If one were to make a list of products for a cutting-edge fashion brand aimed at capturing the emerging Generation Z market, it is safe to assume that “foxtail keychains” would not make the top 10.
But that is exactly where husband-and-wife entrepreneurial team Shaudi Lynn (aka DJ Shoddy Lynn) and Bobby Farahi started when creating Dolls Kill in 2011.
The brand has been well-known among Generation Z and millennial consumers for several years – particularly those into the clubbing and music festival scene. Dolls Kill specializes in edgy, unusual designs and offerings geared toward those with more eclectic tastes.
Need a glow-in-the-dark fishnet unitard? Or a fully Hello Kitty-themed for 2020? Maybe a floor-length leather dress with a high leg slit to match your knee-high Doc Marten boots? These are the types of things one can expect to find on the Dolls Kill online shopping portal – as well as off the rack in their San Francisco and Los Angeles physical locations.
Shaudi Lynn, as noted above, was a DJ who, in her own words, never had any aspirations of being a fashion designer or clothing merchant. But she was an eclectic dresser who had been selling her own outfits on eBay since she was a young teenager – so in some sense, she believes launching the brand was “always something in my DNA.”
And while the brand is often described as “punk,” “goth” and “extremely eclectic,” Lynn noted in an interview that she doesn’t see it this way. From her point of view, the uniting vision behind all of Dolls Kill’s assorted items isn’t any particular visual aesthetic – in the decade or so of growth it has enjoyed, all kinds of looks have flowed from the brand. As Lynn told Fashionista, it is more about an attitude that permeates everything they sell.
“You can dress like a hooker on the weekend, go to work during the week, who the *** cares? Live your life, wear what you want,” she said.
The amount of funding Dolls Kill brings in is something of a mystery: The firm does not disclose revenue figures, though its founders have affirmed the company is profitable. And they are looking to expand – fresh off a $40 million infusion of funds, care of a Series B round from Sequoia Capital. Alfred Lin, former COO, CFO and chairman of Zappos and a current partner at Sequoia Capital, led the round of funding and will join the Dolls Kill board.
In many ways, as both Lynn and CEO Farahi noted, Dolls Kill was lucky in being the right brand at the right time – but they also made their own luck. Festival and club clothes comprised a rather niche market in 2011 when the brand first began advertising their products. Pushed by the emergence of Instagram, where their visually striking outfits played particularly well among consumers – as well as the widespread popularity of festivals like Coachella and Burning Man in the last decade – Dolls Kill began appearing more publicly and prominently.
Their latest major boon, according to most experts, has been the emergence of TikTok and the associated phenomenon of “eGirls.” For the unfamiliar, eGirls are an increasingly common way to refer to Gen-Z members known for their strikingly candid TikTok posts and their distinctive fashion stylings, which are generally a mishmash of skater, punk, goth and anime looks, often with a sprinkling of BDSM flair.
eGirls are big Dolls Kill shoppers – though, according to the brand, that is more a matter of organic happenstance than anything they did to bring those shoppers on board.
Where there is popularity, there are always imitators and follow-ons. Asos and Pretty Little Thing have added specific festival categories and shopping guides to their product lineups, and Forever21, Zara and H&M have also worked to “eclectify” their offerings in recent years to capture the emerging niche of Gen Z consumers and eGirl influencers.
That competition is what pushed the brand to seek more funding, Farahi, as it looks to grow up and out with its fanbase. That means greater international expansion, since so many of their customers come from outside the U.S. And it also means finding and adding more brands and looks to stay on the cutting edge.
But while they are gearing up to play in a more competitive space, both of Dolls Kill’s founders remain confident. Because in their opinion, they are selling not just clothes, but a vision of how fashion should be. And, Lynn noted, no matter how much bigger they’ve gotten, they’ve stayed true to that vision.
“We’re an authentic brand,” she said. “We are dedicated to who our fans are, who our girls are, who our guys are – so in that sense, it’s the same. We’re always speaking to the same group of individuals.”