A 25-year-old set her eyes on taking over the high-end smoking accessories market — and it's working

  • Chiara di Carcaci, 25, founded the high-end smoking accessory brand Smoking Jacket in May 2019, best known for cigarette cases made from recyclable cardboard, embellished with various printed fabrics.
  • Di Carcaci told Business Insider she started the business after realizing there was a white space in the smoking accessories market, even though many people still smoke.
  • Non-smokers love the case, too, she said, and use it as a credit card holder or a jewelry case.
  • The brand is already sold in London's exclusive membership club 5 Hertford Street and at other locations in London and Paris. 
  • In an interview with Business Insider, di Carcaci talks about launching a such a high-end niche product, and her plans to expand the company into a full lifestyle service.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When Chiara di Carcaci started her career in the fashion industry, she picked up on something ironic: sure, there's lots of glitz and glamour, including a lot of people who smoke. But weirdly, the cigarettes themselves didn't really look good. 

"We lived with such decorated and embellished surroundings," she told Business Insider. "But one of the only unembellished items in view was the packet of cigarettes." 

This was, of course, a bother. Di Carcaci grew up surrounded by beautiful surroundings. Her grandmother is British socialite and countess, Raine Spencer, who was married to Earl John Spencer, the maternal grandfather of Prince William and Prince Harry, and di Carcaci's great grandmother is Dame Barbara Cartland, a prolific author of over 700 books. 

The 25-year-old di Carcaci came across a lot of people who smoke, she said, after starting her career in fashion publicity, working for Love and Paper magazines, and a stint at the designer label Vivienne Westwood.

In May 2019, she took the money she saved from her career in fashion and launched the high-end cigarette accessories Smoking Jacket, seeking to fill the gap in the market for luxury smoking accessories.

The company makes decorated cigarette cases that use printed fabrics such as ruby gingham or erté leopard, with the brand aesthetic taking inspiration from artists such as Henri Matisse and sculptor Jean Alps. 

She acknowledged to Business Insider that smoking is a morally weighty issue, but she said it existed long before her company, adding that she considers herself a social smoker. "We are catering to established smokers whose decisions have already been made. I am not assuming a moral stance, but rather an aesthetic one."

She targets high-end locations to sell in, and some big names have taken notice. For instance, the company has worked with luxury fashion line The Row, launched by the Olsen Twins in 2006. 

It's also sold in the exclusive private member club 5 Hertford Street in London as well as at the Alex Eagle store in London's Soho and Jean Louis La Nuit in Paris. 

It's become quite popular. Sabine Getty, a jewelry designer married to a member of the Getty family, is a fan, as are Vogue Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowls and Tommy Dorfman from the series "13 Reasons Why."

Cigarette cases do their own advertising, di Carcaci said, especially stylish ones. "It's such a social product," she said. "People have their cases with them, and [then] it becomes a talking point," di Carcaci said. 

Even non-smokers love the cases and use them as jewelry boxes and cardholders, she said. 

The business is profitable, she said, and in an interview with Business Insider, she talks about her luxury smoking brand and her plans to expand it into a full-service lifestyle company. 

Smoking Jacket creates luxury smoking accessories that has some high-profile clients

The company's high-end cigarette pack cases are embellished with fabrics inspired by everything ranging from commedia dell'arte characters to Prince songs, and come in linen dust bags as di Carcaci sought to "avoid all plastic packaging."

Di Carcaci makes the cases by herself and only outsources talent when she has to, such as photographers, web designers, and accountants. She said she's lucky not to have much overhead, as low operating costs allow for higher profit margins. 

She also creates chains for e-cigarette smokers, so customers can attach the e-cigarette magnetically and wear it as a pendant. 

"People [also] use them as portable jewelry boxes to keep in their handbags," di Carcaci said. "They are also the perfect size to store credit cards and cash." 

The brand uses Instagram for marketing, often posting photos of Henri Matisse paintings, vintage tobacco trading cards, and photos of di Carcaci posing in outfits that match the cigarette cases. Instagram is how many of her clients find the company, di Carcaci said, plus word of mouth. 

Next year, she will start her official expansion into the US markets with a collaboration done with ASH NYC, which owns hotels in locations such as New Orleans and Detroit. "I'm making them custom matchboxes for their new hotel," she said.  

Deluxe cigarette packaging for the Instagram age 

Her latest partnership is with London-based ceramist Alama Berrow, best known for creating one-of-a-kind ashtrays and home-inspired objects. 

Berrow told Business Insider she met di Carcaci a few years ago, when they were both working for a startup, and always stayed in touch. 

"When I started making [ashtrays], she was incredibly supportive of my art and actually bought some of my first ever pieces," Berrow said. "She proposed a collaboration which, to me, sounded like a glorious idea." 

Unlike di Carcaci, Berrow said she actually does smoke a lot — granted, she is trying to quit and is torn on the industry in which she participates.

"I think quite rightfully smoking has a negative stigma attached to it," Berrow said. "People, especially big companies can't be seen to be endorsing that." 

"Making ashtrays, I thought, would help," she said. 

Berrow said there is a nostalgic interest in buying smoking accessories for some people. "Be it for a current smoker, a quitter, or a parent [and] grandparent that smoked," she continued. 

Some might argue that rather than exuding coolness, smoking for this generation is, instead, a very stigmatized act — more so today than ever before. 

Even with the known risks, smoking was often seen inside glossy high-fashion magazines as recently as the 1990s. And who can forget those Old Hollywood movies, when actresses would pull out their ornate cigarette cases, and actors would smoke cigars to add an edge to their characters. That is a world Smoking Jacket harkens back to, but the market is much smaller now.

In the UK, where Smoking Jacket is based, about 14.7% of people aged 18 and over smoked as of 2018, down about 5% since 2011, the UK's Office for National Statistics reported, while the market is roughly the same in the US, where 14% of the population 18 and older smokes, per CDC data, down from 20.9% in 2005. 

In the UK, the average smoker spends £3,300 a year on cigarettes. Fourteen percent of smokers over the age of 18 in the UK equates to 7.2 million people, meaning a $24 million potential market for accessories that will hold cigarette packs, Business Insider estimates.  

The average smoker in the US spends about $1,887 on cigarettes each year. Fourteen percent of the US population is about 34.1 million smokers, which equates to a $64 billion market potential for accessories that will hold cigarette packs.

Di Carcaci has plans beyond high-end smoking accessories 

Di Carcaci has wanted to open Smoking Jacket since she was 21 but says she wasn't "quite ready to start" to venture out on her own, "even though I kind of knew it was something I wanted to pursue in the future."

She now wants to use her training in art and design, and launch something big: she wants to make Smoking Jacket into just one division of a larger lifestyle company, calling it a "lockdown" project she has been working on.

"I have extra money that I am reinvesting in the new products I'm designing," she said. "I am currently working on a collection of design objects, including tapestries and plates and other objects."

She's been working out of her flat since Smoking Jacket launched. She's not minded, even though the pandemic delayed her plans to expand into an office space in March. Now, she said, "I don't have to pay for rent."   

With all this going on, it seems di Carcaci could use for some winding-down time, or at least a smoke break. 

"I'm a social smoker, I smoke on weekends or when I'm dressing up and going to meet friends," she said. "Which isn't an option as of late." 

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