The life and career of Bernard Arnault, the luxury goods mogul who owns brands like Louis Vuitton – and whose wealth is surpassed only by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk

Bernard Arnault
Bernard Arnault is the chairman and CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest maker of luxury goods.

  • Bernard Arnault briefly surpassed Elon Musk as the world’s second-richest person this week.
  • Arnault controls the massive luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton.
  • Four of Arnault’s children work at LVMH brands, including Louis Vuitton, Berluti, and TAG Heuer.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When it comes to the world of luxury goods, perhaps no one is more successful than Bernard Arnault.

Arnault, the 72-year-old CEO of French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, has built his fortune over the span of almost four decades, amassing a luxury-goods empire that includes some of the best-known names in fashion, jewelry, and alcohol, including Louis Vuitton, TAG Heuer, and Dom Perignon.

Along the way, Arnault has brought four of his five adult children into the fold, building a family-run conglomerate that has resulted in the world’s third-largest fortune.

Here’s how Arnault got his start and became one of the richest people in the world.

Marissa Perino contributed reporting. Taylor Nicole Rogers contributed to an earlier version of this story.

The 72-year-old French businessman is the chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, known as LVMH. Arnault owns a 97.5% stake in Christian Dior, which controls 41.2% of LVMH.

bernard arnault lvmh

Source: Bloomberg

Arnault comes from the northern French town of Roubaix – he studied engineering at one of France’s most prestigious schools, the École Polytechnique. After graduating, Arnault went to work for his father’s construction company, Ferret-Savinel.

Ecole Polytechnique
Students from Ecole Polytechnique.

Source: Bloomberg, Business Insider

In 1984, Arnault acquired an ailing company called Agache-Willot-Boussac, which owned brands like French department store Bon Marche and the fashion house Christian Dior. He renamed the firm Financiere Agache and initiated a turnaround, cutting costs and selling off some of its businesses.

bernard arnault
LVMH vice president Alain Chevalier and Bernard Arnault, then CEO of Financiere Agache, at an event in Paris in 1988.

Source: Bloomberg

Soon after, he bought fashion house Celine and funded the French designer Christian Lacroix.

Celine

Source: The New York Times

In the late 1980s, Arnault said his goal was to run the world’s largest luxury company within the following decade. He then set his sights on LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, spending $2.6 billion buying up shares in order to become the company’s largest shareholder, and its chairman and CEO by 1989.

Bernard Arnault
Bernard Arnault circa 1980.

Source: The New York Times

Arnault married Anne Dewavrin in 1973 and they had two children together before separating in 1990. Arnault remarried to Helene Mercier, a Canadian concert pianist, in 1991.

helene mercier bernard arnault
Helene Mercier and Bernard Arnault.

Source: Financial Times, Forbes

He reportedly wooed her by playing Chopin and other classical composers.

bernard arnault
Arnault at his home in 2000.

Source: Forbes

The French billionaire and his wife live on Paris’s Left Bank, south of the Seine River, a historic area that includes neighborhoods such as the Latin Quarter and St. Germain-des-Prés.

paris

Source: Bloomberg, The New York Times

In their home, Arnault keeps a collection of modern and contemporary art from artists that include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, Andy Warhol, and Pablo Picasso.

picasso painting art sothebys
Art handlers hang “Tete De Femme” by Pablo Picasso at a 2016 Sotheby’s auction in London.

Source: Bloomberg

Arnault has five children: two with his first wife and three with his current wife.

Bernard Arnault sons
Arnault with three of his sons at the Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris in June 2018.

Source: The New York Times

Antoine Arnault and Delphine Arnault are his two children from his first marriage.

bernard arnault children
Antoine and Delphine Arnault with their father, Bernard Arnault, in 2015.

Source: The New York Times, LVMH

Delphine, Arnault’s oldest daughter, is the apparent heiress to the LVMH empire.

delphine arnault
Delphine Arnault.

Source: The New York Times

She started her career at American consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. in Paris and is now the executive vice president at Louis Vuitton.

delphine arnault
Delphine Arnault in 2001.

Source: Business of Fashion, The New York Times

In January 2019, Delphine became the youngest member of LVMH’s executive committee at age 43.

bernard arnault delphine arnault
Bernard Arnault and Delphine Arnault.

Source: MDS

Delphine married Italian wine heir Alessandro Vallarino Gancia in 2005 in what Forbes called “France’s wedding of the year.” The couple divorced in 2010.

delphine arnault wedding
Delphine Arnault and Alessandro Vallarino Gancia.

Source: Forbes, Business Insider

She now reportedly lives with tech billionaire Xavier Niel and has one daughter. But Delphine is notoriously private about her personal life. “I’m quite discreet,” she told the Financial Times in a rare 2014 interview. “I think I’d rather focus on my work.”

delphine arnault
Xavier Niel, Delphine Arnault, and Bernard Arnault in Paris in April 2018.

Source: Financial Times

Delphine’s younger brother, Antoine, is chief executive of menswear label Berluti and chairman of the cashmere label Loro Piana, both LVMH brands.

antoine arnault

Source: The New York Times, LVMH

In addition to those roles, Antoine was named head of communications and image for LVMH in June 2018.

antoine arnault
Antoine Arnault at a Louis Vuitton show in January 2019 in Paris.

Source: Business of Fashion

He’s married to supermodel Natalia Vodianova, whom he reportedly met on a shoot for a 2008 Louis ­Vuitton campaign when he was the brand’s head of communications.

antoine arnault natalia Vodianova
Antoine Arnault and Natalie Vodianova during 2019 fashion week in Paris, France.

Source: W Magazine

The couple lives in Paris with their two children and Vodianova’s three children from a previous marriage.

antoine arnault natalia
Natalia Vodianova and Antoine Arnault during Paris Fashion Week in January 2019.

Source: W Magazine

Alexandre, the son of Bernard Arnault and Helene Mercier, was the CEO of Rimowa, a German luggage brand owned by LVMH.

alexandre arnault
Alexandre Arnault at Foundation Louis Vuitton in October 2018 in Paris.

Source: The New York Times, LVMH, Getty Images

Following LVMH’s acquisition of Tiffany & Co. last year, Alexandre was named Tiffany’s executive vice president of product and communications.

alexandre arnault bernard
Alexandre Arnault and his father, Bernard Arnault.

Source: Business Insider

He appears to be friends with Evan Spiegel, the chief executive of Snap, Snapchat’s parent company. Spiegel told The New York Times that Alexandre is “a really creative guy” and that “he’s constantly thinking about the brand and how to express that.”

arnaults
Delphine Arnault and Alexandre Arnault.

Source: The New York Times

Alexandre’s younger brother, Frederic, also has a role at LVMH. He joined the conglomerate as the strategy and digital director at Swiss luxury watch brand TAG Heuer, LVMH’s largest watch brand, in 2018. Last June, Frederic became TAG Heuer’s CEO.

