the Rosaluna is unequivocally high-quality enough for it to sate a connoisseur’s palate, the brand ethos, communications and price (approx. $40 for a 750ml bottle) are conceived to be inviting, inclusive and call out to the mezcal curious. “We think of Rosaluna as a gateway mezcal,” says Lee. “We’re not alienating connoisseurs, but we want to have a sense of humility because that’s really the essence of mezcal from our perspective. There’s a race in the [mezcal] sector to become the most obscure, but that’s not us,” says Brown.
Lee suggests there’s an even bigger stance at play, beyond the long-standing tyranny of fashion’s consumer-baiting cartels: “The US is in a very divisive place at the moment. Rosaluna represents the idea of saying ‘everyone can sit with us’ regardless of background or ethnicity.”
New Influence: Chain Reaction Creativity
Walking the walk as regards that inclusivity, a core part of the brand plan is to watch the creative unfurl as a series of chain reactions, including using ‘influencers’, for want of a better term, who don’t adhere to contemporary cash-for-posts standards.
According to Brown they’re currently avoiding “transactional influencer initiatives”, including traditional influencer dinners or even sector critic tastings in favor of using friends and discoveries on social media whom they gift bottles of Rosaluna and then simply watch what comes back, without direction or intervention.
Bearing traces of creative director-stylists such as Nicola Formichetti – Lady Gaga’s long-term conspirator and a new media-obsessive famous for devouring social platforms to scout talent or collaborators – the duo say they never reference traditionally quantifiable ROI, instead seeking those with whom they may be able to instigate a longer-term creative dialogue.
Examples? At one end of the spectrum take American drag queen and TV personality @ageofaquaria (1.7m Instagram followers). At the other, PR @giakuan – billed (by Document Journal) as the gatekeeper to New York’s fashion renaissance, with a relatively modest 14k on Instagam. “We love lighting fires,” says Brown, “and including those people who would never normally be part of the spirits world.”
Live, Unpredictable & Low-Fi: Learnings from the Music Business
According to Brown, “when you’re trying to walk in a new category there has to be a level of organised chaos for it to work,” a skill he’s learnt from his time with Beyoncé et al, where the polished performances were underscored by relentless last-minute changes of visuals or choreography. “We’ll be working in a similar way [because we’re anti-mechanical, we don’t tick boxes, and we want to focus on always shifting the process so that we’re genuinely leaning into being a digital-first, story driven brand.”
Unlike players like NTWRK (the next-gen shoppable TV app that blends ComplexCon with Comic-Con) that runs on organised cultural programming to give its fans their kicks via a kind of structured spontaneity, according to Brown, “it’s not about engineering cultural moments, it’s about responding to them.”
Agile creative reflexes and fast-fire content creation will be essential, a process that necessitates going low-fi. The last month has included an Insta video by @discocubes (a superbly niche creative that goes by the title ‘visual artist and ice cube innovator’); an analogue-esque motion graphic rippling with cosmic vibes to flag the midnight launch of its site and several live stream sessions on Soundcloud. Other tools mooted for use include discussion platform Reddit which Sprite used to significant success for its No Esta Solo campaign in 2019 (it devised a subreddit of 13 different sub-forums around loneliness) and, less surprising but ultra-apt, the barely containable force of high-vibe video banter that is TikTok.
The love for low-fi, a rejection of classic branding school rigor in favor of the intuitively timely, should not be underestimated. “Since working with Kanye West where we mood boards relentlessly I’ve become anaesthetized that kind of 360° visual process,” says Brown. “It’s not about striving for a contained, cohesive brand universe, it’s about an evolution. Most of the creative references for Rosaluna are from recent shots taken on my iPhone.”
But Is It Actually Working?
So far suggests extremely good. Rosaluna is the first brand to partner with alcohol delivery service Drizly (a business that has itself grown 350% from 2019, raising $50m in new funding in the summer); it’s the first house mezcal for Soho House’s clubs in US; and they’ve secured placement in America’s Total Wine & More alcohol retailer, which Lee emphasises typically takes years to infiltrate. Additionally, 30+% of the initial inventory has been sold in the first two weeks since launch, and 2020 and 2021 sales projections have been hiked up by 50%.
Both agree that the key to success in an era marked by significant attitudinal shifts regarding eco-ethical perspectives, the value of more intimate brand-fan connections and consumer-powered creativity, is to grow by not considering how to scale.
According to Lee: “Its counterintuitive because most brands are all about taking it to the first million. In the US in particular we’re ingrained with a capitalist mindset, but, borrowing from author, Simon Sinek [British-born American author and motivational speaker], ‘there are finite games and there are infinite games’. Sports are finite games and businesses are infinite games. Our goal is to play the infinite game, where we build something worth pursuing indefinitely.”