Chriselle Lim reportedly walked away from more than $1 million to be a brand ambassador for a leading global beauty brand.
When reached for comment, Lim confirmed the above but declined to reveal which company approached her with the offer. An industry source told WWD the brand was L’Oréal Paris, which in 2015 signed Kristina Bazan as an “online ambassador.” (It was the first seven-figure influencer deal, which a year later turned into a traditional ambassadorship with Bazan’s terms renegotiated and her fee raised.) L’Oréal Paris could not be reached for comment on the rumors about Lim or the terms of Bazan’s deal.
During a new era online, where bloggers’ stars are rising and the top tier is vying for coveted brand ambassadorships with big names commanding rates that now start at $500,000, Lim could have secured the single most lucrative deal between a brand and influencer.
But she had her reasons for turning down the deal.
“We walked away because it did not fit my brand, and I didn’t feel OK being the brand ambassador or spokesperson because it would make us exclusive with the category. It wasn’t right for me to sign that contract. It would have changed a lot of things with my business currently and my brand,” said Lim, who, first and foremost, values the freedom that many influencers lose once signing contracts that contain exclusivity clauses. (The same goes for actresses tied to a fashion house or beauty giant.)
“For me, I really am more on the creative side. It’s really about the long-term growth of the brand and the longevity of things. Maybe if I was younger and needed a dollar it would be a different story,” she added.
What sets Lim apart from many of her peers is that she has the ability to create content about any brand she wants, which is fast becoming a rarity among the influencer set. Lim’s content — on her web site, The Chriselle Factor, as well as on Instagram and YouTube — is lauded industrywide for its elevated look and feel and high production value that’s nearly impossible to attain without a production team of Lim’s size or caliber.
That is exactly why she decided to look to content to expand her sources of revenue, and hopefully propel her business to the next phase. Except, this time, Lim will be doing the creative direction and production on behalf of other brands, not herself. Or as she put it, “all we’re taking away is my face.”
Today will see the official launch of Cinc Studios, which specializes in what Lim knows best: content. In an interview, she described the new venture as a creative studio that specializes in visual, digital and social communication of brands in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle space. Among the services offered are strategic creative direction, social strategy, social consulting, full-service production, digital campaigns, look books and content for e-commerce sites.
The project has been in the works for more than two years, maintained Lim, who cofounded Cinc Studios with longtime business partner Lauren Fong, also Cinc Studio’s chief executive officer. Lim’s role is creative director.
“The number-one thing people were asking me as I started to grow was, ‘Who does my content?’ I found that interesting. A lot of people were asking me, ‘What production company are you hiring?’ ‘Who was filming you?’ and ‘Who is editing you?'” Lim said.
She noted that people were surprised that she had her own in-house team responsible for all content creation. Today, Chriselle Inc. — inclusive of Lim’s site and anything that Lim is the face of — has a team of 10 full-time employees. With the addition of Cinc Studios, Lim and Fong will add five more employees over the next year — where some will have duties split between Chriselle Inc. and Cinc Studios — as well as a network of creative talent that will be contracted on a freelance basis. The team is about to move into a studio space outside of Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles that will double as headquarters for both companies.
“When people hear that, they’re very impressed because I’ve always had a production team. I’ve always had a production company, but I’ve never marketed it that way,” Lim said, explaining the reason why Cinc Studios was established as its own entity with its own name that’s not so overtly tied to her likeness. (Cinc is short for Chriselle Inc.)
“People have known me as being in front of the camera for almost eight years so I really want to take the name out of the studio. It’s kind of in there. Just because it’s not about me, it’s about the brand, the vision and what we can do for them versus me being in front of the camera or me being the talent. It was just a natural evolution of where I started. [I started] behind the camera, then I was front of the camera and now behind again,” Lim explained.
Fong said her and Lim are in talks with a number of potential brand clients, and prior to officially making Cinc Studios a stand-alone company, already quietly worked with Peninsula Hotels, Frame Denim, Rebecca Minkoff and Essie. With Cinc Studio’s public debut also comes the launch of another client, Cinq à Sept. The contemporary brand’s holiday campaign goes live on cinqasept.com today, as well as a video look book and updated web site imagery.
Lim declined to give revenue projections for the studio’s first year but views the operation as a “very lucrative” revenue channel on top of Chriselle Inc.’s existing multimillion dollar business.
This evolution from blogger into fully realized production company ushers Lim into the superinfluencers, or “supers,” which today includes Chiara Ferragni, Aimee Song, Leandra Medine, Arielle Charnas, Camila Coelho, Julia Engel, Ingrid Nilsen and Danielle Bernstein. But a move into production also makes Lim a bit of an outlier in an elite group of influencers teeming with outfit of the day, or OOTD, posts, high-paying ambassadorships and burgeoning product lines.
Medine aside, who operates a Man Repeller site that’s evolved into a media property employing 16 people as well as a namesake footwear brand, the rest are relying on product to transform their personal brands and businesses into multimillion dollar entities. That or securing lucrative brand ambassadorships. Or both.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s working, and quite well. Look at Bernstein, who reportedly raked in a codesigning fee in the “high six figures” in exchange for attaching her name to a line of Seven For All Mankind Jeans in an effort to help bolster the brand’s cool factor. This is just a fraction of the 25-year-old’s six-figure deals and brand partnerships, not to mention her footwear collection, Archive, and a direct to consumer brand of overalls, Second Skin Overalls.
And beyond crowning Lim an influencer anomaly, her status as a hybrid brand builder and converter — due to her ability to both raise awareness because of aspirational brand positioning and move product — now makes her one of the most sought after digital talents in the space.
While Lim counts brand partnerships as a significant part of the Chriselle Inc.-arm of the business, none are of the scope where she’s the “face” or “ambassador” of a brand that requires any sort of exclusivity on her behalf. This year she’s worked with La Prairie, Disney, Tory Burch, Fendi, Roger Vivier and Bulgari and counts Revolve, Seven For All Mankind and Splendid as recent partnerships that have also resulted in high conversion.
Last week, Jenna Habayeb, chief marketing officer at Delta Galil Premium Brands, parent company of Seven For All Mankind and Splendid, told WWD that Lim linked to a pair of Seven jeans in a single post in her Instagram Story — there was no permanent image or video post — and drove $15,000 in sales within the 24 hours the Story was active. That equates to potential sales of $105,000 in one week, $420,000 in four weeks, or nearly $5.5 million in a year.
To what does Lim attribute her “50/50” mix of selling and brand building? The right combination of eschewing the typical #OOTD posts in place of aspirational fashion content, juxtaposed with reality — especially her “motherhood side.” (Lim has a two-year-old daughter named Chloe.) She acknowledged that some followers want to see an outfit and immediately be able to buy it, which is definitely not the case when she’s often wearing off-the-runway looks, but it’s also this “fantasy element” and approach to fashion that her audience is attracted to.
“My product, yes it’s fashion, but at the end of the day, people come to me for content — and that’s my product,” stated Lim, who isn’t ruling out an eventual clothing or product line down the line. “My number-one product at this point is the content; it has always been about great content. It only makes sense that my first product is based around building content.”
Correction: This story was updated on Oct. 11 to include new information regarding the brand Chriselle Lim turned down. It was not, as originally reported, L’Oreal.