If you’re over the age of 30 and you’re not au fait with the stylings of the Kardashian Klan, there’s a high chance you might never have heard of FashionNova.com. But let this be known; you should have. After all, they’re only one of the fastest growing fashion companies in the world.
The brand, which at the time of writing this boasted nearly 13 million followers on Instagram (that's more than Topshop and J Crew combined), is the brainchild of the notoriously elusive Iranian-American businessman Richard Saghian, and launched in 2006 with a physical store in Panorama City, California.
FashionNova.com sells the types of clothes you’re probably more accustomed to seeing in a Rihanna video than IRL. Think uber-cropped crop tops, spray-on jeans and more PU leather than you can shake a stick at. They deal in super-sonic fashion, recently making headlines for becoming the fourth most Googled fashion brand in the world and, so high is their product count, that on any given week there can be as many as 1,500 items waiting to drop onto the site.
The most incredible thing about all this? FashionNova.com very nearly didn’t happen. For a long time Saghian, who is the sole owner of the company, delayed its launch, concerned about how the success of the store would transfer online. He needn’t have worried; when the site eventually went live in 2013, everything sold out in just one weekend. In 2017 alone the company grew by 600%.
Their key customer is 18-25-year-old women; Generation Zers and younger Millennials with disposable income burning a hole in their pocket, their fast-paced, celebrity-influenced, sartorial desires fulfilled by Saghian’s California-based team of over 600 people. But how did this little-known brand become one of the most talked about companies on the retail scene?
Low prices, high turnaround
Remember the days when you’d see an outfit on your favorite celeb, realize it was designer and then wait six months for a high street brand to make a knock-off you could wear to your birthday / New Year’s Eve party / best friend’s wedding? That won’t do for the Instagram generation. They want to see it, buy it, and post it on the ’Gram before any of their friends.
And Saghian, who famously told WWD that “over-priced fashion is dead”, knows this is where the brand differs dramatically from their competitors; in their ability to make what he calls “super-fast fashion” for his “Nova Babes” – all at price points ranging between $8-$50.
Fashion Nova provides their customers with the goods at a rate so fast Cosmopolitan recently questioned whether they were using “magic” to push their products out. When Kylie Jenner recently turned 21, in less than 24 hours FN had not only mocked up copies of both of her birthday looks, the samples had been created, shot and were being promoted on their site and social channels.
Saghian has previously explained, “If there's something trending…. And we see that's where the Nova Babe wants to go, we will immediately start creating designs in that category or fabric or type of look." They do this by working with over 1,000 manufacturers and with 80% of their clothing being made in LA in the summer, this means they can have samples in their hands within 24 hours.
“Super-fast fashion is key at a time when retailers find themselves needing to service a consumer expectant of what they want now, arriving yesterday,” says James Benenson, managing director of youth marketing agency Urban Nerds Collective. “But, Fashion Nova's 'sweet spot' is their ability to pair this with a willingness to embrace the unique attitudes that their young consumers harbor towards style. Gen Z are passionate about style fluidity and are constantly looking to experiment with new looks, which Fashion Nova’s high turnaround and competitive price points allow them to do.”
Diversity is QWEEN
Over the last few years the body positivity movement has gained a staggering momentum. No longer is it enough for brands to show their clothes on just one body type, consumers want diversity and they want to see themselves. Think Ashley Graham on the runway at NYFW, think Iskra Lawrence’s #everyBODYisbeautiful campaign, think UK brand Boohoo showing curve models in their prime-time television adverts. This is something Saghian inherently understands. Fashion Nova’s brand mission is, "Fashion should be fun, accessible to all and promote body positivity."
Consumer psychologist Dr Susan Marchant-Haycox explains that their focus on inclusivity has helped them to garner their huge consumer base. “Fashion Nova’s ads and social posts appeal to all shapes and sizes, so they give off the feeling that everyone can be part of the act. But this isn’t their only tactic to make their young audience feel a part of the brand. Whether they’re using an influencer or a model, their posts show people enjoying themselves in various settings from the ordinary to exotic. This increases the feeling of authenticity to their advertising and builds that all important trust with the consumer.”
Of course, in reality, it would be remiss not to note that many of their models’ figures are no more representative of the average woman than the heroin chic catwalk queens of the ’90s – washboard stomachs, boosted bums and surgically enhanced lips are – for your average girl – unachievable. But there is no denying that after decades of seeing the same stick thin representations of womanhood in fashion, they feel refreshing and challenging.
There is also a strong emphasis on using a racially diverse collection of models and influencers. Benenson explains, “Fashion Nova, unlike many other brands, have wholeheartedly embraced racial diversity at a time when there is an undeniable global swell in afro-rooted influence.” So, while brands like Zara and H&M get blasted for racial insensitivity, Saghian continues to promote a message of inclusivity unparalleled in the fashion industry.
You are who you know
It is undeniable that it's Fashion Nova's ability to embrace social media as an advertising tool that has really allowed them to build their brand – it was their Instagram page, once followed by 60,000, that really pushed Saghian to launch the website. Five years later they boast over 3 million search results on YouTube, and no other brand can claim an influencer and celebrity roster as impressive as theirs. Not only does the company work with nearly 3,000-5,000 different influencers, they’ve enlisted the services of some of the biggest faces on the planet to promote their brand.
We’re talking the aforementioned Kylie Jenner – soon set to be the world’s youngest self-made billionaire – Cardi B, the rapper who boasts 30.1 million Instagram followers, and the nonagenarian fashionista Baddie Winkle, to name a few. Then there’s Justin Bieber, DJ Khalid, and Jeremy Meeks, better known in as the ‘hot felon’, who have all featured in campaign videos.
Saghian told Vice that this is key to his promotion strategy. "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." It’s claimed that while some influencers earn between $500-$2,000 for a post, many of Fashion Nova’s ‘Nova Stars’ are happy enough to promote their items in return for free clothes, even to their 100k-plus followers.
Then there are their loyal customers – a behemoth group of young women who regularly tag themselves in the brand's clothing in the hope of featuring on their Instagram feed. A real possibility for a lucky few, Fashion Nova posts around 30 consumer photos a week. As Dr Marchant-Haycox explains, in an age where social media likes equal real life social currency, potentially being recognized by a brand this big is – for many young girls - a big deal. “Generation Zers tend to be convinced by ‘word of mouth’ endorsements from friends, influencers or trusted celebrities over traditional advertising. The opportunity to have their pictures shared on their social channels also makes them feel involved with the brand on a deeper level – it promotes the idea that they’re part of a group.”
So what of the future of the brand? Well, Saghian says he wants to expand further around the globe, while maintaining an awareness that he doesn't need to. "I could stop it right here and live a good life, but I want to grow the business," he told WWD.
But for brands hoping to emulate his success? It seems they need to be unafraid, very unafraid. Utilize social media, let go of snobbery surrounding body types and really listen to the customer. Dream big and don’t let your business mind hold you back. As the man himself said, “A lot of my competitors have teams that work on a budget all day and are obsessed with profit margins… I believe that as long as we focus on giving the best product at the best price and getting it to our customer fast, we will continue to grow.” With a record like theirs, we’re inclined to believe him.
Olivia Foster is a London-based writer and creative. Her career has spanned journalism, television and commercials, with highlights including interviewing Lady Gaga, working on ads for Netflix and resurrecting the career of Mr Blobby.
You can follow her on Twitter.