Marketers love to talk about how Millennials want “experiences, not things,” which belies the fact that experiences usually require tools. The rapid expansion of “fast casual” chains that now dominate much of daily American dining, from Chipotle barbacoa bowls to Sweetgreen kale salads, means that Americans with disposable income now have more ways to spend it on prepared food than ever before. They also have less time to cook for themselves. For them, cooking might look more like the occasional fulfillment of a kitchen fantasy than putting dinner on the table every night.
Read: Why are Millennials so obsessed with food?
Once people figure out how to use their new toys, they turn to social media to share the results. Instagram hashtags like #kitchenaidmixer and #lecreuset contain hundreds of thousands of posts with carefully photographed cookies, roast chickens, and crusty boules, almost all posed in or near the tools that ushered them into existence—proof that their owners have made an investment of money, time, and effort, and they now have something delicious to show for it.
Making a perfect Bolognese lasagna might seem like an odd form of clout-chasing, but most people can’t party like they’re 25 forever. The hangovers get worse, and you get sick of eating takeout. At a certain point, people want to start signaling that they’ve evolved as humans, and cooking is the perfect cultural signifier for the job.
Many of today’s most popular cookware brands have been making products very similar to the ones they sell now for decades. But if you had to design a line of cookware to appeal directly to these young, somewhat affluent cooks—unsure of their skills but keenly aware that they’d like to develop them and share the results—it would probably look a lot like Great Jones. The brand was launched in 2018 by Sierra Tishgart and Maddy Moelis, childhood best friends then in their late 20s. It sells a full suite of cookware for $395 and an enamel-covered Dutch oven that retails alone for $145.
Tishgart, who wrote about culinary culture at New York magazine until co-founding Great Jones, says that the line started because she encountered the same problem as a lot of people her age: She had begun to grow out of IKEA-grade products and wanted to buy new stuff without spending $300 on a single piece of cookware. “It was so confusing and exceedingly expensive to get nice things,” she remembers. “I was really just trying to say, ‘Okay, I have a small kitchen. What do I actually need and why, and how can I—buying this for myself—personally invest in some nice things that make me proud and excited to cook?’”
Tishgart’s quest for nice things marks an evolution in the cookware market. Certain types of expensive home goods have always been linked to the success and stability of young adults in America, but the acquisition of those goods wasn’t always an occasion unto itself. Instead, pieces of expensive domestic equipment have long been given as gifts to mark major life events, such as marriage or a first home. For middle-class and wealthy Americans in previous generations, marriage and homeownership were things that first occurred in their early-to-mid-20s, which meant that many people received high-quality kitchen tools in very early adulthood. KitchenAid told me that wedding registries have been one of the company’s most significant small-appliance sales drivers for decades. Collier says that Le Creuset has long had similar success entering homes via joyous occasions.