Bernard Arnault son
Bernard Arnault and his son Frederic Arnault in June 2018.

Source: The New York Times, Robb Report

Frederic graduated from his father’s alma mater, École Polytechnique in Paris, and interned at Facebook and consulting firm McKinsey before joining LVMH as the temporary head of connected technologies at TAG Heuer in 2017.

frederic arnault
Frederic Arnault at a TAG Heuer auction in October 2018 in London.

Source: The New York Times

Arnault’s youngest son, Jean, age 21, is the only one of his children not involved at LVMH.

bernard arnault sons jean
Jean Arnault (front left) with his brother, Frederic (center) and father, Bernard (right).

Source: The New York Times

Like many billionaires, Arnault travels by private jet.

bernard arnault private jet
Bernard Arnault on his private jet between Beijing and Shanghai in 2004.

Source: Getty Images

He owns a sprawling vacation villa in glitzy Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera …

bernard arnault st tropez villa
Bernard Arnault’s Saint-Tropez villa in 2015.

Source: Telegraph

… where he has been seen enjoying some tennis matches.

bernard arnault tennis
An undated photo of Arnault playing tennis in Saint Tropez.

Source: Getty Images

Arnault has also reportedly spent at least $96.4 million on residential properties in Los Angeles in the Beverly Hills, Trousdale Estates, and Hollywood Hills neighborhoods.

beverly hills california

Source: The Real Deal

Arnault has rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s influential figures, in the fashion world and otherwise. In 2017, he met President Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City right before Trump’s inauguration to discuss expanding LVMH factories in the US.

donald trump bernard arnault

Source: WWD

He was photographed at parties with Lady Diana, Princess of Wales.

bernard arnault princess diana
British fashion designer of Dior John Galliano, magazine editor Liz Tilberis, Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, with Helene Mercier and Bernard Arnault CEO at the Dior 50th Anniversary party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Source: Getty Images

Arnault was reportedly friends with Apple founder Steve Jobs, who once said to Arnault: “You know Bernard, I don’t know if in 50 years my iPhone will still be a success but I can tell you, I’m sure everybody will still drink your Dom Pérignon.”

steve jobs
Steve Jobs.

Source: CNBC

Former Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein once called Arnault “a complete visionary,” adding that he “saw the increase of wealth in the world.”

Lloyd Blankfein
Goldman Sachs Group chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Source: CNBC

Arnault is reportedly longtime friends with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Arnault was a witness at the former president’s wedding to Carla Bruni.

Bernard Arnault Nicolas Sarkozy
Bernard Arnault and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy at an event in 1994.

Source: The New York Times

Here, Arnault can be seen shaking hands with Vladimir Putin during the Russian president’s 2003 visit to the Chateau Cheval Blanc vineyard in France, which is owned by LVMH.

putin bernard arnault
Vladimir Putin and Bernard Arnault at the Chateau Cheval Blanc on in Saint Emilion, France, in February 2003.

Source: LVMH

Arnault considered legendary late designer and Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld a good friend. “The death of this dear friend deeply saddens me, my wife and my children,” Arnault said in a statement upon Lagerfeld’s death. “We loved and admired him deeply. Fashion and culture has lost a great inspiration.”

karl lagerfeld bernard arnault
Karl Lagerfeld and Bernard Arnault in Paris in June 2018.

Source: LVMH

Arnault has a longstanding public rivalry with Francois Pinault, the founder of luxury group Kering, who’s worth about $50 billion.

francois pinault
François-Henri Pinault, Francois Pinault’s son.

Source: Bloomberg

Kering owns brands including Gucci and Yves St. Laurent. The billionaire also owns Christie’s auction house.

francois pinault
François-Henri Pinault, Francois Pinault’s son.

Source: Bloomberg

LVMH originally tried to acquire a majority stake in Gucci in 1999, but Pinault ultimately snatched up the brand.

gucci

Source: Forbes

Over the years, Arnault has built LVMH into the largest luxury conglomerate in the world and earned himself an imposing nickname: “the wolf in the cashmere coat.”

bernard arnault

Source: The New York Times

He’s behind the creation of Foundation Louis Vuitton, a Frank Gehry-designed contemporary art museum and performance space in Paris that opened in 2014.

fondation louis vuitton paris

Source: The New York Times

Arnault is getting richer at an astonishing rate. In January 2019, he made $4.3 billion in a single day after LVMH shares surged 6.9%. And just 16 months later, on June 19, Arnault again made news when he became the third person in the world to reach a $100 billion net worth.

bernard arnault

Source: Bloomberg

In April 2019, LVMH released a statement on behalf on the Arnault family, pledging 200 million euros, or about $218.8 million, to help rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was damaged in a 2019 fire.

notre dame fire
Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019.

Source: Le Figaro

The coronavirus pandemic knocked Arnault down the Billionaires List. By May 2020, pandemic-related shut-downs sank LVMH’s stock more than 17% from where it was at the start of 2020, sending Arnault’s personal net worth down more than $30 billion.

dior store closed coronavirus
Closed and boarded up store fronts of luxury fashion brands Versace and Dior during Coronavirus crisis, Chicago.

Source: Bloomberg

In November 2020, LVMH completed its nearly $16 billion acquisition of jeweler Tiffany & Co., a history-making deal in the luxury sector. The contentious deal came after multiple lawsuits, a public war of words, and a $400 million discount.

FILE PHOTO: A Tiffany & Co. logo is seen outside a store in Paris, France, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo
A Tiffany & Co. logo is seen outside a store in Paris

Source: Business Insider

LVMH recorded 44.7 billion euros in revenue 2020 (roughly $54 billion), a 17% decrease from the year prior.

louis vuitton

Source: LVMH, Business Insider

However, LVMH appears to be bouncing back in 2021: Revenue was up 32% in the first quarter compared to the same time last year. The company said it saw strong sales in fashion and leather goods in the beginning of the year, as well as an uptick in alcohol sales in the first quarter, particularly Champagne.

Dom Perignon

Source: Business Insider

With an estimated worth of $150 billion, Arnault is currently the world’s third-richest person, surpassed only by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. This week, he briefly leapfrogged Musk to become the world’s second-richest person.

bernard arnault

Source: Bloomberg, Business Insider

Read the original article on Business Insider

A fashion brand designed a 100th anniversary uniform for White Castle including t-shirts and durags

Triptyque Aarmannixx Juliae, Castle NO 2 Bronx, NY_2
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform

  • Telfar designed uniforms for White Castle’s 100th anniversary.
  • The companies have collaborated several times before.
  • The new uniforms include shirts, an apron, and a durag, requested by employees.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Fashion brand Telfar designed new uniforms for White Castle workers to celebrate the burger chain’s 100th anniversary.

