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Why does Rihanna's fashion outsell other celebrity collections?

By Marjorie van Elven


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Celebrities endorse products or sign licensing deals all the time. However, one would be mistaken to dismiss Rihanna’s endeavors in the fashion and beauty industries as more of the same. Rihanna’s fans are 3.7 times more likely to buy her products than fans of other celebrities, according to research published by marketing consultancy firm NPD Group in 2016.

Rihanna’s first branded sneakers with Puma, part of her Fenty x Puma line from September 2015, sold out in just 35 minutes. The sportswear company appointed the singer as its creative director and global ambassador in December 2014, amidst a rebranding process. The strategy paid off: Puma’s chief executive officer, Björn Gulden, told news agency Reuters that the pop star has helped to boost sales of female leisure gear, which now accounts for a third of Puma’s business.

Her lingerie line, Savage x Fenty, launched in May in partnership with Techstyle Fashion Group, had customers waiting hours in line to be able to access the online store on launch day.

Rihanna’s beauty brand, Fenty Beauty, launched in September 2017, recorded over 72 million dollars in sales in its first month. Once again, shoppers are more eager to spend money on Rihanna’s makeup line than on products by other celebrities venturing in the beauty industry, such as tattoo artist and TV personality Kat von D, who has a makeup line in partnership with Sephora since 2008; and the sisters Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, who converted their reality TV fame into two multi-million-dollar beauty brands. Fenty Beauty customers spend five times more than the average online cosmetics buyer, according to research by data platform Slice Intelligence. “Fenty buyers spend 438 US dollars a year on makeup. The Kat Von D shopper base spends 365 US dollars per year in the cosmetic category; Kim Kardashian buyers spend 317 US dollars, and Kylie Jenner buyers spend roughly 198 US dollar per year in the category”, reads the report.

What is it about Rihanna that makes her brands and brand endorsements so attractive? Why are consumers more inclined to buy products bearing her name than products by other celebrities? To find out, FashionUnited spoke with Joanne Yulan Jong, founder of the strategic brand consultancy firm Yulan Creative, and author of the book “The Fashion Switch: the new rules of the fashion business”.

Unique selling point #1: Rihanna is relatable

“All brands today are struggling with relevance in the market. The only thing that is unique about your brand is your story. You can make a distinct product, but at the end of the day, it’s the story that sells. Rihanna is the most marketable choice for a brand endorsement because she’s got that story. She is this beautiful, successful woman from Barbados. Her ethnicity plays a role, too”, says Jong.

However, Rihanna is not the only beautiful and successful woman of color out there. Singer Beyoncé, who launched her fashion line Ivy Park in 2016, also fits that profile. However, Ivy Park doesn’t seem to get the same buzz as Fenty x Puma and Savage x Fenty do. Why? According to Jong, the difference is that Rihanna has managed to stay relatable. “There’s still room for a personal connection with Rihanna. She allows for people to project themselves onto her. When a celebrity is too strong, too powerful, they are seen solely as an icon”, she explains.

One cannot help but wonder if there are any upcoming pop stars with the same sales potential as the singer from Barbados. Jong bets on Ariana Grande, saying she exerts a similar power over a younger age group. The branding expert forecasts Grande to be “the next Rihanna” in terms of fashion collaborations and brand awareness.

Unique selling point #2: it’s not only about Rihanna

It is to be expected that products bearing Rihanna’s name perform well in sales, considering the singer is a multi-million album seller with 62.5 million Instagram followers, having ranked 7th on Forbes’ list of highest-paid women in music in 2017. However, while most fashion and beauty products endorsed or co-designed by celebrities rely solely on the celebrity’s fame to generate sales, Rihanna has smartly shifted the focus from herself to the customer. She is not only targeting the fans who want to emulate her style. Instead, her collections are branded as having something for everyone.

Savage x Fenty, for example, offers 90 pieces of lingerie and sleepwear in seven nude shades. Bra sizes range from 32A to 44DD, while panties go from size XS to XXXL. The brand’s website features models of different sizes and skin tones, cellulitis and stretch marks included, allowing customers to better visualize what the pieces will look like on their bodies. Her beauty line follows a similar strategy: it includes 40 shades of foundation.

