It took Bag Snobs’ Tina Craig and Kelly Cook nearly a decade to figure out that the key to transforming from blogger to fully realized brand lies in the realm of retail. And apart from the The Blonde Salad’s Chiara Ferragni and perhaps a handful of others, few have been able to make the leap from their blogs and Instagram pages into multimillion-dollar businesses.
Craig and Cook launched their handbag collection, Snob Essentials, on HSN in May—and have since rolled out their approachably priced product (handbags top out at about $128) to Luisa Via Roma, Nordstrom and Nasty Gal.
According to an industry source, the duo is on track to generate several million dollars from this venture in the first year.
“Neither of us is an artist,” Craig says of her and Cook’s foray into designing: a capsule collection with DKNY that came out three years ago. The project took a whole year, but having a specific vision—as well as being hands-on in the design process—paid off. What was supposed to be a one-off collection sold out in three hours on Net-a-Porter.
But partnerships with DKNY, and later denim line DL1961, were just the start.
“That’s the strength of bloggers switching into brands. They have a built-in audience,” Craig says. “Bloggers are not celebrities or fashion models. We are influencers. We have a specific following. We don’t walk down the street and get mobbed. We aren’t SJP.”
In starting to build Bag Snob into a brand, Cook realized it’s not just about collaborating with existing designers, but maximizing the strength of one’s following, their taste and influence in that very specific market—which for her, happens to be handbags.
In September 2012, Craig met with The Beanstalk Group—a brand extension agency that’s worked on licensing deals for The Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Ford Motor Co., Salma Hayek and Paris Hilton.
“We signed with them and that’s how HSN came about. It’s a very large company and [we were told] it would take at least six months to come back to us,” Craig recalls. “They came back in two months with a solid contract.”
Artisan House, Steve Russo’s contemporary handbag firm that also owns Foley + Corinna, Isabella Fiore, Charlotte Ronson and Danielle Nicole, purchased the Snob Essentials brand, and this past May, Craig launched the first collection of eight styles on HSN. Luisa Via Roma had the global exclusive, while HSN had the U.S. exclusive for the first two deliveries—in May and July—and distribution opened for the fall collection at Nordstrom and Nasty Gal.
Craig was slated to appear on HSN this month for the third time to introduce a holiday collection, and confirms that the network has already purchased the upcoming spring range. She’s also working on a special “high summer” delivery, as well as a pre-fall assortment.
According to HSN, several Snob Essentials styles sold out the first day.
“We are creative people. When people try to do everything, you cannot possibly be good at everything. We want to focus on being creative and making great bags,” Craig says. “It’s legit. We wanted to do it the right way.”
To maximize growth, Craig says Bag Snob will launch an e-commerce component on the site in the spring. Since she and Cook built their following online, it only makes sense that they focus on the area as a leading commerce channel. Eventually, they even want to explore multibrand e-commerce.
“We aren’t style bloggers. The people who come to us are serious; they want to buy bags, they want to learn and be educated. They want information. They don’t come on to see how thin I am right now or what color my hair is. Our site strength is our voice. We’re always going to retain that voice but we’re adding on e-commerce,” Craig says.
The Blonde Salad’s Ferragni is considered the first blogger to evolve from snapping and posting her outfits on social media into a global business.
In September, WWD reported that Ferragni is on track to generate revenues of 6 million euros, or almost $8 million, this year. This is largely from her footwear brand, Chiara Ferragni Collection, which is already sold in 200 doors worldwide with plans to hit the U.S. early next year. She had been working on shoes in a small way for some time, but the first significant footwear rollout began with the fall 2013 season. In the year since, it’s been full-speed ahead for her line, which retails from $220 to $500.
This is not to say that her Web site isn’t successful—it’s still a moneymaker for Ferragni and will generate about $2 million of her revenue this year. It’s just that her retail operation is already three times larger and quickly growing. According to Riccardo Pozzoli, cofounder and general manager, 30 percent of revenues come from advertising and brand partnerships (20 percent) and collaborations (10 percent).
Pozzoli says his approach with the business is like a reverse Asos—meaning that Asos started with commerce and extended into content, while The Blonde Salad has done the opposite.
“It’s not about a ‘blogger’ becoming a brand. It always goes back to talent. The people who are evolving into more than what they started as—which was creating content on a blog—would have done this either way,” says Karen Robinovitz, cofounder and chief creative officer of Digital Brand Architects, or DBA.
It just so happens that the most creative way—allowing them the freedom to create the content they wanted with a desired point of view—was via online, whether on a blog, their social media channels or both.
“This is not to say that anyone who starts a blog takes this path. It always boils down to talent, drive, business savvy and entrepreneurship. It just so happens that where they began their public career was a Web site,” Robinovitz adds.
Although it’s still early on, Emily Weiss’ Glossier is expected to solidify her place as a blogger-turned-brand.
Weiss says Glossier, the direct-to-consumer beauty line she founded, is “creating what’s relevant.” Using her “Into the Gloss” blog as a platform, she’s reflected on the feedback and information she’s received, and along with her team, distilled that into four core products: an $18 soothing rosewater face mist, a $25 priming moisturizer, a $26 perfecting skin tint and a $12 universal skin salve with the cheeky name “Balm Dotcom.”
Weiss raised $2 million in 2013, led by Kirsten Green of Forerunner, and leading up to the launch of Glossier, she bulked up her team. She has a chief operating officer, an operations manager and a director of product development, who comes from MAC Cosmetics.
“It’s a different beauty experience,” says Weiss. “There is no need for more noise. There is need for context and curation. The driving reason why Into the Gloss really took off and why it resonated with its readers is because it cuts through the noise and acts as your friend.”