From Recommendations to Retail

Digital-native lifestyle content platforms for millennial women are powerful influencers of consumer behavior, through trend coverage and especially product recommendations on their web and social channels. They are also cultivating their own presence in the world of licensing, collaboration, and brand extension, as illustrated by a raft of recent deals:

  • Glossier, a beauty brand that was spun off from the blog Into the Gloss in 2014, made its latest move into bricks-and-mortar retail in December by launching seven pop-up experiences at Nordstrom to highlight its new Glossier You fragrance. Last fall, it paired with Barkbox for a limited edition of soft dog toys inspired by its beauty products. Glossier has two permanent stores and has overseen pop-ups in Boston, San Francisco, and Austin.
  • Something Navy split with Nordstrom, its exclusive partner for a successful three-year relationship, at the end of 2019. That partnership started with a capsule involving Nordstrom’s in-house Treasure and Bond brand, the success of which led to the launch of an independent Something Navy label at the retailer in 2018. The program ultimately encompassed women’s apparel, footwear, and children’s clothing. Something Navy has raised $10 million from investment funding to establish the brand as a global direct-to-consumer operation that includes accessories, home décor, and beauty. A bricks-and-mortar presence is under consideration for the future.
  • Goop, the controversial-but-expanding email newsletter-become-lifestyle brand headed by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, recently signed an agreement with Sephora to bring its Goop Beauty wellness label into retail for the first time. It also launched its own swimwear line, G Label Swim. Since Goop first introduced its e-commerce site, featuring in-house-managed, high-end, branded products such as vitamins, fashion, and housewares, in 2014, it has gotten into collaborative capsules with Michael Kors, Stella McCartney, and Diane von Furstenburg; launched its own direct-to-consumer Juice Beauty brand; opened pop-up experiential shops and some standalone stores in cities such as New York, London, and L.A.; established wellness summits called In Goop Health; introduced a short-lived print magazine with Condé Nast; and expanded into furniture with CB2. It is about to launch a Netflix series, The Goop Lab.
  • Refinery29, which was acquired in October 2019 by Vice Media, partnered with Eloquii last fall for a 27-piece plus-size collection called The Weekender. Refinery29 has been increasing its licensing activity since 2018. It debuted a line of greeting cards with Papyrus and a collection of lipsticks with Revlon, and it retained IMG, both as its licensing agent and its partner to expand the 29Rooms art- and culture-based experiential event program.
  • Popsugar, purchased in October by Group Nine, announced an experiential pop-up at the end of 2019. Called Sugar Chalet, the retail experience featured brands such as Athleta, e.l.f., and Nature’s Way. Earlier in the year Popsugar launched Glow, a marketplace for fitness goods and classes, offered by fitness influencers and by Popsugar. The brand has upped its brand-extension activity in the past two years, launching its experiential beauty and fitness festival Popsugar PlayGround; introducing Beauty by Popsugar at Ulta, with Bonafide Beauty Lab; and forging a direct-to-retail licensing deal with Kohl’s for a ready-to-wear collection, all in 2018.
  • Who What Wear debuted its first beauty brand, Versed, in 2019, starting in Target stores. It plans to expand distribution for Versed into all beauty channels, marking its first retail venture that will not be exclusive with Target. Who What Wear is also set to roll out its various brands internationally, with a pop-up-focused strategy, starting with Europe in 2020. The media brand is best known for its private label licensing deal with Target for clothing and accessories, launched in 2016; in 2017 the retailer added Who What Wear-developed JoyLab, another private label, which is focused on activewear. Who What Wear also introduced a shopping app, SHOP/Who What Wear, in 2017, featuring a curated selection of recommended products from retailers such as TopShop and Bloomingdales, as well as its Target collection.
  • Highsnobiety, a streetwear-focused media brand, is entering the retail space for the first time through a partnership with U.K. department store Selfridges. The retail concept is dubbed The Co.Lab and will feature both exclusive collaborations (e.g. with Maison Margiela and Matthew Williams) and curated collections from other brands, with releases rotated weekly. Highsnobiety not only recommends products on its platform but has done a plethora of exclusive limited-edition collaborations with the likes of Collette, Diadora, Stranger Things, The Arrivals, Chinatown Market, and many others, all sold on its site.

Most of these companies are well established. The blog Who What Wear was founded in 2007, the Goop newsletter in 2008, and Into the Gloss in 2010, for example. And many have also been involved in brand extension or collaboration for some time and generate significant sales. Glossier reportedly is a $1 billion-per-year brand, while Popsugar’s products are thought to generate $300 million a year, Goop’s $250 million, and Who What Wear’s more than $100 million. As illustrated in the examples here, their extension activities have crossed multiple business models, including licensing, collaboration, curation, and in-house oversight, not to mention the product endorsements that occur on the media platforms that started it all.

While such ventures are not entirely new, the frequency and scope of brand-extension activities tied to these lifestyle content sites are certainly on the rise, driven by a variety of factors. Many of the brands are backed by investors or large online publishing groups that are looking for short-term revenue growth. In today’s media landscape, significant revenue increases typically cannot be accomplished by being a media brand alone, whether it is investor-backed or influencer-driven and entrepreneurial.

In addition, brands like these are appealing to tie-in partners. They offer strong cross-marketing opportunities on their core sites and their social media platforms, with content and products closely integrated. They have a strong brand image and large followings of loyal customers—primarily in the desirable segment of millennial women—who have trusted them to recommend products from other brands and look forward to their signature products.

These IP owners also offer the benefit of being able to mine reader feedback and a variety of other consumer data to help inform the design direction of licensed and collaborative products, either indirectly or directly. Popsugar, Refinery29, and Who What Wear are among those that have had official initiatives in place to integrate fan feedback and/or behavior into product development. Gathering readers’ input early in the process can often lead to success at retail.

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