One Sip at a Time

With a conscious soul and head for business, Sarah ­Kauss has ­taken over the water-­bottle industry with S’well

Many people head to destination spas to ­relax and unwind, but for Sarah Kauss, going to Miraval ignited a spark in her.

“It was 2010, and I was searching for more happiness in my career, something more meaningful,” explains the New York–based entrepreneur. “I had carried a reusable water bottle for most of my adult life, but it wasn’t keeping up with my personal style or working as well as I wanted.”

Kauss recounts how she was hiking with her mom at the famed Arizona resort when she took a sip of warm water from her reusable bottle and realized that there had to be something better. “I needed something that worked harder and looked better and might be able to do more good in the world. I started writing my business plan that weekend,” she recalls.

The idea was simple: Offer three sizes of bottles (9, 17, or 25 ounces) made from non-leaching, non-toxic, triple-walled stainless steel that keeps fluids cold for as long as 24 hours or hot for up to 12 hours. Bottles are swathed in designs ranging from solid black to bright kaleidoscopic florals, allowing each consumer to find one that reflects their personal style. “I started the company with $30,000 of my own savings and still own 100% of it today,” she says.

We are always looking for ways to bring the optimism of the brand and the enhanced experience to more people around the world

S’well bottles are now available in more than 65 countries, with estimated sales of more than $100M per year, quite a jump from even the success of 2014 when sales were at $10M. The product range now also includes everything from tumblers to 60-ounce bottles and even cocktail sets. Prices are reasonable for such a long-lasting product, with 17-ounce bottles priced from $35. However, success wasn’t exactly overnight.

Kauss recalls a challenging holiday season, one year into founding the company. “I didn’t have any employees, and I was working from my home office, which was a very tiny apartment. We sold 1,600 bottles, and I thought it was the biggest Christmas ever,” she says.

At that point she realized it wasn’t just her circle of friends buying the bottles, but strangers whose lives would be changed. “I still remember that first holiday shipping because that was when I saw that S’well was on its way to becoming a major force for good,” she says. Kauss points to word-of-mouth as her main source for growth, whether through public ­relations, social media influencers, celebrities, or buzz-worthy collaborations. “We learned early on that if someone tried our bottle, they would go out and buy it for someone else ­because they loved the way it looked, were often surprised by how it performed, and wanted to share their experience with others,” she says.

As far as keeping up the success, Kauss points to her efforts to transform the world through design, sustainability, and charity as her main motivations. “We’ve been active partners with UNICEF since 2015 and supported UNICEF in its efforts to provide 500,000 people in Madagascar with access to clean water through its WASH program,” she says.

Additionally, she is actively launching new categories, including food, with the launch of S’well Eats and S’nack by S’well. “We are always looking for ways to bring the optimism of the brand and the enhanced experience to more people around the world,” she says.