A decade after launching a footwear line with the Camuto Group, singer-turned-mogul, Jessica Simpson, is at the helm of a billion-dollar fashion and lifestyle empire spanning a whopping 31 product categories. The Jessica Simpson Collection includes shoes, clothing, handbags, jewelry, fragrances and a home goods range, and appears in hundreds of department stores across the U.S., including Macy’s, Dillard’s, and Nordstrom. And as of 2016, Forbes, reported that the brand was bringing in $1 billion in sales.
38-year old Simpson is no stranger to success. In 2003, she and then-husband, fellow singer Nick Lachey nabbed a reality show with MTV, pulling in tens of millions of viewers over a span of three years, and helping to usher in a new wave of reality television that would be capstoned by Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which debuted just over 5 years later on rival network E!. Fast forward a few years and Simpson’s 2006 album “A Public Affair” sold over 100,000 copies in its first week, according to Rolling Stone, all while she was landing film roles, most notably in The Dukes of Hazard, and Super Bowl commercials for fast food chain Carl’s Jr.
Music and mainstream television success does not always – or more accurately, does not often – translate to success when it comes to fashion.
The market for celebrity fashion brands has proven a crowded one over the years. From Sarah Jessica Parker’s Bitten and Beyonce’s House of Dereon to Lindsay Lohan’s 6126 leggings line and the Kardashians’ eponymous Kardashian Beauty collection, most collections tied to famous figures fizzle out with the same frequency as they appear. In the case of many, including Lohan and the Kardashians, such falterings come with ugly and costly litigation when the endeavors go belly up, replete with debt.
Yet, singer-turned-early MTV reality star Jessica Simpson’s venture – which she launched in 2005 alongside Vince Camuto, the co-founder of shoe and accessories company Nine West, Vince Camuto – has managed to not only stay afloat but surpass the $1 billion mark, no small feat in the notoriously unsuccessful celebrity consumer goods market.
How exactly did Simpson manage it? One branding expert says it has to do with the star’s ability to connect with real consumers on a real level. “A lot of celebrities endorse things, but it doesn’t make them a brand,” says Robert Passikoff, founder and president of marketing consultant Brand Keys Inc. in New York. “It makes them a business person.” Simpson’s down-to-earth, girl-next-door persona and her ability to emotionally engage with everyday people and meet their expectations is helping her to become even more successful,” he says.
Simpson, herself, attributes the success of her brand to her own ability to “understand women,” and really listen to and cater to them – and not just the ones who are represented on the runway or in Vogue spreads.
“When I’m in approval or inspiration meetings, I think of what I want my Nana to wear, and what my 2-year-old daughter Maxwell would look adorable in,” Simpson said during a keynote at the annual Forbes Power Women summit in 2014. “There’s life in the whole world beyond Los Angeles and New York, and I understand Middle America and their mindset.”
Simpson’s desire to reach a broader pool of consumers, both in terms of geography and in sizing than the traditional fashion brand, has found her fans ranging from “15-, 16-year-olds [to] 40-year-olds, who like her,” Jack Gross, CEO of Jeanswear for the Jones Group, which maintains the license for Simpson’s jeans collection, told WWD in 2010. “They identify with her.”
It also helped her build a valuable brand, which was acquired by Sequential Brands Group in 2015. The New York–based company announced in April 2015 that it acquired a majority stake in Simpson’s eponymous brand, “including the Jessica Simpson Collection master license and other rights,” for an unspecified sum. At the time of the acquisition, Sequential – which also owns Justin Timberlake’s William Rast clothing brand – revealed that is was looking to triple the net worth of the Jessica Simpson Collection by expanding overseas.
As for traditional fashion industry figures, they have not ignored Simpson’s success. Teri Agins, who developed the fashion beat at the Wall Street Journal, told Elle magazine in 2014 that the celebrity brand that has impressed her most in recent years is Simpson’s. “It has really transcended,” Agins said. “It’s no longer just a celebrity brand, it’s a brand.” A billion dollar brand.