Since 2013, eatbigfish has kicked off each year with a roundup of the twenty challenger brands we think are going to make a significant impact on the brand and marketing world in the months ahead. We handpick our challengers looking at various criteria, including their point of view, market differentiation, perceived momentum, innovation, and ability to scale.
Change is a constant. But 2022 is talked of as the beginning of a great reset — the shift to a greener economy, the transition from fuel to lithium, the rise of NFTs and decentralised finance and gaming. New technologies and models are emerging that are likely to radically alter our lives. But while technological advances quickly fade into the background of the everyday, it is often the organisations with a certain mindset and behaviour that are remembered as the drivers of progress. To decide this year’s top twenty, eatbigfish researched hundreds of companies globally for brands with the ambition, clarity and confidence to match their innovation.
Getir — for delivering to Uber’s Children
Remember when same-day delivery seemed extraordinary? Us neither – that’s strictly for the historians. We’ve all become Uber’s Children now, re-educated by a host of new brands to expect our services to be faster, easier, free-er; the world at our fingertips, on our terms, for next to nothing, instantly. Now there is a new war in the grocery category: the war for ‘ultra-fast’ – companies delivering your order in under half an hour. Amongst the top three contenders battling for the throne is the Turkish brand Getir. While Gopuff targets a 30 minute delivery time to get your last-minute guacamole and margarita mix, Getir aims for just 10. Suddenly same-day delivery seems a long, long time ago.
Ola Electric — for green mobility for a billion
Ola is not new to disruption. It built itself as a leader brand in the ride-sharing category in India through several innovations such as Ola autos (three-wheelers) and Ola bikes, and importantly, by entering markets in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, Ola’s ambition is to build a global brand out of India. It’s not surprising then that Ola announced plans to enter the EV market by setting up India’s largest electric two-wheeler plant with a capacity to churn out 10 million scooters a year in Tamil Nadu, India. For an internet-age company with no history of automobile engineering, it’s brave.
Florasis — for the new age of Chinese makeup
Founded in the Eastern City of Hangzhou by Lake Xizi, Florasis, or Hua Xizi 花西子 as it’s known in Chinese, is unafraid of maximalism. Specialising in packaging and products that feature traditional and historic Chinese design and craft, Florasis makeup is detailed to the point of artistry. Whether it’s a carved lipstick inspired by Chinese relief sculpture or packaging designed with patterns seen in traditional Miao silverware, the products have an ‘instantaneous heirloom’ quality about them. They sit comfortably in opposition to the Western giants that have previously dominated the market, and the wider category’s fixation on functionality.
RTFKT — for pushing the boundaries of sneakers
Founded in 2020, RTFKT (pronounced ‘Artifact’) Studios makes NFT sneakers. The company’s aim is to become a highly visible and prominent brand in the metaverse in a similar way to how Nike or Adidas are in the physical world.
RTFKT’s sneakers are bold, imaginative and bursting with insane ideas that borrow heavily from the art world, cinema and video game culture. Free from the constraints of the physical and material world, RTFKT pushes the boundaries of sneakers metaphorically but also literally — the designs extend way beyond a traditional sneaker silhouette with form and colour combinations previously unimaginable.
Folx — for representing a sea change in healthcare
For queer and trans people, healthcare can be a parade of indignities. The seemingly arbitrary barriers to care. The lack of understanding of the sex that you have or treatments that you seek — stemming at least partially from the average US med school spending six hours or less over four years on queer and trans health. And, most troublingly, the potential for harm — more than half of all LGBTQIA+ people face discrimination while seeking medical care, while 7% of cisgender queer folks and 22% of trans folks are actively assaulted in healthcare settings. Enter Folx Health, the first healthcare platform designed specifically for queer and trans people. This means acting as an archetypical People’s Champion — radically rethinking every part of the healthcare process through the lens of their community’s needs.
Thursday — for knowing what to sacrifice
Thursday combines witty observations of dating in your 20s, talk-worthy marketing stunts and authenticity to bring a new dating experience to life — but for just one day of the week. It’s a dating app that users can only access on a (you guessed right…) Thursday, and it launched into the already saturated dating category with a big pink bang in May 2021. Thursday is a gamified way of arranging a date. Users can only match, message and meet their potential dates, reinforced by a countdown looming before their potential perfect match disappears forever.
