Free Pencils and Pricey Cashmere: Branding is Not in the Label

KOTAW Off the Clock - Adventures of the KOTAW Girl Gang laced with mini marketing tips

This year, for my Libra younger daughter’s birthday, Kelsey said she wanted to do all her birthday shopping as a family. That way, she said, she got to spend more time with her elder sister Bri – and me! (That oh-so clever rhyme was just in case any of my loyal readers happened to forget that my favorite writer is Dr. Seuss. But I digress!)

Why branding is so much more than labels | KOTAW Content MarketingKelsey had already decided several years back that she wanted to be a participant in the baking of her birthday cakes and the cooking of her birthday meals.

And her logic made perfect sense: Who really wants to spend hours of her birthday alone while her family prepares a secret, special birthday meal?

And with this family, when we say, “special,” we mean business!

One past birthday celebration for Kelsey included a “Marie Antoinette” theme in which Bri and I decorated our entire living room to look like the beautiful cinematography in Sophia Coppola’s decadent and stunning film. Translation: Bri and I made NUMEROUS multi-tiered cakes, made roses and even high heel shoes out of chocolate and filled the room with colorful homemade pastries, flowers and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Our overly ambitious party idea paid off big time (Kelsey loved her party so much she used pictures from the event as inspiration to paint a masterpiece for her Fine Arts Minor at the University of Southern California Roski School of Art and Design) and, truth be told, Kelsey wasn’t alone while Bri and I were whipping up chocolate and piling on cake tiers, but by nine at night Kelsey’s best friend was tired of trekking Kelsey all over Los Angeles and called begging Bri and me to slap some final cherries on top of our cakes and start the party (six hours after we had planned to be ready… but making flowers out of chocolate and dozens of cakes and pastries turned out not to be quite the snap Bri and I thought it would be!)

Kelsey’s cake this year had two layers, not ten — but we baked it as a family and laughed and chatted (and let our sweet Pit Bull, Ivy, sample the batter!) all the way through.

And our first birthday shopping trip as a family included a first-time adventure to the Los Angeles James Perse Boutique at Hollywood and Highland.

A Store in Disguise

Prior to visiting the James Perse boutique, Kelsey had read reviews on Yelp that said this particular location was the best because it didn’t look like a store — more like a boring warehouse building — so barely anyone knew it existed. Which meant, according to the reviews, you got the whole store to yourself and the employees were so grateful to have someone in the store to cure them of their boredom that they were exorbitantly friendly and kind.

We all laughed aloud when we were nearing our destination and saw painted in white letters over a brown building: “For those who are wondering… Yes, we are a store.”

Eager Beaver, Perplexed Pit

Still chuckling, we pulled into the (empty) lot and Ivy rah-rah-rooh’ed (her sweet pittie talk, for those not in the know!) asking us if we had made a wrong turn looking for a McDonald’s to buy her a vanilla ice cream cone!

At the sound of Ivy’s question, an overly eager James Perse salesman came running out into the lot: A customer, a customer!

The longer Ivy continued rah-rah-rooing and the longer it took for any of us to get out of the car (we always go in shifts — two-at-a-time while someone stays in the car with Ivy — and the two who are leaving always take a long time with the goodbye kisses to our pittie!) the more defeated the salesman looked: They must have made a wrong turn looking for a Petco!

When Kelsey and I finally got out of the car, leaving Bri and Ivy cuddling together with the AC on, the salesman perked up and went back into the store, probably to notify the other employees to stop looking at their Smart Phones and to get ready because: Customers are here, customers are here!

What James Perse can teach you about the power of brilliant branding | KOTAW Content Marketing

Why all entrepreneurs should aspire to the level of branding magic that James Perse has mastered.

Fashionable Math

Now before you start to feel too bad for these bored and sad-sacky James Perse employees and worry that if Kelsey and I don’t buy something, we’re going to put these poor people out of a job, you should know that all it takes is one celebrity to come in once a month and buy up one of everything in every color for their jobs to be safe.

And for anyone who pays any attention to the celebrity magazines, nine times out of ten, if you see a picture of Jennifer Aniston, she’s dressed head-to-toe in James Perse.

And oh how Kelsey and I wished we could buy one of everything in every color and always be dressed head-to-toe in James Perse too!

Kelsey immediately went for the Ribbed Cashmere Cardigan, an item she had bookmarked in a Pinterest board for quite some time and was so longing to see in real-life.

“Look Mama! If you, Bri and I all share this, it would be less than three hundred dollars each!”

I’m not going to lie — when I tried on the sweater coat that hugged me in the softest cashmere I have ever felt, Kelsey’s logic made quite a lot of sense.

Sharp Pencils, Sharper Brand

The Yelp reviews were right — the James Perse employees were extremely friendly and incredibly kind.