The new uniforms include a t-shirt, polo shirt, visor, apron, and durag. The pieces will come in light and royal blue and black with the White Castle name and references to the 100 year anniversary. The durag is a totally new addition, and was added at the request of White Castle employees, the company says.

“We wanted something special for our 100th birthday that captures the authentic spirit of White Castle and, as always, TELFAR came through for us,” Jamie Richardson, a White Castle vice president, said in a press release. “TELFAR has taken our uniform to a new place, creating something that’s distinctive, attractive and comfortable, and something our team members will feel great in whether they’re at work or hanging out with friends and family.”

White Castle and Telfar first collaborated in 2015, when White Castle sponsored the clothing brand’s New York Fashion Week show and hosted the afterparty in Times Square. In 2017, Telfar designed unisex uniforms for White Castle’s 10,000 employees and released a streetwear collection to the public.

This anniversary collection is the third uniform design Telfar has created for White Castle. “White Castle supported us before our success and we consider them family,” Telfar creative director Babak Radboy said in a statement. “Their team would serve Sliders backstage at all our shows and were basically part of our team. It’s still the only thing open after midnight in TELFAR’s hood – seeing our uniforms there means something to us, and so we take it personally.”

Photographer Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. captured portraits of White Castle employees in Queens, New York.

White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform.

White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform.

White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform.

White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform.

White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform.

White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform.

White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform
White Castle X Telfar 100th Anniversary Uniform.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How a 27-year-old founder created Gen Z’s defining sunglasses, on track to rake in $6 million in under 2 years

Zane Saleh_Lexxola
Zane Saleh founded Lexxola in late 2019.

  • Zane Saleh launched sunglasses brand Lexxola in 2019, now a staple among the Gen Z “it” crowd.
  • The unisex eyewear is designed for city life and breaks a mold in the eyewear market.
  • Saleh spoke with Insider on growing the brand during the pandemic and its community-led approach.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

If you want to see the world through the eyes of Gen Z, just put on a pair of Lexxolas.

The sunglasses’ sheer tinted lenses have been spotted on everyone from Emma Chamberlain to Kaia Gerber to Sofia Richie. And beyond these members of Gen Z’s “it crowd,” many other members of the generation are taking to TikTok to share examples of affordable Lexxola dupes.

That’s because you have to shell out designer prices for the London-based indie brand’s ergonomically designed, sleek modern-meets-’70s vibe, which are priced from £190 to £220, or $200 to $260. The line continues to grow, with two new styles just launching, a cat-eye frame named “The Ally” and a more oval frame named “The August.”

For the record, Lexxola’s CEO and founder is a millennial, and the 27-year-old Zane Saleh told Insider that since launching less than two years ago, in late 2019, they’ve viewed everything as an experiment. “That freedom of thought to just say ‘try everything’ has really allowed us to figure out what’s working quite quick and figure out what isn’t and just push forward,” he said.

Along the way, Saleh says he hit upon a Gen Z-friendly business model: direct collaboration with his customers. Instead of designing based off his own inspiration, Saleh said he uses a community-sourcing model to create styles – a creation process that has the potential to reshape fashion retail.

A post shared by emma chamberlain (@emmachamberlain)

It’s a strategy that’s worked, as Lexxola might be small and young, but it’s growing. The company has evolved from just Saleh running the whole show to four employees working remotely. At time of publication, several styles were sold out, available only for pre-order, and with the US being its biggest market, Saleh said the company is planning to open a warehouse in Virginia and headquarters in New York City this year so it can offer domestic shipping rates to US customers.

Lexxola has operated under pandemic conditions for the majority of its existence, and the brand is growing at an unlikely time, as 2020 hit the retail industry harder than the Great Recession did. From February to April of last year, Deloitte found, retail sales plunged by 20%, with an 89% decline in clothes and accessories. By June, Insider Intelligence predicted that retail sales worldwide for the year would be down 5.7% from 2019.

But Saleh said that being a young, agile, and digital company at a time when brick-and-mortar stores were closing left it uniquely placed to grow and gather market share. A solely online presence speaks to a Gen Z community which often shares and expresses itself digitally, he said. According to screenshots of Lexxola’s analytics dashboard that Saleh sent to Insider, Lexxola’s sales grew by over 5,500% from February 2020 to February 2021, and annual revenues for this year are projected to exceed $6 million.

Saleh spoke to Insider about launching Lexxola, growing it through the pandemic, and his community-led approach. What’s emerged is a brand made by a millennial for a Gen Z audience, with social media at its heart.

Made for the city

Saleh originally studied economics, but said he quickly realized finance wasn’t for him. He found himself in the art world for five years, and he began getting Lexxola off the ground while he was working at Sotheby’s. He ultimately left, his full-time job three months before Lexxola’s official launch.

Growing up, he said he noticed that sunglasses marketing campaigns were always about summer. “It was the guy and the girl running down the beach,” he said. “Whereas the eyewear experience that I knew was about wearing a product year-round, it was something for city life.”

He long wondered why there wasn’t a brand speaking to that concept, and decided to fill the gap himself. The year prior to Lexxola’s 2019 launch, the global sunglasses market was valued at $14.5 billion and growing, thanks to an increase in disposable income. While sunglasses stores declined in revenue during the pandemic, IBIS World found, it predicts revenue to grow as the the economy rebounds. Americans are now sitting on more than $1.6 trillion in savings, some of which will likely be deferred disposable income.

ALLY Lexxola
‘The Ally’ is Lexxola’s latest style.

Saleh described beginning Lexxola as “diving into the deep end,” as he had no prior experience in the eyewear sector. He managed to source a factory in Italy and find a warehouse, both of which were hugely important, he said.

“When we first set up our warehouse, it was probably a bit early, but if we didn’t have that we’d for sure be out of business,” he said. “Putting the right building blocks into place in the first sort of six to eight months of the business, prior to the pandemic, really allowed us to springboard through it.”

A community-led approach

Saleh said he did everything when first launching, from packing boxes to answering customer service. Now that the team has expanded to four, he said he still has touch points in all aspects of the business.

Lexxola’s community-led creation process involves aggregating data on Gen Z consumers to create new styles for them. It’s a contrast from many fashion companies, Saleh explained, which are typically headed by a singular figure creating a product, putting it to market, and hoping that people like it.

“What we do is speak with our community,” he said. “We’re almost in a position where we’re a brand that actually acts as a service to create a product.”

A post shared by Jude Taylor (@jude)

But Saleh said this strategy has some challenges, such as ensuring they have styles that meets everyone’s needs. Continuous iterations of new sunglasses can also be quite labor and time-intensive, he said, but ultimately worthwhile. He cited a time when the team gathered product-return data, which helped it make specific changes to a product that led to 90% fewer returns.

The data process also enable them to design an upcoming frame named “The Antonio” combines the brand’s two best-sellers, “The Jordy” and “The Damien,” in what Saleh says is “almost a mathematical form.”