Reflaunt — for taking circular fashion mainstream
The clothing and textile industry is the world’s 2nd largest polluting industry accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions. In addition, 92 million tonnes of textile waste end up in landfill every year. Yet, in response, we see performative acts and marginal tweaking of behaviour in the industry. Founded in 2018, Reflaunt is a B2B software platform connecting fashion brands and retailers with the second-hand market. The company’s mission is to transition the fashion industry away from a destructive linear model of make, use, waste, to a sustainable and circular model of consumption. Reflaunt’s technology enables consumers to sell unwanted items back to the brand they purchased them from through its in-house platform.
Bathu — for being Africa’s local hero sneaker
Asia has Onitsuka Tiger, Europe has Adidas, and North America has Nike. South Africa has a booming sneaker sub-culture dominated by the usual global giants. Bathu, which means shoe in South African slang, was founded in 2015. While the initial inspiration for starting the brand was to create a sneaker that would benchmark against the likes of Nike and Adidas on design, quality and style, Bathu founder Theo Baloyi also wanted to play his part in addressing the socio-economic challenges in the country. As he put it, he wanted customers to know that “you are not just buying sneakers, you are creating jobs”. True to this intent, he’s established a platform called Bathu for Batho (shoes for the people) with a target of distributing one million shoes to school children. Bathu believes that we all have journeys to walk and wants to inspire everyone to do so with confidence.
DeadHappy — for being bold in talking about death
In a UK market that has declined an average of 6% each year of the last five, Deadhappy’s reported growth in 2021 is not the only thing defying category conventions.
That’s because DeadHappy has radically rethought everything about the business it’s in. Its revenue is generated through selling Life Insurance, but at the core of its identity is a deeply embedded mission to change the way we think about death and after-life planning. Flexible, affordable, (and dare they say it) enjoyable, DeadHappy is a great illustration of a new kind of next-generation challenger, not only in terms of its accessible brand style, but in the way its foundational de-positioning of what has gone before is built into the very fabric of the offer.
Oja — for delivering global, local
Grocery is by no means a category short of disruption, or investment. Venture-backed grocery companies raised over $10bn of funds globally in 2021, with new entrants seemingly arriving as quickly as your next pint of milk. According to founder Mariam Jimoh, Oja’s mission is to radically reshape grocery “by making foods from all cultures easily accessible from anywhere in the world.” Cultural groceries are hugely under-represented. For many, cooking a meal that reminds you of home requires a trip to an ironically limited ‘World Foods’ aisle, an out-of-town wholesaler or a speciality grocery several bus rides away – or sometimes all three.Oja, which means ‘market’ in Yoruba, was born out of this frustration. With a recently re-launched app and website, Oja’s platform provides a culturally specific shopping experience with groceries spanning everything you need to make a meal that reminds you of home – with the focus at launch on African and Caribbean groceries.
Sway — for questioning how we wrap things up
What if our waste was regenerative rather than destructive? Meet Sway, a next-generation challenger ‘on a mission to replenish the planet through regenerative design’ by offering an innovative alternative to single-use plastics. Julia Marsh, the Co-Founder and CEO, was inspired to undertake materials research by her early life living on the coast, where she saw the damage that plastics had made to the beaches and coastal land of California. She began to develop better compostable alternatives to plastic, experimenting with regenerative materials that included ‘mycelium, scoby, microalgae, agricultural waste’, ultimately identifying seaweed ‘as their game-changing resource that could entirely disrupt the plastics industry.’
VanMoof — for challenging the tyranny of the car
For many of the major cities of the world, the car has become a huge problem. In 2018, London passed its annual legal air pollution limit by the end of January. A move from bricks and mortar to online shopping has increased the number of delivery drivers crisscrossing our cities, and the (once) added convenience and affordability of rideshare platforms has made hopping into a car a viable alternative to finding public transport. All of these elements are strangling our cities — even the ones that were built to be “car-centric”. VanMoof wants us all to do something about that. For the last couple of years, they’ve been waging a public war against cars and car culture — most notably with a 2020 advert that was banned from airing on TV (always a guarantee for greater visibility!) in France.
Modern Animal — for next-generation vet services
Modern Animal is one of this new breed of next-generation challengers bringing a tech, design and people-first approach to the world of veterinary services. Crucially, at a time where competition for pet healthcare professionals is high, the brand’s stated mission ‘to better the lives of animals by building a place that’s better for all of us who love them’ is not just a promise to the pet-owner, but also to the vets themselves. Stress, long working hours, emotional drain, and burn-out has become commonplace, so to fix the ‘broken industry’ Modern Animal makes a clear promise to prioritise employee wellbeing; designing the working environments ‘behind-the-scenes’ to be as comfortable and beautiful as the waiting rooms out front, providing tech solutions to make tasks efficient and easy, and making a commitment to inclusion and diversity in what they refer to as the ‘whitest profession in America.’
