Some brands are for everyone – Coca-Cola being the best American example.
When Coke markets itself – it is as a product for everyone, young, old, rich, poor, all races, all income levels. The underlying message in every ad more or less is that no matter who you are, and no matter who they are, you can count on sharing a Coke as being something you can do together because Coca-Cola is for everyone.
Then there are brands on the other end of the spectrum, and Brandy Melville USA is the best example of this when it comes to fashion for tween and teen girls.
Because the odds are good that if one is reading this and is not a teenaged girl – or the parent of one – they have no idea what Brandy Melville USA is because the apparel company does no formal advertising. Founded by Italian father and son Silvio and Stephan Marsan – Brandy Melville USA has been supplying breezy, sporty California-inspired clothes to the young and the fashionable for the last two decades.
“It’s the kind of brand that arrives in your life unannounced, like a troop of screaming cheerleaders in your kitchen. Like adolescence, it just strikes overnight,” wrote one reporter and parent of her sudden entry into the world of the Brandy Melville shopper when her 12-year-old discovered the brand.
But in the era of Instagram – where the firm claims 3.9 million followers – it has seen its sales grow an average of 25 percent a year since 2014, when company had sales of about $125 million. Despite being historically low key – the company gives its millions of adoring followers a never-ending feed of the young and beautiful enjoying picturesque piers, beachfronts, cafés and libraries
The clothes themselves are very much the classics of teen fashion – a mix of velvet track suits, long-sleeve T-shirts, halter-tops with inspirational sayings, cable-knit sweaters – sporty clothes for pretty people perhaps trying to suggest a hint of edge. But Brandy Melville sets itself apart in a way that has attracted controversy in the past – as the clothing is one size fits all, as long as the “all” are pretty small.
“Brandy Melville has become the ultimate teen girl-gang brand: sporty, wholesome and impossibly long-haired,” wrote one reviewer, comparing it to the early days of Abercrombie & Fitch, minus the studio art black-and-white photo marketing campaign that went with it.
Which defenders of the brand note is one of its strong selling points – because it keeps its store footprint minimal and is so fully engaged with its customers on social media that they are able to do what most brands are only saying they are doing these days, which is responding in real time to their customer’s needs. Notably, one employee told us, that never-ending stream of Instagram photos is not entirely made up of professional models in professionally shot environments. Much more of the content, they note, comes care of influencers and consumers – who have picked up the brand independently and have since been enlisted as brand ambassadors that have helped guide and shape the eCommerce company’s obvious revenue-generating strategy.
And, it in fact, directly employs those very young customers to keep what is on the shelves current.
“Product research is made up of all teenage girls,” says Kjerstin Skorge, a 16-year-old from Malibu.“There’s about 20 of us.”
In a back room, those 20 young women brainstorm new ideas and refine current ones for clothes.
“Let’s say there’s a cut of a T-shirt that’s doing really well, they’ll ask our opinion on it. Do we like it? Should we make more? If so, what colors? Should we do long-sleeve? Short-sleeve? Cropped? Not cropped? Would this T-shirt be better in this material? There’s all kinds of things that we get asked, and we give our honest opinion. We also come up with ideas and images that we think would sell well,” she continues.
Some brands are for everyone. Some brands are not – and Brandy Melville is clearly in the latter category: It isn’t trying to dress everyone, it isn’t even trying to dress every teenager girl.
But it does seem to have a connection to, for lack of a better term, the right teenaged girls – and the company’s growth story is uniquely sunny – particularly for a brick-and-mortar brand. And after two decades – and a few years of explosive growth – there might be something to serving one niche of particularly enthusiastic shoppers particularly well.