They happily indulged our “Let’s pretend we’re Jennifer Aniston for the day” whimsy and, when Kelsey and I were at the register paying for a pair of Vintage Fleece Sweatpants that Kelsey was excited to add to her collection, the saleswoman ringing us up even gave Kelsey a free James Perse pencil after overhearing our conversation in which Kelsey told me how cool it was that they had a whole container filled with them, all perfectly sharpened to the exact same point-length.

“Oh my God, you’ve made my day,” Kelsey said to the saleswoman, beaming from ear-to-ear.

James Perse and the power of branding | KOTAW Content Marketing

Doosis, the feline member of the KOTAW Girl Gang, thinks James Perse’s ultra-soft fabrics are kitten massage-worthy! ♥

Back on the Clock

That, my friend, is the power of good branding.

To charge customers a hundred and twenty five dollars for sweatpants, give them a free pencil, and have them leave grinning, feeling like they’ve just gotten the biggest bargain in the world.

James Perse knows its brand — and customers.

It takes a lot of guts to build a store in a building that looks like a warehouse so that people don’t actually know it’s a store, but James Perse was willing to take that risk.


I don’t know James Perse personally so I’m not able to ask him his answer, but here’s mine:

What’s more beneficial to your brand: a flashy store that attracts lots of bodies or a store you have to be “in the know” to find?

OK, that was more a question than an answer, but now I’m going to take a step in James Perse’s shoes and say that I wouldn’t want a bunch of random people walking in my store off the street, messing with my clothes that are all hanging in perfect symmetry, as though the same person who sharpened the pencils to have the same exact pencil point-length also took a tape measure and hung each clothing item exactly X inches apart.

If I were James Perse, it wouldn’t be about attracting LOTS of customers, but about attracting the RIGHT customers.

Kelsey and I walked into the store already knowing we were going to leave carrying a brown bag with the James Perse label. We didn’t know we’d leave with a free pencil as a bonus, but we knew we would be making a purchase because we already knew the quality of the brand before stepping into the store.

Just as I mentioned in my blog about Kate Spade — despite not being a fashion aficionado like Kelsey, I can spot a Kate Spade item without ever having to look at the label, the same holds true about James Perse.

When perusing the racks at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx, my pulse quickens the second I spot a fabric shade and texture that is undeniably James Perse. That’s good branding.

And that’s the level of branding magic all entrepreneurs should aspire to.

Readers should not need to see your byline to know it’s you writing and should not need to see your logo beneath an image to know it’s yours — IF there’s something that’s spectacular about your writing and images that makes it undeniably yours and IF you’ve done the proper marketing and branding to the proper audience.

James Perse knows its audience.

When I started KOTAW, I made it clear that I didn’t want numbers for numbers’ sake — I wanted each number to MEAN something.

I’m with James Perse — I don’t want a bunch of random people to come to my website, click on my blogs then click “share” in social media. I want the RIGHT people to come to my blogs and actually read them.

Each time I see a heartfelt comment under something I’ve written I know I’ve made the right marketing decision.

So please leave your comments below! I will be forever grateful — and you will always be on my KOTAWesome list! 

I want to know what YOU do when you’re “off the clock”? What special trips do you make, what guilty-pleasure TV do you watch and what family bonding activities make you smile?

James Perse and Kate Spade are on MY list — which brands do YOU not need to see the labels of to know it’s theirs?

I’m not giving away free pencils for your answers, but I am sending you lots of smiles and Ivy sends you lots of pittie wiggles!


  1. Katttt

    What a spectacular story – I came in with the intention of bookmarking this article for later, but you sucked me in as usual – with your first word – and, before I knew, I was visualizing your happy family walking out with a James Perse bag! #HUGSSSSSS

    YOU are the kind of writer I aim to be: someone whose style is so unique and distinctive and reputable that the ‘right’ people wander to my site to lap up my words with glee (oh – it’s going to take me a lonnnggggg time – if ever – to achieve the kind of mastery you have over the writing craft, but I am sooo glad that you guide me covertly with your every tagline, subheading, word, image and SMILE! Muaaahhhh

    And, omg, lady, do you bake or what! hahah I am glad if my ‘Banana Bread’ comes out with as few burnt spots as possible ;). How on earth did you create shoes and flowers out of chocolate? *in AWEEEE* You gotta teach me how to frost cupcakes :-( (although even my cupcakes are flat – but I keep trying :P )

    BTW, here’s wishing Kelsey a VERY VERY HAPPPYYYY BIRTHDAY! I apologize for not wishing her on time :-( , but I also do believe that best wishes are never late. ;) So here are my #CUSHIESSTTTKITTOHUGGSS to this adorable, affable and GENIUS artist #Muaaah

