The brand first emailed her out of the blue last autumn offering to send her free clothes. She liked the pieces and began a relationship with the brand, regularly posting images of herself wearing their $30 matching top and skirt sets and $10 bodysuits, just a few of the hundreds of styles Fashion Nova releases every week.
“They have such a large following,” she said. “And if by the off chance they want to repost me, that’s a big deal for my brand.”
Fashion Nova has perfected the art of instant gratification for a very specific customer: young women, often minorities, who live on Instagram, know their angles and take their style cues from celebrities like the Kardashian Jenners rather than fashion magazines or designer runways. The five-year-old website mints tube dresses and streetwear looks by the thousands, many inspired by paparazzi shots and celebrities’ social media posts.
Once hooked, customers often become evangelists. The brand counts over 15 million followers across its Instagram accounts, and many users routinely tag their selfies with the hashtag #NovaBabes. The value of Fashion Nova’s social media exposure is more than that of H&M and Zara combined and second only to Nike in a ranking of non-luxury apparel brands compiled by Tribe Dynamics, a marketing technology firm. That’s driving a sharp uptick in sales at a time when fast fashion’s reigning giants, H&M and Inditex’s Zara, are seeing growth slow.
The brand is expanding into new product lines — NovaBeauty is slated to debut late this year or early next, and there are plans to open more stores over the next few years. A collaboration collection with recording artist Cardi B will drop in November.
“We are the fastest growing brand in the world,” said Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova’s chief executive. “We have no seasonality. Every month going forward was larger than the previous month due to our NovaBabes being so loyal.”
Saghian founded Fashion Nova in 2006 as a chain of stores selling low-price clubwear and apparel in Los Angeles-area malls. He launched the e-commerce site in 2013 and Instagram was central to the online business from the start. While Saghian says there are no structured rules to which influencers Fashion Nova forms relationships with, he said those partnerships can range from likes and comments to free clothes or financial compensation.
According to a source with knowledge of Fashion Nova’s early social media strategy who did not wish to be identified, Saghian pushed his team to encourage as many Instagram users as possible to post pictures of themselves wearing the brand, while also interacting with them through likes and comments. Whether those users had 1,000 followers or 10 million was secondary; the goal was saturation.
“They reach out to me frequently,” said Rodriguez. “It’s very casual, it’s like you’re talking to a friend.”
By February 2015, Fashion Nova’s Instagram account had 1.3 million followers. Six months later, that number had doubled. By April 2016, it had reached 4 million followers. Each million mark crossed was cause for celebration at the company. Sometimes that meant the surprise appearance of an In-N-Out food truck or a local radio DJ. Earlier this month, Fashion Nova offered 30 percent off to all shoppers to celebrate reaching 12 million followers on its main Instagram account, which sees 100,000 new users per week.
Fashion Nova closely monitored its followers and anyone using the #NovaBabe hashtag. Women with at least 1,000 followers — too few to get on the radar of most major clothing brands — would receive offers for free clothes in exchange for tagging the @FashionNova handle, according to the sources. Many were compensated only in clothes and exposure when their posts were shared by the brand’s main account. Influencers with over a million followers could command payment of around $10,000, more for top-tier celebrities like Kylie Jenner. Sales via influencers were tracked by individual codes.