There’s no denying Chiara Ferragni is a multihyphenate. In the latest development, the influencer-blogger-designer-entrepreneur-consultant is adding yet another role — that of president and chief executive officer of her company, TBS Crew Srl.
The move is part of a restructuring aimed at fine-tuning her operations, trimming costs and putting her even more at the center of each of her projects. Ferragni is a majority shareholder in the group and succeeds Riccardo Pozzoli, who continues to hold a minority stake but will no longer have any operative role.
Wearing Dior pumps and a black Alberta Ferretti pantsuit that hides her six-month pregnancy bump, Ferragni, 30, is the picture of contentment, galvanized by the prospects ahead, both on a personal and professional level. Her fiancé, popular Italian rapper Fedez, is on his portable on the terrace of the modern apartment they share in Milan’s City Life complex.
In an interview, Ferragni clarified the structure and purpose of TBS Crew and her other business, Chiara Ferragni Collection, her footwear line, which has been expanding with capsules, some apparel looks and a brick-and-mortar retail strategy. “I like the idea of being in charge, being so organized and doing so many different things in such a special moment in my life and to become ceo when pregnant. It’s about female empowerment,” she said with a big smile.
“I have been refocusing on TBS Crew, and it’s great to see how the first two months of changes are already yielding positive results,” she added.
TBS Crew is made up of three businesses: A talent agency, representing Ferragni and her younger sister Valentina; the management of all activities of The Blonde Salad, created by the eldest Ferragni in October 2009 as a blog and is now what she calls a “lifestyle blog-azine” and an e-store of limited-edition capsule collections, and a production company that produces digital creative content in support of the sisters’ activities and of the blog-azine and is representative of their taste. Case in point: a video filmed on the Amalfi Coast to promote Chiara Ferragni’s capsule collection for Tod’s for spring 2017.
Ferragni said capsule collections “work very well. The idea of exclusivity over only a short period of time in a small number of pieces is winning.” The talent business unit represents 90 percent of TBS Crew’s business, while accounting for only 40 percent of management and organizational costs.
Sales are expected to total six million euros in 2017, up 82.5 percent compared with 2016 and triple the revenues in 2015. Setting the foundations for future growth, Ferragni has taken action over the past two months since she has taken on her new roles, streamlining the structure of TBS Crew, rationalizing expenses and leveraging synergies.
In line with this strategy, the company, which has 14 employees, is moving to smaller offices. As a result of these moves, she expects to reduce costs by 35 percent and increase sales of the Chiara Ferragni activities by 80 percent. She has also created a new managerial structure, hiring Fabio Mario Damato as a general manager and Alessandro Marina of consultancy Strategie e Risorse to help in the restructuring and to fine-tune long-term strategies.
Ferragni emphasized that the changes also involve increasingly putting herself at the center of every project. Although she spends around six months in Los Angeles, and plans to deliver her baby there for a double citizenship, Ferragni said she has been “more stable” in Milan recently, and realized that the projects that worked best were those that saw her as the focus.
“Under the previous management, I was not privy to certain developments. Clients expected me to be part of their projects and were disappointed when I was not,” she said. “Now everything has to be approved by me, it’s fundamental, whereas before, I missed some steps. There was no idea of what was more important, there was no real strategy. We were wasting time and resources on projects that created confusion in partners and followers.” And that is a risk indeed as, at press time, that number totaled 11.2 million.
“I am still a member of the board, but I have decided to step down to focus on my own projects, since Chiara and I differed on the company’s strategies going forward,” said Pozzoli separately, reached by phone. He conceded he believed in “building different assets” to expand TBS Crew, with investments that were denting margins at the moment, but that he believed could yield future growth. “I am now focusing on my other projects, such as my investment in the food delivery start-up Foorban,” which Pozzoli billed as the first digital restaurant in Milan and his first book will be published at the end of March. “It’s based on my experience, about how it’s possible today to create new professional figures after the digital revolution,” explained Pozzoli, who is also an adviser on social media and marketing strategies, and teaches at Universities such as Columbia and Bocconi.
Ferragni underscored that the growth of TBS Crew did not depend on an increased number of partnerships but, on the contrary, on being more selective. “I like to call them partners, not clients,” she said of companies that range from Swarovski and Pantene to Dior. New contracts will be revealed next year, she said, reflecting her persona and with companies even more authoritative and consolidated.
“If I wanted to, I could do 20 posts per day and become a millionaire, but this is not what I want to do; I seek partners with long-term value,” she said.
Asked how she selects the brands she works with, Ferragni said her choice depends on whether she feels comfortable wearing them, but in any case that she likes to mix and match price points. “It’s easier now, at the beginning I was afraid to say no. I was 23, a student, it was the first money I made, now I realize that credibility is everything. I need to give myself 100 percent and avoid overexposure.”
To this end, Ferragni spontaneously started adding hashtags that mark sponsored posts in early 2017 to avoid surreptitious advertising. Since April, TBS has been working with the Advertising Self-Regulation Institute and Italy’s consumers’ association UNC, or Unione Nazionale Consumatori, on the theme of influencers’ marketing and advertising through social media to find solutions that will guarantee transparency as a way to protect followers, partners and influencers.
“What I would like is to redefine what a fashion influencer is in the next 10 years, not only in communication but in entertainment,” Ferragni said.
The “constant feedback” she received from her followers on what she wears and does helps her in her consultancy work, she said, noting it was difficult to characterize her markets. She is undoubtedly international, with Forbes declaring her the most powerful influencer in the world and Harvard Business School pinning her activities as a case study. The U.S. and Italy are her leading markets, followed by Europe and Central and South America, with Mexican and Brazilian followers among the most loyal. Ferragni is also strong in the Middle and Far East, in South Korea and Japan, especially. Although she only recently launched on Weibo, she is already highly influential in China, where she has been busy closing fake accounts. Ferragni and Yang Mi, who boasts 75 million followers on Weibo, appear together on the December issue of Vogue Me China.
A separate company and business, the Chiara Ferragni Collection, was launched later, in 2013, and is helmed by ceo Andrea Lorini, with Ferragni the creative and artistic director and face of the brand, as well as a shareholder. The products are marked by a stylized blue eye. Sales in 2016 totaled 20 million euros. For this venture, she relies on industrial and financial partners.
While launched as a footwear line, the collection is now growing with additional categories, pieces such as backpacks, bomber jackets, sweatshirts and T-shirts, all infused with a travel theme. She also launched a see-now-buy-now collection in September and continues to ink partnerships such as, most recently, with Evian and Converse.
The first stores opened in Milan, Shanghai and Chengdu and, through a joint venture inked with Riqing Group, the company plans to open 14 flagships in China by 2019. The brand is also available at Selfridges, Le Bon Marché and LuisaViaRoma. Sales from the Chiara Ferragni Collection online store grew 235 percent in June 2017 from a year earlier.
Ferragni admitted she did not expect this level of success, which she attributes to starting her blog “without thinking it could become my work. I have always been and continue to be myself and the curiosity for my life” fuels her followers. “They are my inspiration. I started because I wanted to share, I adore this sharing, I like to make everyone part of my success, targets and personal pleasures. I like to put myself to the test and help others do as much, without thinking about building a business. Spontaneity wins on social media.”