    LOVE this family sooo much

    PS: Hope Bri’s smile is back and flashing as wide as ever

    PPS: Tell me you got Ivy that ice-cream cone from McDs *Muaaah dearest* BTW, I am so glad you allow Ivy to taste the batter. Oreo is the same – he HAS to sample every thing I eat, which is scary because I am told that dogs can’t have human food :-( But this dude eats everything and is fine :P hehe I tell my exasperated husband who is worried I will kill him, “Hey! It’s the love. I love him and hence he will never get hurt” ;)

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Dearest Kit,

      My beloved Woofie graced us with her furry love for 15 years, and we baked turkeys for her every Thanksgiving, took her to In-N-Out Burger every Fourth of July and made trips to the meat department of the grocery store for her at least once a week despite the fact that we are all vegetarian. And I baked oatmeal cookies for her because they were her favorite cookie and bought her vanilla ice cream cones at McDonald’s once a week. She never gained weight and she never got sick. All dogs, like all people, are different. Some can’t tolerate wheat, dairy or chocolate and some can’t eat anything but their doggie kibble. So if Oreo develops digestive complaints after sampling something or grows an extra large tummy after sampling a LOT of somethings, common sense will tell you to stop. Until then, share in small quantities and enjoy the pleasure it gives you and Oreo.

      For four years we never told Jose (our neighbor and Ivy’s doggy daddy) that Ivy shared my fondness for dark chocolate almond clusters or preferred chocolate chips to chicken chips. He believed chocolate would poison Ivy and we respected his opinion. But, at his son’s recent birthday party, when he was admonishing Ivy to keep away from the cake, we told him that it wasn’t true that chocolate was poisonous to all dogs, that Ivy could have a bite without harm. His reaction was to cut Ivy and Lucy each a HUGE slice of cake and put it out on plates for them. Perhaps Ivy and Lucy intercepted my frantic telepathic signals because neither of them touched the cake. It was too much. And I think that’s how the “dogs can’t eat people food” myths got started — people serve their pets entire meals or a week’s worth of leftovers and, sure enough, the dogs get sick. But treats in small quantities? It brings too much pleasure to people and their pets.

      Yes, I love to bake and am thrilled that my daughters have taken up the tradition. We also love to cook, which is a good thing, because we seldom are in the mood for the same thing at the same time. Our house is like a restaurant and we cook to order from breakfast to midnight snacks. Most of our meals are simple and some are variations on a theme. We all like quinoa pasta, for example. But Bri likes hers baked in the oven with marinara sauce, broccoli and soy cheese and fresh spinach on the side, Kelsey likes hers baked with broccoli and tomato without sauce or cheese, and I like mine baked with goat cheese and topped with cold tomatoes after it’s out of the oven. Quinoa nights are about the only time we eat meals that are largely the same.

      I am honored and pleased that I can guide your writing career in any way and, most important, to remind you how talented you are. True writing talent is a gift and can’t be taught. But it can be nurtured and inspired, and I am privileged to have that role in your life.

      I will share your birthday wishes with Kelsey, and don’t worry about the timing. We tend to celebrate special occasions after their official date. We make up for it by celebrating them often! And, Bri’s beautiful smile is back!



      • Ooh – Oreo licks my bowl after I am done – lol! He LOVESSSS milk and yogurt, and I haven’t noticed any maladies because of his consumption either *knock on wood*, so I am going to feed his soul for now ;)

        I feel a whole lot better now that you have assuaged my concerns. I just find it cruel to not let him sample my food when he looks at me with those gooey – ‘bedroom’ – eyes ;) ehheheh

        And promise me you will teach me to frost? #HUGSSSSS

        LOVE YOUU – thank you for being my Mama, my Mentor and my MUSE <3


        PS: You never told me whether Ivy got her Ice Cream Cone that day ;) Oh – how cute must she look while licking the cone – awwwwwwww

  2. …ooh, and I don’t quite ‘know’ any brand! LOL I am not a fashionable person ;) I just buy whatever is on sale at Walmart, TJ Maxx or Target :P I do love colors, so anything bright and vibrant grabs my attention.

    LOVEE YOUU (and I still remember that Kate Spade article – especially your beaming face and that adorable Polka Dotted outfit)

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I come from a family of seamstresses so most of my clothes were handmade when I was growing up, and I had no outside fashion sense. I also, sadly, had little appreciation for my one-of-a-kind designs, just as I had scant gratitude for the cookies my mom baked. I wanted a department store dress and a grocery store cookie!

      I never stopped being surprised when someone complimented a skirt my mom made me or a bathing suit I made myself. But, without knowing it, all the time spent in fabric stores and at the sewing machine gave me a sense of style and, when I started shopping for most of my wardrobe, I gravitated toward the designer sections without having the foggiest idea about the importance of their brands. It was Kelsey who inspired me to learn more about fashion brands and trained me to recognize them.