Product evolution is “never finished,” according to Saleh, “it’s just something that can get better.”

Speaking to Gen Z

Lexxola’s community-led approach helped Saleh understand and cultivate a Gen Z community, Saleh said, along with strategically hiring full-time and part-time Gen Z employees.

Saleh said the company found its feet with influencers six months in. Since then, it’s been a “knock-on” effect, as “People see other people wearing them and they become aware of the brand … it just sort of balloons that way.”

It helps, too, that Lexxola capitalizes on some of the things that matter the most to Gen Z when deciding where to spend their money. It’s part of a growing genderless market that WWD considers the future of the fashion industry. In recent years, designers have been launching genderless collections and unisex lines to appeal to changing norms and the Gen Z consumer. Lexxola was a step ahead by launching a unisex brand from the start.

More than half (56%) of Gen Z consumers shop “outside their assigned gendered area,” Phluid Project founder Rob Smith said at a 2019 WWD Culture Conference.

A post shared by Kaia (@kaiagerber)

Sustainability has also been a focus from the get-go. The sunglasses are produced in factories fueled by renewable energy, dispatched from LED-lit warehouses, transported via eco-integrated carriers, and delivered in recycled cardboard packaging. Lexxola also donates 1% of its annual sales to 1% For The Planet Organization.

That’s a plus for the 62% of Gen Z who prefer to buy from sustainable brands, according to a consumer spending analysis by First Insight. They’re more willing than any other generation (72%) to pay more for sustainable products.

There, too, is Lexxola’s curated modern aesthetic. A quick scroll through its Instagram grid shows colorful close-ups and selfies of the fashion-forward artfully posing against a backdrop of city streets or nature, making it difficult to discern campaign shots from real-life photos.

Such an integrated feed is part of Lexxola’s social strategy, according to Saleh, who said his audience loves to see real people wearing Lexxolas in real situations. Once the company began creating campaign content that visualized this and ran it alongside user-generated content, he said Lexxola’s social platforms took off.

A post shared by Lexxola (@lexxola)

“Gen Z are mobile natives, they’re digitally minded,” Saleh said. “They want authenticity and they’re extremely pragmatic.”

Right now, Saleh is focused on improving the way Lexxola designs new products. His team is currently working to develop an online page where customers can suggest new styles or colors they want to see.

What they’re really trying to do is build out more data points to inform future decisions for production, he said. “We try to build products that inspire confidence,” he added.

“Everyone’s still learning as we go,” he said. “It’s very much business as usual, and continuing to not rest on our laurels and improve.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

The creator of a $150 purse beloved by AOC and Oprah is revolutionizing “it bags” by making them accessible to everyone. Against all odds, it’s working.

Telfar

Tianni Graham, 27, remembers the “before times” – that is, the harrowing months before Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program.

It was early last summer and she, along with thousands of others, was stuck testing their luck each day trying to buy the wildly popular Telfar handbag whose celeb fans include Oprah, Selena Gomez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Solange. But they often sold out before anyone could click ‘check out.’

It turns out, robots and resellers were buying products in bulk, making it harder for real customers to purchase them. So, last summer, Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program, in hopes of giving customers better access to its bags by allowing patrons 24 hours to pre-order any bag on the site, with no limits on how many can be purchased. The bag is then made to order, and shipped directly to the customer.

Its first drop, which happened last August, brought in about $20 million – about 10x what Telfar made in all of 2019.

Suddenly, Graham, who is also a fashion archivist and consultant, had her green Telfar bag. It arrived right before Christmas and was a “present to myself,’ she told Insider, adding that other brands could benefit from implementing a similar program. “It would make things so much easier and make the customer feel like you care.”

The program’s success shows how a luxury brand can create accessibility without losing the allure of exclusivity. The old-school model for luxury brands states the product should be scarce and elite, but the next generation of high-end consumers and entrepreneurs are taking a different route.

Teflar is rewriting the rules of luxury, and this time, it’s not too hard for other brands to follow suit.

Telfar ‘white glove treatment’ is what next-gen luxury shoppers crave

Young consumers look less at price tags and more at brand values when determining where to spend their money; these next-gen consumers want sustainability, inclusivity, and a sense of community. The new “white glove treatment” when it comes to luxury shopping is a speedy online checkout from a brand that cares.

For Telfar’s latest drop this week, customers had the option to use the payment installment plan Klarna, making it even easier for those looking to obtain a bag. While customers will have to wait a few months before receiving the bag, people often spend years on a Birkin bag “waiting list” and most will probably never get one.

Shortly before Telfar’s program ended this week, a spokesperson for the brand told Insider it was, already, “going very well.”

Telfar started with an aim of inclusive luxury

Telfar was founded in 2005 by its eponymous founder Telfar Clemens and has dedicated the past two decades to building an inclusive business model.

In 2014, it released its now-iconic vegan leather handbag, which takes inspiration from a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag. The bags became widely available around 2018 after Telfar won $400,000 from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, allowing the company to expand production.

Clemens described his brand to The Cut as being “genderless, democratic, and transformative,” purposely seeking to challenge the notion that high fashion is only for a certain group of people, with the brand motto being “Not For You – For Everyone.”

Telfar

Now, Telfar bags come in three sizes, with prices ranging from $150 to $257. (For comparison, Birkin bags go for at least $12,000 while Black-owned luxury brands such as Brother Veilles go for at least $1,295.)

As reported by FT, handbag sales in the US declined 18% between 2016 and 2019. Yet, Telfar stood out – in 2016, the brand earned $102,000, growing to earn $2 million in 2019. Last year, New York Magazine deemed its bag the “Bushwick Birkin” and the brand was on pace to earn eight figures, even as the fashion industry was expected to take a 90% loss in profits due to the pandemic.

Boston Consulting Group’s Head of Luxury Sarah Willersdorf told Insider that Telfar has checked all the boxes on what it takes to connect with next-gen luxury shoppers. She said the brand has a narrative that “evokes emotion” and properly intertwines timelessness, creative partnerships, and culturally relevant authorities. GQ pointed out Telfar’s customer base was built, not through influencers, but through “customer aspiration alone.”

Telfar
Telfar Clemens.

Raising the bar for next-gen luxury

Brands like Telfar are important in proving accessible business models can be just as lucrative. Willersdorf expects other brands to follow similar strategies in a post-pandemic world, as shopping continues to pivot online.

In the old days – a pre-millennial world, perhaps – having too much of a product is thought to dilute its value. The Bag Security program defies that. But even the most tech-savvy luxury brand is often behind the curve, as Insider has previously reported.

“Luxury brands are always nervous,” Joseph Yakuel, CEO and founder of consulting firm Within, told Insider last year. “There’s so much risk to them tarnishing their brand reputation because luxury brand price points are only supported by their perception, and if their brand perception goes down market, their price point gets eroded very quickly.”

