How to Launch an Influencer Brand in 2020

By Business of Fashion - Read the full article here

Irene Kim’s 1.7 million Instagram followers tune in to see her document Valentino’s latest collection from the front row or pose with the Blackpink pop stars Rosé and Lisa at fashion parties.

So when Kim took a rare break from fashion week last year, the absence did not go unnoticed.

“Everyone was like… where is Irene?” said Kim, a Korean-American model-turned-influencer known for her multi-coloured “unicorn” hair. “Just because I don’t post for a week doesn’t mean that I’m not doing anything.”

Here’s what Kim was doing: she was in Seoul, preparing to launch a label of ready-to-wear and accessories. She’s calling it Irene is Good, just like her Instagram handle. The first collection, featuring bright colours, optimistic messages and shiny unicorn symbols, debuts in February with Farfetch and Galeries Lafayette, with rollouts planned to other retailers.

Kim is the latest social media personality to put her influence to the ultimate test by creating her own brand. It’s a crucial career step that can unlock fame and riches far beyond what social media stars earn from promoting other brands’ products. Influencer brands now sell out at Sephora and Nordstrom. Kylie Jenner sold her makeup brand at a $1 billion valuation to Coty.

Success is not guaranteed. Last year, beauty blogger Jacyln Hill struggled to launch her makeup line, which had product deficiencies that angered fans. Instagram star Arii shut down her fashion line after just two weeks when it failed to hit a minimum sales target.

“You have to be able to convert [sales] at the end of the day and not everybody can do that,” said Jennifer Powell, the founder of an influencer management and brand-building agency. “There is a real come-to-Jesus moment within an influencer's life, to know if they can really convert.”

In many ways, the recipe for a successful influencer brand is similar to any other new business in fashion and beauty: the brand needs to have a clear and differentiated point of view, offer a product that satisfies customers and dependable customer service and delivery.

Nicolette Mason, an influencer and consultant, co-founded a plus-size clothing range, Premme, in 2017 and closed it two years later. She said influencers need to think carefully about why their brands need to exist.

“It’s become a status symbol for influencers to have their own brand or product line or collaboration, and I think there needs to be an existential question of: is this something people really need? Is this filling a real void?” she said.

Those voids are fewer and far between, now that influencer-backed brands exist for everything from swimwear (from Instagram’s Danielle Bernstein and Emily Ratajkowski) to coffee (from Youtube’s Emma Chamberlain) to lashes (from reality TV’s Lilly Ghalichi).

Read on for advice about how to launch an influencer brand in 2020.

1. Test the Market

Nearly two years before launching a full collection, Kim started the Irene is Good brand by releasing T-shirts and a clear PVC tote and cosmetics bag. Embroidered hoodies and more low-price, playful accessories followed in early 2019. Many items started at just $15.

Around this time, Vittorio Cordella, the founder of sneaker line Joshua Sanders, approached Kim about scaling her business at a higher price point. The two had already worked together, including collaborating on a line of $370 shoes in 2018 that Cordella said had sold out.


Irene Kim's collection

2. Determine the Key Category, Price Point and Point of View

Powell recommends influencers collaborate with brands before starting their own lines. These lower-risk projects test an influencer’s ability to sell in different product categories and price points and gather customer data.

Influencers should stick with products that tie into their core content, at least at the start, said Daniel Landver, co-founder and chief executive of Digital Brand Products, part of influencer management company Digital Brand Architects. A beauty influencer should not start by launching a home brand, for example.

3. The Pros and Cons of Partners

For their first line, an influencer might sign a majority stake of their brand to an operator, which puts up the cash needed to get off the ground and handles product development, production, logistics and delivery. The influencer focuses on marketing, and though they may receive a salary, they might not even own their own trademark.

An influencer with a proven ability to sell products may play a bigger role and receive a greater share of the profits. They can also opt instead for a licensing agreement, where a partner receives temporary rights to create products using an influencer's name. The influencer retains ownership of his or her brand and receives a percentage of sales. Goop’s first skincare products, for example, were developed by partner Juice Beauty.

Woman in dress

4. Balance New and Old Businesses

Influencers need to prepare for some of their reliable sources of sponsored posts to dry up when they launch a brand of their own.

Brands that once eagerly flew an influencer to fashion shows in exotic locations might stop calling once he or she becomes a competitor.

5. Pick the Right Retail Partners

Kylie Jenner built a cosmetics empire by selling directly to consumers on her own website before partnering with Ulta. Most influencers still need a retailer to drive sales and help with marketing at launch. These tie-ups provide validation, a marketing boost and a place for influencers to meet followers in real life.

Cordella said he and Kim sought out retailers that can host pop-ups or set up shop-in-shops.

By Business of Fashion - Read the full article here

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