      And both my daughters made me appreciate the art of sewing. They ADORED the clothes, quilts and costumes my mother made for them and the far fewer items I made for them myself. My mom made everything on a very old (well, it became very old) Singer sewing machine, which was almost always open and covered in fabric, obscuring the beautiful mahogany cabinet in which it sat. When my mom died, I was sad that my brother claimed the machine. But Bri searched for more than a year and found a near-duplicate, which she painted and decorated in honor of “Needlework,” a novel I was writing.

      We love shopping at TJs (great discounts on James Perse and Kate Spade there) and Target, too. No Walmart near us.

      Thank you for commenting. You always make me smile (and often make me wordy).



      • Only you can weave an imagery-rich story into a comment! It’s funny how your every word creates a ‘motion picture’ in front of my eyes. And, boy, I want to have children as wonderfully warm, witty, whimsical as your two darlings. You three are blessed to have each other #HUGSSSSSSS

        My comments are often disjointed, but I am just glad you humor them and respond with so much love – gives me the incentive to leave equally crazy comments in the future ;) ehhehee


        • Katherine Kotaw says:

          PS: So sorry I keep forgetting to answer about Ivy’s ice cream cone! I honestly can’t remember if she got one that day (but if she didn’t, I can say with almost certainty that she got a McDonald’s cookie! Her favorite kind to share is chocolate chip and she loves eating entire oatmeal cookies by herself!) Everyone at out local McDonald’s knows (and LOVES) Ivy’s RAH-RAH-ROO! They love it so much and it makes them laugh so much that Ivy has become quite bratty at the drive-thru window: RAH RAH ROO-ing louder and louder for them to hurry up and get her her plain chicken snack wrap or her vanilla cone or cookies!

          I do have a cute recent Ivy ice cream story to share though :) For the past couple weeks, Kelsey had a craving for ice cream (which wasn’t particularly unusual — she has ice cream in some form or another almost every day — usually frozen yogurt) but this particularly craving was more specific — Baskin Robbins ice cream. Since we never go to Baskin Robbins, Kelsey was convinced it was her Grandma whispering in her ear from Heaven to have a scoop of Pralines and Cream for her (my mom’s all-time favorite flavor!) My mom ate ice cream every day of her life, even when she was sick and even when she was in hospice care. It made her happy and both my daughters and I have inherited her sweet tooth (and Bri and I her allergy to dairy… though while my mom didn’t let that stop her, Bri has soy or almond milk ice cream and I have Goat’s Milk ice cream!)

          But back to my Ivy ice cream story! We finally made the trek to Baskin Robbins and got Kelsey her Pralines and Cream — actually 2 cones because it was on a Monday and they had a special that made it cheaper to get 2 cones than 2 scoops (and my mom ALWAYS had 2 scoops!)

          Kelsey generously offered Ivy her second cone, but Ivy didn’t quite know what it was. It looked DIFFERENT from the McDonald’s vanilla cones she was used to. It was harder in texture and the flavor was an unfamiliar smell. Ivy wasn’t sure about it until Bri gave Ivy a huge dollop of caramel from it on her finger. Then Ivy’s eyes LIT up and she started licking the ice cream cone in pure glee as Bri rotated the cone for her so none fell (while also scooping some ice cream onto her hand for Lucy to lick up!)

          Ivy started in on the cone but sucked all the ice cream out before the cone was finished. Bri then started breaking up the cone into pieces for Ivy and Lucy to share, which they were happy to do, until Ivy turned to her right as she was crunching her cone and her eyes WIDENED again as she discovered there was ANOTHER Pralines and Cream ice cream cone that Kelsey had!!

          Needless to say, Kelsey shared that ice cream cone with Ivy (and Lucy) too!

          • Katherine Kotaw says:

            And yes, my daughters and I are so blessed to have each other :) I am so lucky that my daughters are my best friends and it means so much to all of us for you to say such nice things! We all thank you, with all our hearts. And AWWWW that’s just why my daughters say about my words creating motion pictures for them :) xoxoxoxoxo

  3. OMG OMG OMG!!!! Oreo is the same with – well – food, in general ;) , but those Oven Roasted Turkey slices, in particular. I swear he will snarf down a whole pound in one sitting if I don’t moderate his consumption! hahahahhahaha

    His eyes turn into saucers at the sight of the familiar plastic ‘box’. Sometimes, just to tease him, I run around the home carrying the slices. it is so much fun watching him chase me at the speed of light ;) hehehe

    *sigh* He ate half my Panda Express dinner too last night – those chicken slices were too irresistible for my cookie ;)


  4. […] also means I get to wear all of my fabulous leather boots and snuggle up in my deliciously-cozy James Perse sweaters. And I love the fact that post-Halloween sales allow me to stock up on licorice and an […]

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