Clemens and his artistic director, Babak Radboy, said they aren’t worried about oversaturation. It’s about community, now. The new “white glove treatment” is making sure everybody gets a pair that fits perfectly.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What is digital fashion? We spoke to a fashion house that sells digital clothing and shoes to find out.

Final_JOHANNA_V01
The Iridescence Dress, an NFT digital fashion design produced by The Fabricant in 2019

  • Digital fashion companies aim to disrupt and digitize high fashion
  • Insider spoke with a representative from The Fabricant, a digital fashion house.
  • The Fabricant works with major brands, and some of its designs have sold as NFTs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Before NFTs were netting $69 million at Christie’s, The Fabricant was auctioning off a unique NFT at the 2019 Ethereum conference.

The sale of the Iridescence Dress, a digital-only piece of couture, approached $10,000 – a pretty penny for what was then a burgeoning market.

Not all digital-fashion items are NFTs, explains Michaela Larosse, head of communications at The Fabricant, a digital fashion house. But they do have something in common with non-fungible tokens: they only exist in the digital space.

The Iridescence Dress was a collaboration between The Fabricant and CryptoKitties, an early adopter of the NFT boom. CryptoKitties approached the digital fashion house about designing a dress that would be available on the blockchain.

Larosse notes that the selling price of $9,500, “in terms of today’s NFT sales doesn’t seem like anything, but then it was extraordinary.” Forbes called it the “world’s first digital-only blockchain clothing.”

The digital-fashion space has only grown since that auction in 2019. Not every digital fashion house sells NFTs – many digital designers have garments that you can buy online and get fitted to your photos. One such brand is Tribute, which sells streetwear-esque clothes that only exist online.

Brands like The Fabricant and Tribute market themselves as pro-sustainability and give customers the opportunity to own a digital garment which has been specifically edited onto a photo or video of them.

Because of the lack of physical production, there’s no need for factory use, transportation, packaging, or any of the traditionally-polluting practices that have been historically endemic to the fashion industry.

While Tribute’s prices rarely top $100, The Fabricant focuses on high-dollar couture. Larosse explains that the company employs classically-trained fashion designers who work in a “digital atelier” to design, drape, and code each garment.

Larosse told Insider that The Fabricant’s business is divided into two strands: the fashion house side of the business and the brand partnerships arm, which operates like an agency.

The agency side creates 3-D models of garments for brands like Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger, and others in order to mitigate the carbon footprint of the typical process of sending garments and samples from headquarters to factories and back.

And legacy brands are also getting into digital fashion. In March, Gucci partnered with fashion and technology company Wanna to sell digital versions of the brand’s sneakers for $12, according to Business of Fashion.

Buffalo London x The Fabricant
The digital sneakers produced by The Fabricant for Buffalo London

Similarly, The Fabricant partnered with shoe brand Buffalo Londo to make a digital-only version of the brand’s signature sneakers, emblazoned with flames. Customers can appear in the shoes, but only in the digital space.

The agency side has also dabbled in NFTs; a recent partnership with model and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss’ Kode With Klossy initiative involved a blockchain competition and auction for young creators’ takes on a digital jacket.

While the market size for digital fashion is difficult to define, The Fabricant has high hopes for the future of the business, including designing outfits, similar to video game “skins,” that can be used in the multiverse.

“The idea that you can non-physically dress yourself is quite a challenging concept” for people who aren’t in this space, Larosse explained. But with many influencers and online personalities marketing physical clothing on digital platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, perhaps digital fashion isn’t far behind.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I founded the world’s first all-digital model agency out of a shed in my mother’s shed. Now we have offices in the UK and US.

Cameron James Wilson with models
Cameron-James Wilson (left) with two of the digital models – Boyce (top right) and Shudu (bottom right).

  • Cameron-James Wilson, 32, began what would become The Diigitals in a garden shed in 2017.
  • He created Shudu, the world’s first digital supermodel, who has 215,000 followers on Instagram.
  • He spoke to freelance journalist Claire Turrell for Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The models at my agency have shot campaigns and editorials for Balmain, Louboutin, Ferragamo, and Vogue and have thousands of Instagram followers. Shudu is known for her statuesque physique, Brenn her curves, and Koffi his six-pack.

But these supermodels are not real. I own the world’s first all-digital model agency.

The Diigitals started as a hobby. I was working as a fashion photographer in London. I would shoot a fashion story, it would appear in a magazine, and then it would be thrown into a bin a week later. I wanted to do something artistic, but with more longevity.

I moved home to Weymouth in Dorset in the west of England in 2017 and I started looking at the digital world. I had always been interested in fantasy fiction artwork and CGI.

SEE ALSO: Don’t ignore the dread you feel about returning to the office. Here’s how to craft your ideal work life and get your boss on board.

I set up a studio in my mother’s shed, downloaded some digital programmes and started learning 3D modelling with the help of YouTube videos. A lot of the characters available were fantasy figures or pin-ups and I wondered if I could give one my own fashion spin.

I knew how to light real models in a photoshoot, but after that it was just trial and error. My first character was a Caucasian woman, and I spent hours learning how to make her look more realistic. Then I created a character who had more of a Middle Eastern influence and finally I created Shudu.

Shudu__The Diigitals
Shudu.

I posted a few images on Facebook to see what my friends thought. One friend immediately shared the shot of Shudu and then Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty brand reposted it. My life changed overnight.

In February 2018, Harper’s BAZAAR US ran a news story about Shudu, then four months later WWD wanted to include her in one of its fashion spreads. It was crazy.

Until that point Shudu was a piece of artwork as far as I was concerned, and now suddenly she was turning into a fully-fledged model. The WWD team wanted to include Shudu in a desert shoot. It was the world’s first 3D editorial.

The team cast and styled her, as they would do with any other model, but they sent her clothes to a New York photography agency who digitized them. The images were then forwarded to me, and I worked on them in my shed.

I was still learning at that point and I wasn’t sure if I could deliver what they had asked for, but it worked. If we would have wanted to do this in real life we would have had to fly to the desert. From the sustainability angle it was powerful.

Brenn
Brenn, another model created by The Diigitals.

Shudu was now part of the real world and I needed to make her fit. As she started out as a piece of artwork, her proportions were inspired by fashion illustrations, now she has real world measurements.

The models started to gain traction. My friend and I talked about launching an agency. We rendered models throughout the night and within 24 hours we had the company name, a website, and seven models.

I moved out of the shed after 18 months and now have a state-of-the-art studio. My days are still kind of bizarre. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, enquiries went through the roof as brands searched for alternative ways to create fashion shoots. I might wake in the middle of the day and work till 5 a.m..

SEE ALSO: I’m a video game tutor who makes up to $5,000 a month. Here’s how I built a career teaching people how to win at ‘League of Legends.’

