String Ting and the making of a cult accessory brand
It began as “the beaded equivalent of a lemonade stand”, says Rachel Steed-Middleton, founder of the cult phone-charm brand String Ting, speaking from her Peckham home and workshop. Back in March 2020, the then-business consultant found herself working from home while simultaneously looking after her three children. In an effort to “teach them about giving back – and also just to fill their time”, she got her kids beading bracelets to sell to their neighbours as a fundraising activity. They raised more than £1,000 for frontline workers and projects such as the food charity The Felix Project and Age UK. “From there, I just kept beading. I thought, ‘You know what would be fun and have utility? Phone straps.’ I made some long ones and some short ones. And the rest is kind of history.”
The wristlets and cross-body straps – which feature brightly-coloured combinations of acrylic, glass or resin beads threaded onto satin cords – were a near-instant success in the UK. But when the singer Dua Lipa posted a selfie with her String Ting in November 2020, the brand went global. “It was sort of unbelievable. By then the website hadn’t been up very long, and it just started hysterically functioning.” In the following months, the accessory was spotted on more It girls – everyone from Kendall Jenner to Gigi Hadid, Kaia Gerber to Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande. In its first six months, the company averaged more than 100 per cent growth month on month, and is now on track to achieve seven-figure revenue in its first year of business.
What was it about a beaded wrist loop (in the luxe category at £35 to £150 per string) that resonated so fiercely with consumers? Crucially, they tap into the vogue for Y2K-influenced fashion – phone charms first became popular with teens in the mid-Noughties – that’s currently trending. The fact that they attach to your phone also means they’re automatically on display in mirror-photos: when Kendall Jenner first posted a selfie with the rainbow crystal Jolly Rancher String Ting, the wristlet sold out in 10 minutes. Last week, Jenner posted another mirror-selfie from Cabo San Lucas, this time with the Green With Envy design, which immediately sold out.
For Steed-Middleton, the wristlets appeal as a kind of next-gen friendship bracelet. “I have a client who has bought about 15 String Tings and she says she still doesn’t have one because every time she goes out, someone says they love it, and she gives hers away. I kind of love that.” They also speak to the fact that for many, phones have been the main point of contact with the wider world for the past 18 months. “They connect to your phone, and then they connect your phone to your body. The product is also just really joyful and super-colourful. It’s mood-lifting.”
For now, the operation will remain based in Steed-Middleton’s Peckham home, where she employs seven local women to bead (they used to all sit around the same table, but they’ve now mostly moved to a remote working system). But with a collaboration with British fashion brand Hillier Bartley in the works for Christmas, and Steed-Middleton’s hint that String Ting will expand “beyond phones and beads” in the coming months, things are about to get even busier in the workshop.