COVID-19 may have canceled a lot of beach vacations, but Farm Rio, the Brazilian purveyor of feel-good tropical print clothing, managed to see a pandemic lift in 2020, thanks in part to Hollywood.
After Sarah Jessica Parker was photographed wearing Farm Rio’s Jungle Pop print puffer coat on the chilly streets of New York City in November, the style sold out in less than a week on the brand’s web site. Busy Philipps, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba have all posted images of themselves wearing fruity- and palm-print sundresses and sweaters on Instagram, helping Farm Rio more than double international revenues to $12.5 million for the third quarter, up from $6 million for all of 2019.
Not bad for a brand that’s only been in the U.S. market since last year.
“Our product is our biggest marketing asset; once you buy Farm, the first thing you are going to do is take a picture and post it, because the colors and prints are so unique,” said chief executive officer Fabio Barreto.
Barreto’s plan for growing the 22-year-old brand’s international business started in March 2019 with the launch of the U.S. e-commerce site, summer pop-ups in L.A. and the Hamptons, as well as an influencer gifting program coordinated by The A List communications agency in L.A.
“The A List does a great job, they have their own showroom, so we can have our own visual merchandising and get feedback, it’s been a great partnership,” he said of the agency started in 2001 by Ashlee Margolis, who has also worked with Rothy’s, Madewell, Aritzia and more.
“It’s all about relationships,” said Margolis, who hosts celebrities at her expansive Beverly Hills showroom, and delivers product to them at home, resulting in organic social media and paparazzi shot placement.
In 2019, Farm Rio opened its first U.S. brick-and-mortar stores on Prince Street in Manhattan’s SoHo and in the Aventura Mall in Miami, and this year it started selling at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Next year, consumers will be seeing even more of the brand with the collection rolling out in Nordstrom, too.
“We have experienced huge growth this year — many things helped, everyone switched to digital and we were ready for it and had the right product for it,” said Barreto. “At first we thought people won’t buy because they don’t have an occasion or aren’t going away. But we saw the opposite — they wanted that happier feeling even at home.”
Operated under the publicly traded Grupo de Moda Soma, Brazil’s biggest fashion group encompassing seven brands, Farm Rio accounts for 40 percent of overall revenue.
“As a group, we play in different segments. Farm plays in a more contemporary segment in Brazil, a more trendy woman willing to express herself through bold colors, prints, and what we call a carioca lifestyle of girls who live in Rio, who enjoy both the urban and the beach lifestyle,” he said.
By the end of 2019, e-commerce already represented 25 percent of Soma’s retail sales, and when the pandemic hit, the group was able to continue to do 80 percent of the previous year’s overall sales, even with stores closed. “When we were pitching an IPO, the market came back to us quickly once everyone understood the lockdowns,” Barreto said of the digital positioning.
On July 31, Grupo Soma went public, raising 1.8 billion reais ($349 million) on the São Paolo Stock Exchange to help with expansion.
“The biggest challenge is to create awareness,” said the New York-based Barreto, who launched the brand in the U.S. in 2019 exclusively with ShopBop. “Brazilian fashion is not something people are out there looking for, so having someone like ShopBop behind in the beginning was important.”
To help sell the allure of Brazil globally during lockdown, Farm Rio launched several digital initiatives in 2020, including “Live from Rio” e-commerce livestreams. The most recent event saw 61 orders per minute and 50,000 viewers.
On the b-to-b level, a new virtual showroom allowed buyers to experience seeing the collection in different scenic parts of Brazil, while simultaneously writing orders. The first one showcased the resort 2021 collection and was streamed from a beachy locale in Búzios. The second edition, for the spring 2021 collection, took place at the brand’s Casa Farm flagship in Rio, with a view of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. The most recent was held in Paraty, another vacation spot, for high summer.
“We love how authentic they are, using their hometown beaches of Rio as a platform for showing and creating excitement for their collection,” said Shea Jensen, Nordstrom executive vice president and general merchandise manager, of the virtual showroom set-up.
“These are things we think are not going back, and will help us scale more quickly,” Barreto said of how the pandemic has led to new ways of doing business.
The brand has also seen success driving awareness with a robust collaboration strategy, partnering on 18 to 20 different initiatives a year, including Levi’s earlier this month. A collaboration with Adidas that started in 2014 as a one-off is now a permanent collection for the sportswear brand.
For 2021, post-COVID-19, there are plans to launch a number of live experiences, including at The Grove in Los Angeles in July. But Farm Rio is holding off on any more brick-and-mortar stores for now. “L.A. is top of list, together with beginning our European expansion the same as we did in U.S. through e-commerce and wholesale first, then a social media and influencer strategy to build the Farm community,” he said.