I often work on Los Angeles time as we now have a digital team in the US, who work on our B2B side. As the fashion world is trying to be more sustainable, they are choosing to showcase their collections on virtual avatars, rather than pack trunks of samples and send them around the globe.

There were avatars available before, but the brands have asked us to create bespoke models for them. I act as the creative director,as well as overseeing the editorial and advertising campaigns for Shudu and our six other supermodels who are working every week.

When I’m not chatting to the US team or giving talks via Zoom, I am busy creating digital artwork. At the moment, we are currently working on different catwalk animations and yesterday I spent the day working on Shudu’s make-up.

Cameron-James Wilson
Cameron-James Wilson talks about the work of the Diigitals

While our model rates are comparable to the rates of real-life models, each shoot has a different fee as we are also involved with production. It also depends how digitally advanced the brand is to what we have to do for them. It can take between two to three weeks to create an editorial story so these are extra fees that need to be factored in.

Our models have also now turned into personalities. Some have their own Instagram accounts, and Shudu has her own voice. Critics rightly pointed out that a white guy couldn’t be behind a Black woman, so we did a shout-out on social media for a woman who could become the voice of Shudu. Writer Ama Badu creates Shudu’s Instagram posts and is her voice in interviews. Ama also acts as advisor for Shudu’s character.

SEE ALSO: 3 women who turned their side hustles into businesses in lockdown – including one that has generated $467,000 in sales – share 3 tips on how to do it

The Diigitals also works with real models. Not every company can supply us with digital images of their clothes, so we’ve partnered with models and we turn them into Shudu.

They do the pose and we drop her in over the top of them. We also digitize the models as themselves for other projects.

The virtual modelling space has changed dramatically. It has now reached the point of being established and brands are looking to invest in this in the long term. We are about to launch a virtual clothing collection, which we will showcase on a virtual catwalk and sell to fans of avatars.

I can see a lot of fashion brands using gamification and you’ll see more branded clothing appearing through games like Fortnite. Thanks to the sustainability, brands are already embracing the virtual modelling world. I think it’s going to grow exponentially.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Meet the stylist who turned LeBron James into a fashion icon

  • Stylist Rachel Johnson took LeBron James from NBA all-star to fashion superstar.
  • Johnson’s influence spread throughout the NBA and bled into other sports. She has also styled Victor Cruz, Cam Newton, and Amar’e Stoudemire.
  • Johnson’s work with athletes has helped add diversity and inclusivity to the fashion industry.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Rachel Johnson: My name is Rachel Johnson. I am a celebrity wardrobe stylist and the CEO and president of the Thomas Faison Agency.

Narrator: Throughout her career, Rachel Johnson has turned all-star athletes into fashion superstars. She’s styled household names like LeBron James, Victor Cruz, Cam Newton, and Amar’e Stoudemire, and she’s widely credited with making over the NBA.

Cam Newton: Watching basketball games, you get a different idea when you start seeing just as many cameras covering the postgame as the walk-up as vice versa for any other sport, too.

Narrator: But before she connected the fashion world with the sports world, Johnson pursued a degree in education.

Johnson: I was two years into getting my degree to teach high school English when I met a gentleman named Groovy Lou who worked for P. Diddy, and he told me that there were black women who were responsible for creating images for celebrities. So, as soon as Groovy told me that this could be a viable career path for me, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do.

Narrator: After college, she worked for Essence Magazine then moved into styling musicians and eventually met Jalen Rose.

Johnson: So Jalen was my first entry into the athlete world, and it was a beautiful way to enter the business because I was able to understand the mentality of an athlete. So the very next athlete I started working with was LeBron James, and I met him through Jay-Z, and working with LeBron is what really helped to completely change the way that the NBA dresses.

I knew that in order for LeBron to be respected from a style standpoint, that he needed to be wearing recognizable, historic brands. Coming from a fashion standpoint where they just didn’t understand men of this stature, they didn’t understand necessarily the athletic world, I had to bring these two worlds together in a way that both of them could understand each other’s language. So my goal was to bring him to these fashion houses and have looks created for him so that when he had press opportunities and opportunities to be in front of the camera, he was wearing what any other well-dressed actor would be wearing.

Narrator: James became a global superstar. His exposure and Johnson’s influence eventually permeated throughout the rest of the NBA, but Johnson’s work didn’t stop there.

Johnson: I had been going to Europe. I had been going to Paris and Milan to attend fashion shows, and when I was there, I realized there was a huge gap. There was a huge opportunity there for my clients, for athletes, for black men in particular to attend these shows because there was absolutely no diversity present at all. Victor was my first client who was brave enough to attack the European market.

Narrator: And Johnson and Cruz succeeded. Cruz became the face of Givenchy’s fall and winter 2015 campaign.

Johnson: On a day-to-day basis, my goals are to help build relationships with my clients and fashion brands, and once I figure out where it is that they want to be placed and how they want to be perceived by the public, that gives me the insight that I need to understand what brands I should connect them with, which events they should be attending, and then obviously what they’re wearing.

Victor Cruz: I call her my fairy fashion godmother because whenever I have a question or a debate about what I want to wear, how I want to wear it, I’ll ask her.

Narrator: Her work continues to break down barriers and spread throughout popular culture.

Newton: For so long, the football player stigma has been this big, strong, masculine guy who may not have any style. All he just wants to do is just hit somebody, but now it’s just a different demographic of how people approach athleticism in different ways.

Johnson: So these last 10 years of focusing on athletes and really bringing the two worlds of fashion and athletes together has been to heighten the awareness of fashion designers and brands, to help them be more inclusive and create sizes that are available for everyone.

Cruz: DeAndre Hopkins, obviously, Odell Beckham Jr., you’ve got different guys that probably wouldn’t get the notoriety for their fashion five to six, seven years ago, and now they’re getting those accolades. They’re getting that attention, and they’re getting the respect that they deserve, but it’s definitely evolved even from the time that I met Rachel all the way to now.

Johnson: There are men who may have not necessarily felt comfortable wearing what’s coming down the runway if they see a waif-y model wearing it, but a regular 9-to-5 businessman can look at what a LeBron James or Russell Westbrook or Victor Cruz is wearing and say, ‘You know what? Maybe I can do that, too because he’s more like me.’ And so, all of these stereotypes, I think from a fashion perspective, were broken down for men, and it just opened things up to make everything about men’s fashion become more accessible. They’ve made it OK to try things that you’ve never tried before, and that’s a very cool thing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Meet the millennial designer and CEO who wants to make comfort clothing the new power dressing

Misha Nonoo
Misha Nonoo.

Way back in 2011, Misha Nonoo was having brunch with some friends in Manhattan. She was around 25 at the time, sporting a jacket that she herself had designed.