However, Rihanna’s is not the first nor the only plus size lingerie line on the market, neither is it the first one to acknowledge that the concept of “nude” should not be restricted to beige:

While it isn’t usual for most makeup brands to offer 40 colors of foundation, wide ranges are not unheard of in the market. MAC Cosmetics offers 42 shades of foundation, while Bobbi Brown offers 30, to mention just a few examples. MakeUp Forever even took to Instagram to remind customers that it has been offering 40 foundation colors since 2015.

While Rihanna’s product offering and inclusivity discourse are not exactly novelties in the fashion market, the combination of these factors with the appeal of a relatable celebrity has been proving to be a sales machine.

To understand how it works, look no further than Rihanna’s response to MakeUp Forever’s Instagram post. The pop artist herself commented on MakeUp Forever’s profile, saying: “LOL. Still ashy”. With this short sentence, Rihanna positioned her product line as the result of personal experience, while competitors were dismissed as pure PR talk. Rihanna claims she has already tested (all) other makeup lines, and concluded that none of them is good enough. The longevity of her competitors no longer seems to matter.

“And guess what? People believe it, because they trust her. She looks genuine. Rihanna has been active in the music, movie and fashion industries for a long time, and she delivered. Just compare her to Kim Kardashian, who’s also launched a makeup brand with a wide range of products. People believe Rihanna immediately when she says she’s done her research. We can't say the same about Kim Kardashian. She is a little like Liz Hurley was in the nineties: famous for being famous. Rihanna, on the other hand, is perceived as a credible and multifaceted businesswoman”, Jong pondered.

Unique selling point #3: celebrity fashion that people can actually afford

Many celebrities collaborate with luxury fashion houses or high-end brands, whose items are unaffordable for the majority of fans. While Rihanna did collaborate with the likes of Dior and Manolo Blahnik in the past, the majority of her collaborations have been with brands which offer a more affordable price range, such as Stance, River Island and Puma. In addition, all items offered by her namesake lingerie brand cost under 100 US dollars.

The choice for a more affordable price range is in line with the image of relatability she has built for herself, and the image of inclusivity she has attached to her fashion and beauty brands. It wouldn’t make sense to create an “inclusive” collection if only a few people would be able to buy it.

“I’ve worked with brands that have made the strategic choice to reduce the margin on their collection, but sell more volume. If you have a wide reach with a certain age group that doesn’t have a lot of money, it makes a lot of sense. That’s why Puma x Fenty works so well. They know the target and are being strategic”. Jong added that it was also smart of Rihanna to attach her name to athleisure clothing, instead of traditional luxury.

Unique selling point #4: women’s empowerment

Last but not least, one can mention Rihanna’s discourse of women’s empowerment as an important element in her branding strategy. At a time when the #metoo movement is making headlines, many female pop artists have been adopting a discourse in defense of equality. However, once again, Rihanna’s discourse may sound more authentic than those of her counterparts, as it comes from personal experience. The singer is a victim of domestic violence herself, having been assaulted by ex-boyfriend and fellow pop star Chris Brown in 2009. Since then, Rihanna often takes revenge on abusive men in her music videos.

“Women should be wearing lingerie for their damn selves”, the singer told Vogue Magazine upon the launch of her Savage x Fenty line. “I can only hope to encourage confidence and strength by showing lingerie in another light. I want women to own their beauty”.

Same goes for her line with Puma, in which many pieces are gender neutral. “I always wanted to do what my brothers were doing”, she explained to Vogue. “Women feel empowered when they can do the things that are supposed to be only for men”. As Rihanna’s image as a spokesperson for women’s empowerment has been built for years, it does not come across as opportunistic when her products are marketed as a tool for women to empower themselves.

”She’s empowered, beautiful, colored, successful, and not afraid to speak her mind. If you can buy into that for 50 bucks, it’s a lot of value for your money”, concluded Jong.

Pictures: Fenty Beauty Facebook, Courtesy of Puma, Puma Facebook, Savage x Fenty Facebook

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