That strategy tapped into deep currents in consumer culture that can drive huge sales—but also overconsumption. “We see all the time that [a customer] wants her Quencher to match her fit, her nail polish, her car, her mood, her kitchen,” Reilly told CNBC in December. “We’re serving her where she wants the product.”
Stanley has appeared to encourage the idea that you need more than one oversize, bomb-proof, buy-it-for-life beverage container in your life. In August, the company’s TikTok account posted a video of “must-haves for the school year,” assigning four of its products each a unique and hyperspecific purpose.
The Varsity IceFlow was recommended for “trips to campus,” while the Quencher was said to be for “library sessions,” which is somehow different from the Classic Bottle, which can provide “all day study fuel.” Then on Saturdays and Sundays, of course, you’ll need a Trigger Action Travel Mug for “weekend iced coffees.” In May, the Stanley TikTok account even reposted a video made by a customer with a collection of approximately 60 Stanley products. “SO. MANY,” the caption reads.
Whether Stanley likes it or not, plastic consumption has become a means of showcasing one’s Stanley spirit. The tumblers themselves have become canvases through which one can project a personality or the mood of the day or moment. After selecting which color Quencher to carry, Stanley fans can then decorate the cup with compatible accessories, none of which are produced by Stanley and many of which are made of and wrapped in plastic and other disposable materials. Your Stanley can wear a rufflike snack tray so you can eat on the go. Your Stanley can wear its own backpack, or an IKEA tote, depending on its preference. Your Stanley can even wear jewelry. You can buy your Stanley its very own mini-Stanley, so it doesn’t get lonely.
Ultimately, the Stanley cup’s true legacy will take shape once another water bottle brand inevitably usurps it. (Some argue that Owala’s FreeSip (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is already on its way to replace the Quencher as the vessel of the moment).
The fate of Hydro Flask serves as a reminder that once an item becomes on-trend, it can quickly become painfully off-trend. The brand’s iconic Wide Mouth water bottle with the Flex Straw cap was inextricably embedded in the VSCO girl phenomenon, associated with an outdated aesthetic of the late 2010s.
On TikTok, many playfully mock their Hydro Flask–carrying past selves, while some push back on Stanley’s rise by promoting their loyalty to the no-longer-in bottle. Although Hydro Flasks generally didn’t inspire cabinet-sized collections, consumers’ urge to personalize their bottles catalyzed the industry production of plastic stickers that often depicted hypercurrent (and therefore inevitably soon-to-be-outdated) internet memes. Hydro Flask now markets a line of 40-ounce cups that look just like Stanleys.
Whatever Quencher’s 40-ounce future holds, what it has achieved deserves recognition. “Sustainability efforts to try to move us beyond disposables have suffered from a lack of cool factor,” says Wiens of iFixit. “If what it takes is to have a mass movement around this, and the side effect is that you get some crazy people that have 40 of them, I guess I would say I’m okay with it, because we are mainstreaming the right behavior.”
Now that Stanley has helped show that relatively ecofriendly products can become wildly popular, the next milestone in nondisposable drinkware should be to prove that a mass consumer trend doesn’t inevitably lead to waste and excessive consumption. If Stanley truly aims for a less disposable world, it must balance generating excitement for its robust cups with taking responsibility for their full lifetime. Otherwise, the Quenchers that throng TikTok today may become nothing more than a pastel-hued strata in the world’s landfills.