By chance, a buyer for the brand Intermix was sitting one table over. “She said, ‘I love the jacket you’re wearing, where is it from?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I made it,” Nonoo recalled to Insider.

Next thing she knew, Nonoo found herself in the buyer’s office, showing off eight original designs. “I walked out with a purchase order for six of the eight pieces,” Nonoo said. It was worth $150,000.

A few months later, Nonoo officially launched her eponymous clothing line, and within two years, she became a finalist for the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. In 2015, she was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. That same year, she became the first designer to host a fashion show on Instagram. The next year, Snapchat.

Read more: Inside the world of ‘Bling Empire’s’ Jaime Xie, the tech heiress forging her own path as a fashion influencer

Nonoo, now 35, told Insider she can’t exactly remember her first celebrity client but said her first clients were her friends and family whose support helped build the business – it’s just that Markle and Princess Beatrice happen to be in her friendship circle. Another friend, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, was a key player in her groundbreaking Instagram fashion show. (Nonoo is married to Michael Hess, heir to the Hess oil fortune and an energy entrepreneur.)

Today, the brand counts celebrities such as Bella Hadid, Cate Blanchett, Meghan Markle, and Amal Clooney as fans. In 2019, she teamed up with Markle, then a working royal, on a clothing line for the women’s charity Smart Works. The sleek designs and sustainable ethos of Nonoo’s brands are some of the reasons it’s won such highly placed fans.

“I have always been a huge fan of Misha – personally and professionally,” stylist Sarah Slutsky told Insider. “I love the way she prioritizes uniform dressing. I think a formula for what to add to your closet is empowering and helpful for many women. I believe when you can build a wardrobe with pieces that are interchangeable, the options for feeling put together are endless and the result is confidence.”

Nonoo’s latest collection, entitled “The Perfect 10,” includes white collared shirts, cozy turtlenecks, and sweatpants, intended for the new on-the-go – just from the bedroom to the kitchen table for yet another Zoom meeting.

In an interview with Insider, Nonoo talks about her latest fashion collection, getting her start in fashion, and the future of sustainability in the industry.

Her brand doesn’t keep inventory and doesn’t have seasonal collections

Growing up, Nonoo always knew she wanted to start her own thing. Born in Bahrain, Nonoo relocated with her family to London at the age of 11.

She attended college between London and Paris, going to both the European Business School and the École Supérieure du Commerce Extérieur, studying international business and French.

At 23, she came to New York to work at a menswear tailoring company, which agreed to sponsor her visa. “I wanted to live in New York,” she said. “This was my way in.”

She has come a long way since that chance encounter in Manhattan. Today, A hallmark of her business model is that she produces everything on-demand, and does not create seasonal collections. The former was inspired by a situation that arose early on in her fashion career.

In the very beginning, she had worked with one retailer that placed an enormous purchase order. She was excited, she recalled.

“Then I quickly realized you only have a 10-week full-price selling period and your gross margin agreement means that every week you’re on sale, [wholesalers are] chipping away at that gross margin,” she said.

Misha Nonoo
Slutsky told Insider that Nonoo “carefully considers what it is to invest in a clothing item in a way that you would have an item designed to last.”

“The agreement is designed so that you’ll never win as a designer,” she continued. “It was always designed in the favor of the major department store.”

The store also decided to return any inventory that was not sold, leaving Nonoo with excess product. “That was a huge learning curve,” she said, adding that all the money that was being wasted could have easily put her out of business.

“Now I look back on that,” she continued. “That was the beginning of me starting to manufacture on-demand and to understand that I wanted to own my relationship with my customer and that I never wanted to be beholden to a major department store.”

That worked out well, as wholesalers were hit hard during the pandemic. Some filed for bankruptcy, while all were severely impacted by the loss in foot traffic as shopping pivoted online.

Meanwhile, because Nonoo now produces everything on demand, as manufacturing in China shut down, she could turn to Peru and Los Angeles for production without losing much money from wasted inventory.

The brand also began honing in on its social media strategy and was able to launch a loyalty program for customers, with the highest tier including a tailoring allowance and a personal stylist. For that, customers have to spend at least $2,800.

Misha Nonoo
Jules Miller, founder of The Nue Co., wearing the latest Misha Nonoo collection.

Consumers are educating themselves more on sustainability, Nonoo says

Although the pandemic has accelerated this, Nonoo said she thinks customers have been educating themselves on how to consume less.

For those with the means, it’s about forging fast-fashion and buying pieces of clothes one knows they will reuse over and over again. That’s who Nonoo’s line seeks to service, the customers that want quality staple items that will be reused over and over again.

Even young people – many of whom still buy cheap fast fashion – have become conscious about how the industry is polluting and damaging the environment, Nonoo said.

“A lot of them use platforms like Threat Up and the Real Real, Poshmark to buy things secondhand,” she continued. “As opposed to buying virgin fashion that comes from a source like one of the major fashion brands.”

Aside from making seasonless products and not keeping an inventory, Nonoo’s brand has also eliminated single-use plastic from its supply chain and has plans to forgo using single-use polyesters.

Another trend that will follow long after the pandemic is seasonless fashion shows, Nonoo said. That’s ironic for Nonoo, as she made headlines years ago for being the first designer to host an Instagram runway show.

Misha Nonoo
Commercial lawyer Thandi Maqubela wearing the latest Misha Nonoo designs.

That opportunity came about one night while Nonoo was having dinner at the home of a friend of hers, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

Nonoo told Sandberg that earlier that day, she had toured Instagram’s headquarters and spoke to someone who works in the marketing and events department about how the fashion industry was quickly changing.

She relayed the conversation to Sandberg, who agreed that the industry was undergoing a shakeup. The idea of a virtual fashion show emerged.

“She said, ‘Well, Instagram can’t officially partner with anyone,'” Nonoo said. “But she was really incredibly helpful and walked me through what the parameters were and the lines we could cross.”

There were strict guidelines for the show, which, Nonoo said, helped her and her team be even more creative. But that didn’t make the task any easier. It was hard because an Instagram fashion show “hadn’t been done before.”

But now, Nonoo is leading the way to another runway disruption – hardly doing them at all.

“It’s about consuming things when you need them, that fit into your life, and that are going to work for you for a long time,” she said.

Nonoo said she thinks the pandemic has disrupted the industry so much, that even when shows fully come back, “I don’t think fashion weeks are going to be the same.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Swarovski crystal heiress Marina Rapahel explains how she achieved record-breaking sales by selling smaller handbags, donating to charity, and using snail mail to reach customers

Marina Raphael
Marina Raphael with her SS21 collection(1)

  • Marina Raphael, 22, launched her brand of luxe handbags in 2019.
  • Despite the pandemic, she said she saw an increase in sales in 2020.
  • To Insider, she reveals how she got her company through the past year.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Insider first spoke to Marina Raphael in July 2020, she was in the midst of leading her luxury handbag brand of the same name through the pandemic.

