Like most innovators, Arielle Charnas was looking to solve a problem when she launched her fashion blog – it just wasn’t a fashion problem. It was a boy problem: Namely, she was trying to impress an older guy she was seeing who had said the thing he found most appealing in a woman was entrepreneurship.
Charnas, based on a tip from her sister, decided to start a fashion blog in 2009. The relationship did not last. The fashion blog, on the other hand, not only lasted, but grew. Today, Charnas' website is a go-to destination: She has 1.1 million Instagram followers and is the motivating force behind the rapidly selling out Something Navy line at Nordstrom.
Today, she noted, things are quite good, as she is the rare internet celebrity who has turned a social brand into a bankable retail venture.
And while Charnas has always thought the industry was fun, it hasn’t always been easy. Today, throwing digital marketing dollars at influencers seems like such a common and obvious move for a brand trying to tap into millennial consumers that it's barely a news event at this point.
In 2009 and for most of the business' early days, however, Charnas said the business of fashion didn’t take influencers seriously as a real marketing channel.
“Even after a year or two, it was still difficult, because a lot of brands and businesses didn't understand digital marketing. It was all about print and billboards and TV commercials; the internet was not the place that people wanted to invest their money in for marketing. The first three to four years were tough, especially for business, and then Instagram launched and everything changed," Charnas noted in a Fashionista interview.
The highly visual Instagram medium made it much easier for influencers to find side gigs with brands that wanted a powerful digital promotion channel – and Something Navy, with its growing base of followers, seemed a perfect market.
The challenge from then on, Charnas noted, was in evolving to the point where the partnerships she chose did more than just pay the bills for the blog, but actually helped the Something Navy brand develop and display its own unique voice in the industry.
“As your followers grow, and grow with you, it's really important to make sure that everything is on-brand and are things that I genuinely use or tried out and love, and that I think they would love," she said. "We like to do long-term partnerships now because it feels more organic, especially when you're posting about a beauty product. Posting about it once and then going onto a new product the next week can sometimes turn off your followers.”
The brand still does one-off partnerships, but they are much more selective in how they choose them.
“Sometimes if it's a brand that I'm absolutely obsessed with and it's a startup, we try to invest so that it also feels like our baby, and we want to see it grow and help it grow," Charnas pointed out.
And these days, Something Navy isn’t just a place to find a brand to become obsessed with – it is officially an obsession-worthy brand in and of itself, at least if the early sales numbers out of Nordstrom are accurate.
Charnas first started working with Nordstrom last fall, in a collaborative collection with its existing private-label Treasure & Bond brand. That collection ended up a being strong performer saleswise. Nordstrom and Charnas embarked on a first-of-its-kind product for Nordstrom, an entirely influencer-designed, private-label brand by Charnas, to be called Something Navy after the site and Instagram feed.
Plans for the line began last winter, and three weeks ago the world got its first peek at the line of mixed staples and statement pieces. Nordstrom has 35 different private-label offerings, each with its own design director. For the Something Navy project, Charnas reportedly provided the design director with inspiration, which that designer then turned into specific, Charnas-approved pieces.
Nordstrom, instead of creating brands, has historically either sold the influencers’ independent lines (usually exclusively) or collaborated with them on capsule collections.
“One thing we love about working with influencers is they have their audience they’re really engaged with. It gives us the opportunity to connect with new and existing customers,” said a Nordstrom brand PR manager. “We look to identify influencers who share our brand values and our goal of delivering new products to our customers they can’t find anywhere else.”
For this particular line of new products, finding some of the items at Nordstrom might prove to be challenging, because Something Navy ended up being an instantly popular offering. The brand sold over $1 million in merchandise on its first day, and sell-out of the most popular items is becoming common.
“It was a dream for me to start my own clothing line,” Charnas noted. “I think that in having an Instagram platform and being able to engage and interact with my followers, and learning what they want and what they're looking for in the market, it was my duty to take that information and do something with it.”
Because, she noted, data is something she has plenty of. Some of it comes directly from her customers, through their comments, direct messages and specific questions about what they want and love. But Charnas also gets great data from affiliates, so she knows what customers are swiping up and what is selling out. She then uses that information to make continual edits to the site, so it is showing what is on trend and also accessible for the “everyday girl” customer to wear.
After collaborating with Nordstrom and working with their design teams, this latest expansion seemed like the natural move for the social media brand.
“It was the perfect place for Something Navy. I felt like they totally understood me, understood my vision; they understood my followers and they really let me take the reins," Charnas added. "I was like, 'Why am I not doing this? I have all the tools; I have all the information from these girls.' I just felt like it was time.”