When Recess launched its line of CBD-infused sparkling waters in late 2018, it was soon selling out and racing to fill thousands of back-orders from a buzzy launch and meticulous marketing plan that the New York Times said “has lit up the shifting aspirations of the middle and upper classes of millennials.” Now 18 months later, Recess stands out among a crowded playground of infused drinks and is taking its commitment to the creative community a step further with a clothing and accessories line.
Recess’s original tagline, “an antidote to modern times,” holds even more meaning today as the New York City-based startup has used the past three months in quarantine to develop its first new launch since its founding. Dubbed Realitywear, the collection is joined by three fresh Recess flavors: coconut lime, blood orange and blackberry.
“A global pandemic was not the modern times we had in mind, but the whole theory of Recess is that the world’s increasingly going crazy and it’s unsettling. We all need to take a recess throughout the day,” founder and CEO Benjamin Witte shared with me during a recent Zoom interview.
Witte, who after a seven year stretch in Silicon Valley wanted to set out on his own, began working on the Recess brand before he had even anything to bottle. After noticing CBD bubbling up on natural food store shelves in San Francisco, Witte — a self-described “wired, hyper, anxious, stressed-out millennial” — started using CBD regularly and instantly felt better.
“I noticed I was more balanced, more even-keeled. And as a result, I felt more productive and more creative,” said Witte. “I started to look at the CBD space and saw most CBD companies are just marketing CBD. I didn’t see anyone marketing the feeling that it enabled. And when you go look at other categories, especially in beverage, it’s the brand that wins.”
Witte argues that Recess is not a CBD brand, rather, a beverage company with a mission to provide a way to help those who drink it feel “calm, cool and collected.” The initial lineup of all-natural sparkling waters featured three flavors (pomegranate hibiscus, peach ginger and blackberry chai) with each can formulated with filtered water, ten milligrams of full-spectrum hemp extract (versus the more commonly used and less-effective CBD isolate), and three other adaptogenic ingredients: American ginseng to improve memory, lemon balm to boost vitality and L-theanine to reduce stress.
“We have a category forming with functional calming and relaxation beverages that probably within a ten-year period, is going to become bigger than energy drinks. And our business plan is to be the Red Bull of that category,” added Witte.
To help him achieve his ambitious goal, Witte, who also sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, tapped some of the top beverage executives in the world including Mike Sharman (chief sales officer), Laurie Breton (chief supply chain officer) and Simon Goode (chief operating officer). Collectively, the newly formed Recess executive team brings experience ranging from ZICO and Vitamin Water to Bai and Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
But Witte’s vision goes beyond the beverage, with plans for an all-encompassing media company also in the works. The brand is already known for its minimalist aesthetic, odd humor and unique voice on social media, which is led by Day Job, a small full-service digital design studio based in Brooklyn, which also manages Recess’s graphic and web design. IMHO, Recess’s Instagram account is one of the very few left on the platform that maintains an interesting presence and is up for Best Overall Social Presence in The Webby Awards in 2020.
“When you have to make something new for Instagram everyday, you’re forced to get kind of insane sometimes,” explained Day Job co-founder Rion Harmon. “We would mock up fake products or start assigning personalities to the different flavors. These kinds of breakthroughs have allowed us to continue to add permanent layers to the world of Recess over time.”
Recess’s first extension for its 60,000 (and counting) cult followers is Realitywear, a line of branded streetwear and “objects” like iPhone cases, notebooks and a blanket plus, frequent limited-edition collaboration drops (the first is with the artist-run label Extra Vitamins, with 100% of profits donated to the Freelancers Relief Fund).
Harmon continued, “We think the future of brands are exactly that, richly layered narrative worlds that reward people who continue to interact with it. The further you explore the brand world, the more interesting it becomes.”
“The idea [for Realitywear] is given that we focused on creatives, our strategy is to create every day ourselves. We think it’s the act of what we create — up until now it’s been just through our Instagram — has gained a respect from the people we’re speaking to,” said Witte. “The beverage is who we are, but it’s the brand and experience that we’re innovating on.”
Recess founder and CEO Benjamin Witte shares the inspiration behind three of his favorite Realitywear designs, dreamt up with his own internal creative team in quarantine.
Realitywear: Secret Code Tee
“I like when things have layers or Easter eggs, so our morse-code-inspired t-shirt was an instant yes for me. It says ‘an antidote to modern times’ on the front, something you wouldn’t get from passing someone on the street. Only the person wearing it knows what it means (and anyone else they let in on the secret).”
Realitywear: Windows Crewneck
“There’s always been a bit of nostalgia in the Recess brand DNA, little moments of reflection about simpler times. One of the ways we’ve brought that to life visually is through these old school Mac OS windows with simple, flat graphics. This piece is kind of a greatest hits of those.”
Realitywear: Cool Your Horses Tee
“One of my favorite parts of the Recess brand is our tongue-in-cheek voice and our ability to find new, unexpected connections between words and visuals. Here, we’re mashing up two idioms (‘cool your jets’ and ‘hold your horses’) and then imagining what that might look like. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.”