A member of the famed Swarovski crystal family, Raphael launched her eponymous line the year before. It was being sold in high-end retailers such as Moda Operandi; it also captured the attention of Maxima, Queen of the Netherlands.

But now, the pandemic had disrupted in-person shopping, supply chains, and manufacturing. Halfway through the year, it was too soon to have confidence in what the rest of the year would bring.

“As a young entrepreneur, everything was just moving so quickly,” Raphael, 22, told Insider in a recent interview. “But a good entrepreneur has to adapt to any situation and find quick and flexible solutions.”

Now, a few months into 2021, she reflects on her company’s record growth. It turns out, luxury consumers never actually stopped splurging on high-priced goods during the pandemic. Wealthy patrons put their money into handbags, artwork, and fine jewelry – investment categories believed to be less volatile than the stock market.

Raphael, whose bags range from 500 to 1,500 euros ($600 to $1,800), said sales skyrocketed last year, though she declined to share exact revenue figures. The team re-vamped their social media strategy, added charity initiatives to purchases, and even reduced the physical size of its products by 50% to adjust to, what she described as, the new reality of customers’ needs: “carrying less.”

The brand launched collaborations and partnerships, including one with French skincare line Vichy, and expanded its own line to create cosmetic pouches and keychains.

It also released a sustainable collaboration, using upcycled leather and cruelty-free leathers with luxury retailer Luisaviaroma and another line with art director Evangelie Smyrniotaki, which sold out in its first two weeks. Next, the company is about to launch a line with Swarovski Creative Director Giovanna Battaglia. She’s projecting a 420% increase in sales this year.

The luxury brand stayed grounded through hard times by donating 20% of sales

Raphael’s company is headquartered in Greece, but its operations are spread throughout the world. Public relations for the brand is in London, while the sales agent is in New York; quality control is in Australia, and bag production is in Florence.

Marina Raphael with her SS21 collection(3)
Marina Raphael with her SS21 collection(3)

In March 2020, the brand received its spring-summer collection, which gave it stock until August. It combined that with leftovers from the previous collection, but still sold everything by June, she said.

Having a diversified supply chain helped, however. When factories in Italy closed, quality-control in Australia was able to pick up production. The team’s small size of 14 (six of whom joined during the pandemic) made it easy to communicate, despite the time differences. And because retailers were closed, the company didn’t have to worry about shipping out the fall-winter collection.

Another challenge for Raphael was communicating via WhatsApp and Zoom, especially since she had to design handbags without ever touching the fabrics or physically seeing the final product.

At the same time, the brand had to figure out how to sell a luxury product during an ongoing global health and financial crisis. The company couldn’t just stop selling or making the bags, Raphael said. “Then our suppliers would have a problem, our production team would have a problem,” she continued. “They would lose their jobs.”

Marina Raphael with her FW19 collection
Marina Raphael with her FW19 collection

To great success, the company decided to donate 20% of all sales to charities such as Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation and The Hellenic Pasteur Institute. Luxury retailer Moda Operandi implemented a similar strategy last year to huge success, reporting that if an item was attached to a charitable cause, shoppers were willing to spend full-price on it, even if another promotional sale was happening at the same time.

“I think that’s why we didn’t feel guilty about promoting the product, because with every sale we were helping in some way,” Raphael said.

To promote the collections, Raphael’s company began mailing puzzles and other “interactive fun stuff” to patrons. That was very successful too, she said.

“Getting something delivered to your house makes it feel more personal than at a fashion week where you are running to 15 different showrooms,” she said. “That was too much, too fast.”

In the early months, the team was in a state of panic

Raphael credits the success of this time to her team. In the early months of the pandemic, she recalled, everyone was in a state of panic. So she took it to herself to see how she could motivate her employees during this time, listening to their feedback in order to adopt new business strategies.

Smyrniotaki, the content creator and art director, told Insider that Raphael’s “strong personality” and keen leadership skills are what helped get their collaboration off the ground during this time, even with the disruptions. Her bag with Raphael was made with 5,000 Swarovski crystals to represent brighter days ahead. “It is the perfect allegory for the brighter future we see ahead,” Smyrniotaki continued.

Designing the Marina Raphael X Evangelie Smyrniotaki collaboration
Designing the Marina Raphael X Evangelie Smyrniotaki collaboration

Sometimes, Raphael still thinks about those early months of the pandemic. Customers from the United States, especially, were contacting the company in haste, trying to figure out how soon their products would arrive.

“Customers were saying, ‘we want our orders sooner – can you send us the tracking number?’ We have never experienced that before,” she said. “We were questioning, where are they going with the bags?”

Maybe it was to buy themselves gifts to make themselves feel better, she ponders; maybe they wanted to invest in nice things or were just bored at home. It’s more likely a mixture of all of the above, Insider previously reported.

That, or maybe people just really wanted another tote bag.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Gap’s CEO says people will emerge from pandemic isolation and start ‘peacocking,’ in what could be a boon for retailers

CEO of Gap Inc. Sonia Syngal
CEO of Gap Inc. Sonia Syngal

Gap has high hopes for the country to soon return to normalcy as vaccinations pick up.

Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal said she expects sales to grow as consumers dress to impress others after months of decreased socializing.

“We’re quite optimistic,” Syngal said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We do think there’s going to be this peacocking effect that happens, as people emerge from Covid.”

Gap appointed Syngal as chief executive in March 2020, months after former CEO Art Peck’s sudden departure. Peck left the company after sales slumped in 2019 due to declining foot traffic from shopping malls. 

Syngal, the former CEO of Old Navy, said she planned to grow Gap Inc. by investing in the firm’s 60 million-person customer base to capitalize on a captive audience. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic upended retail shortly after Syngal took over. As Americans avoided malls and spent more time shopping online, Gap Inc. announced it would close 350 Gap and Banana Republic stores in North America – or 30% of its total locations – by the end of 2023.

Syngal told The Journal that online holiday shopping helped offset some losses. The firm reported online sales increased to 45% of total sales in 2020, up from 25% the year prior.

The chief executive added the firm will cut back on costs spent on making stores “safer” during the pandemic as vaccines become more widely available. 

President Joe Biden said he expects vaccines to become available for all Americans by May shortly after the Food nad Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s shot. The Centers for Disease Control plans to release guidelines on activities vaccinated people can safely do, which include some indoor gatherings.

Some retailers are banking on consumers spending money on new clothes as they going out after getting vaccinated. The menswear brand Suitsupply released an ad titled “The new normal is coming” with a photo of naked models kissing.

“Post-pandemic life is on the horizon,” Fokke de Jong, Suitsupply’s founder and CEO, told Insider’s Kate Taylor. “The campaign is simply a positive outlook on our future where people can get back to gathering and getting close.” 

Read the original article on Business Insider