When I told a friend I'd be writing a story about Fashion Nova, his immediate response was, "Oh, because of Cardi B?" That's understandable, considering the reality star has churned out numerous social media posts within the last year championing the brand's $20 rompers and $50 dresses. No, I said, my reference point was Kylie Jenner, who, along with her sister Khloe, has advertised the brand's denim on her Instagram page. In December, she posted a photo captioned "Obsessed with my new @fashionnova jeans."
Even popping the note "#ad" in there couldn't keep it from gaining more than 2 million likes. My friend then remarked that his 14-year-old sister actually buys Fashion Nova thanks to YouTube star Tana Mongeau's fashion hauls, in which she tapes herself trying on the brand's clothes.
This is what Fashion Nova, a Los Angeles–based online retailer, does best: plants seeds on social media and watches as pop-culture influencers like Amber Rose and Blac Chyna. Even octogenarian Baddie Winkle post photos of herself in the brand's body-con minidresses and high-waist distressed denim, convincing fans to buy into the fantasy of dressing like their favourite reality-TV star or Instagram model.
"We work with 3,000 to 5,000 influencers," says Fashion Nova's founder and CEO, Richard Saghian, via phone in his first public interview since founding the company in a storefront in California ten years ago. "It's kind of like this ripple effect. The more people shout us out, the more their fans shout us out. Kind of like a viral Youtube video. We're a viral store."
Though Fashion Nova has five brick-and-mortar stores in California, its social media presence has made it a standout among other fast-fashion retailers. The brand reached 6 million Instagram followers last month, three years after launching the online store. Saghian says the company has experienced "explosive growth" in sales within the last year, claiming that three-quarters of its customers return to the site within 90 days. And according to Saghain, Fashion Nova has the supply to meet the demand. He says they add 400 to 500 new styles to the site each week.
Saghian says he now employs more than 600 people and has a dedicated online and social media team that has perfected the art of selling to its customers, who are young women between the ages of 18 and 25. One of its knit sets is called "Netflix and Chill." There's a skirt named "Internet Famous." The brand's followers willingly tag Fashion Nova in its selfies and "outfit of the day" posts on Instagram—and Fashion Nova engages with every customer-tagged photo, through likes, comments, and reposts. "We repost about 30 customer photos a week," Saghian says.
The brand is hyper-engaged on Instagram. It posts hundreds of photos within a week's time. By comparison, competitor Asos, a UK-based online retailer founded 17 years ago, will post around 20 photos in the same time period.
"Instagram is so visual, and it's ripe for retailers to have direct access to their customers," says Gabriella Santaniello, a Los Angeles–based retail analyst and founder of A Line Partners. Social media allows brands to bypass fashion editors and use celebrities to directly connect with consumers. "Instagram takes it down to a very personal level," says Santaniello, explaining the appeal of Fashion Nova's use of influencers on the social network.
The brand's other appeal is, of course, its price point. Most items are less than $49.99. Buoyed by celebrity endorsements, consumers feel empowered, not ashamed, to shop within a realistic budget. Saghian cites a popular video by Cardi B. in which she flaunts a $100,000 watch, then reveals her $60 outfit from Fashion Nova, as proof. "I'm going to be on a budget till the day I die!" Cardi B says in the clip.
"Basically, she's saying, I can buy my expensive watch, buy the expensive shoes, but this dress is hot and it's only 30 bucks. Why do I have to lie about where I got it from?" said Saghian. "It's just not right for girls to pay that much money. They have enough problems as it is, you know… They shouldn't be brainwashed into paying a lot for clothes." Analyst Santaniello frames the advantage fast-fashion retailers have this way: "The quality of rayon at Forever 21 is no different than the quality of rayon that you find in Splendid [clothing] that you buy at Neiman Marcus. Why are you going to pay twice or three times as much?"
Fashion Nova is clearly not the first to capitalize on this market. Online retailer Nasty Gal also specialized in less-than-$50 mix-and-match separates before branching off into premier lines at higher price points (some pieces are now priced as high as $500). In November, the company filed for bankruptcy. "Nasty Gal opened retail stores in LA, and there's a little bit of a disconnect between the online and in-store for them," Santaniello says. "It's a beautiful store, I just think unfortunately price points are high."
Nasty Gal may soon be acquired by British online retailer Boohoo, which owns PrettyLittleThing, another UK fashion startup specialising in nightclub-wear and flirty separates. There's also a website called Missguided vying for market share. Each of these brands uses the same caliber of celebrity endorsers as Fashion Nova. Last year, Missguided used model Amina Blue in a campaign, and Boohoo turned to celebrity spawn Sofia Richie. Baddie Winkle has even advertised for both Fashion Nova and Missguided. But where Missguided's campaigns are professionally produced advertisements, there's something more guerilla about Fashion Nova's celebrity endorsements.
"I follow Cardi B. and K. Michelle and saw them wearing Fashion Nova, so I started following Fashion Nova," says Alexandria Williams, a 25-year-old customer. "I love what the brand stands for: all body types accepted and flaunted."
Mia Sand, a nurse in Denmark and one of Fashion Nova's influencers, says she contacted the company asking for an opportunity to advertise to her 400,000 followers. "It's very hard to find clothes for curvy girls in Scandanavia," she says. While Fashion Nova pays some lower-profile influencers a reported $500 to $2,000, most are given free stuff, which seems to be enough. "I've worn Fashion Nova pieces to red-carpet events, and just hanging out," says Desireé Mitchell, a 19-year-old actress and singer living in LA, who advertises the brand to her 147,000 followers in exchange for comped clothing.
For a fashion blogger, who must keep up with the demand of creating new content, or a reality TV star, who runs the risk of being captured by paparazzi in the same clothes, Fashion Nova's gear provides a solution. Perhaps that is why Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian were both spotted in Fashion Nova denim last year, despite Kardashian launching her own Good American denim line in October. "There are a lot of celebrities right now buying our stuff, from actresses to singers," Saghian says, though he declines to name names. "Hopefully, in the next couple of months, as we make it more popular for people to share where they buy their clothes, we can get those influencers to post."
Saghian isn't waiting for the fashion industry to knight him. He wants Fashion Nova to disrupt the status quo. "If you go to a hairdresser nowadays, no one cares about magazines anymore. They only want a phone charger so they can look at their feed, right?" he says. "Before, people were looking for fashion trends on the runway, but I think the runway is kind of dying. People are going to their feed, and they want to buy what is on our feed and what is on our 3,000 influencers' feed. We're giving them what they want."
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