Tru Earth — for progressing the laundry category
When a trio of entrepreneurs were first presented with zero-waste eco-strips as a new business opportunity that promised to change the way we do laundry, they were doubtful.
Could little strips of paper really clean clothes? But, trial turned skepticism into enthusiasm, and the seeds of a laundry revolution took hold. Each 4”x2” highly concentrated, pre-measured Tru Earth strip cleans one load of laundry, completely dissolving in either hot or cold water. Shipped in compact, compostable cardboard packaging, they reduce shipping emissions by 94%. In addition, they are paraben and phosphate-free, hypoallergenic, vegan and biodegradable. And when Tru Earth isn’t busy upending the laundry industry, they are giving back to communities. For every first-time subscription purchase, 32 loads of laundry are donated to organizations in need across the globe.
Manner Coffee — for accelerating a new national ritual
Founded in 2015, Manner almost came to a bitter end when its first store in Nantong (南通), a prefecture-level city in south-eastern Jiangsu province, proved unsuccessful due to the lack of existing coffee culture. Unperturbed founder Han Yu and his wife relocated to Shanghai, in true David vs. Goliath fashion, to compete in the most densely populated coffee-shop capital of the world. In a 2-metre square kiosk sandwiched between a building entryway and shop, the odds were stacked. Despite this alleged roasting, Han Yu’s caffeine dream came to bloom. In its third month, Manner was selling hundreds of cups a day, and it tentatively expanded across the next two years to eight stores. Today with more than 300 stores in mainland China and an incredible $4.5bn valuation, Manners’ alchemic blend of product, processes, and culture are clearly leaving a pleasant taste.
Illuvium — for making gaming pay
Enter Illuvium to pour gasoline on this trend. It’s the first AAA quality game in the play-to-earn space, built on the Ethereum network. It’s both a role-playing and auto-battler game that uses Unreal Engine 4 to deliver the kind of cinematic quality and 3D effects that mainstream gamers demand — and Axie Infinity lacks. In exploration mode, players hunt, capture and fuse together deity-like creatures called Illuvials, which are NFTs players own. Then, players take their Illuvials into the auto-battle mode, where they fight alongside their Illuvials against computer opponents and other players to make progress in the game and earn ILV tokens. In Illuvium, the NFT is not simply a financial reward for playing but is a game asset that grows in value while directly affecting the ability to progress in the game — it is an integral part of a better gaming experience.
Olive — for next-generation shipping
The pandemic has just exacerbated a shift towards e-commerce that has been a decade in the making. This is a shift not many people – and virtually no brands – have questioned, until Olive. Founded in February 2021 by Nate Faust (co-founder of Jet.com, a Challenger to Watch from 2016), Olive is on a mission to reshape the entire home delivery supply chain in order to get rid of single-use packaging. Free to customers (businesses pay commission on every order), Olive provides consolidated deliveries from over 100 fashion & beauty retailers – anything you order comes on a pre-determined day, in one re-usable box. Need to make returns? Just pop them back in the box to be picked up again.
Paynter — for making fashion worth waiting for
The duo (and couple) behind Paynter Jackets, Becky Okell and Huw Thomas, seem to emit a challenger mindset from their souls. The business, founded in 2018, which sells only four limited-edition batches of a particular piece of clothing per year, is challenging fashion’s accepted trade-offs. Their unique model takes control of the potential discrepancy between supply and demand whilst improving quality and eliminating waste.
Haeckels — for being a genuine local hero
The cosmetic category — as with everywhere else — isn’t short of brands proclaiming their sustainability credentials. It’s clear which way the wind is blowing, and the link between doing good for your skin and the planet at the same time is an obvious one to make. Skincare brand Haeckels has charted its own challenger course to ensure it stands out in this space. Importantly, the company frames sustainability through a distinctive and compelling narrative about place and identity.
Forest Green Rovers — for an off-pitch giant-killing
For all the negativity that surrounds modern football culture, Forest Green Rovers are showing us all how to make the beautiful game a sustainable one, too. Football clubs are spending more and more in the pursuit of creating success last seen in their increasingly faded history. Trying to outspend the competition to recreate the past is not the challenger way, though. Forest Green Rovers has a different kind of ambition. Whilst on-pitch success is one aim, the club is executing an environmentally sustainable strategy that makes it the most future-oriented football club in the world.
To see the full analysis of each of eatbigfish’s challenger brands in 2022, head here.
Featured image: Bathu Journey Express – Sven Colours