image: Fashion Nova
image: Fashion Nova

Ever heard of Fashion Nova? Chances are, no shortage of Gen-Zers and at least some of the millennials in your life have, thereby enabling the Los Angeles-based brand to build a massive social media presence and nab the position of the fourth most-searched-for fashion brand in the U.S. this year, according to Google’s “Year In Search” ranking. On that list, which was released on Wednesday, Fashion Nova made its debut, sitting triumphantly behind Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Supreme, and right before French fashion stalwarts Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Christian Dior.

Describing itself as the home of “cheap & affordable fashion online,” including “sexy club dresses, jeans, shoes, bodysuits, skirts and more,” Fashion Nova was founded in late 2006. It has since built out a network of five brick-and-mortar stores, all in California; although it packs most of its punch by way of its e-commerce site, where it adds 400 to 500 new styles each week. In short: Fashion Nova is essentially a more modern and at times, more star-studded version, of your typical fast fashion retailer. 

With a team of approximately 600 people and manufacturing centered almost exclusively in Los Angeles, Fashion Nova turns out size-inclusive trend-driven garments and accessories at lightening speed (its design team that can produce a sample in less than 24 hours, which can then be manufactured and on the shelf within approximately one week) and at wildly inexpensive price points.

A pair of jeans costs $40 on Fashion Nova’s site. Shoes are priced between $30 and $55. Dresses can be found for as low as $28, and no more than $40. This rapid-fire timeline and the rock bottom prices that come along with it firmly situate Fashion Nova amongst the likes of the market’s fast fashion giants, such as Forever 21, H&M, Mango, and Zara. However, unlike the aforementioned brands, Fashion Nova has built its business almost exclusively online. Well, on Instagram, to be specific. 

The question of, “How exactly did Fashion Nova become one of the most sought after brands of the year?” should actually focus, instead, on: “How exactly did Fashion Nova build up such a massive social media presence?” This is the more apt inquiry since Fashion Nova’s following of nearly 70,000 people on Twitter, 1.3 million on Facebook, and a whopping 9.6 million on Instagram is almost certainly the bedrock of its success. 

The making of a multi-million count following on Instagram is multi-pronged, of course. Part of Fashion Nova’s success in building a fan base of 9.6 million on Instagram can almost certainly be tied to its extensive list of (at least some paid for) endorsements from some of the most heavily-followed influencers and celebrities. 

As noted by The Cut, “Celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Amber Rose, Blac Chyna, and of course, Cardi B, have all promoted the brand on their social-media feeds, which explains its high online traffic. For example, when Kylie Jenner posted an #ad for the brand last year saying how she was ‘obsessed’ with her Fashion Nova jeans, the post received over 2 million likes.” 

Micro Influencers & Word of Mouth Marketing 

But there is more to Fashion Nova’s success than that. Before LuLaRoe began tapping “consultants” to sell its questionable clothing to their friends and Emily Weiss’ Glossier enlisted millennial reps to help spread the word about the brand in a more organic fashion than traditional advertising, Fashion Nova took to social media to scout young women, who as Buzzfeed put it “despite their resemblance to reality TV stars like Kylie Jenner — aren’t celebrities, for the most part,” to shill its clothing. 

These 3,000 or so micro-level influencers – who share their own self-styled and photographed Fashion Nova imagery and corresponding sales codes with their tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of followers, in exchange for free clothes and/or commissions – have helped Fashion Nova saturate social media in a word-of-mouth manner. This is distinct from most of the other brands on Google’s list, which are more comfortable promoting their offerings on the runway in Milan or Paris and in editorials in magazines like Vogue. 

But unlike Chanel or Louis Vuitton, Fashion Nova’s founder and CEO, Richard Saghian is not interested in “wooing elite tastemakers in the fashion media.” Instead, Fashion Nova “has its eyes squarely on the social web, updating its Instagram feeds every half hour and producing new designs at the pace of a scrolling mobile newsfeed,” per Buzzfeed. 

This approach is simply more appropriate for the modern-day consumer, according to Saghian, who thinks that the fashion/retail industry’s conventional advertising methods are not only outdated but are downright ineffective for younger generation consumers. With this in mind, Saghian opted to approach marketing in a completely different manner and focus not on a brand dictating to consumers what they should buy but enabling real live consumers to influence their own circles, one of the oldest tricks in marketing (but also one of the most difficult to master).

“Word of mouth has always been a trustworthy tool for marketing but now, because of digital communities, it’s even bigger,” Priyanka Mehra-Dayal, Content Marketing Manager at Fashion and Beauty Monitor, told TFL. This is a particularly ripe opportunity for brands as younger generation consumers reject traditional branding and advertising and instead, look to their own immediate circles of friends and social media communities for inspiration in terms of fashion. It was largely word of mouth marketing that helped cult streetwear/skatewear brand fuel demand amongst consumers, after all.

Not surprisingly, it appears to be working for Fashion Nova. As Jessika O’Neal, a beauty blogger with over 22,000 Instagram followers and Fashion Nova influencer, told BuzzFeed News, “My audience is used to seeing Fashion Nova and trust that I wear them often and they always try to use my code.”

Rose Siard, another blogger and Fashion Nova influencer, echoed this notion, saying, “All my followers use my codes constantly and say they have a great experience with Fashion Nova.” 

Fast Fashion is the Future

In addition to networks of hugely famous individuals and micro influencers, alike, Saghian is banking on price as a cornerstone of Fashion Nova’s success. “I don’t think it’s fair for a brand to sell an item for $100 that they made for $20,” he told BuzzFeed. 

Speaking to Vice early this year, Saghian accurately claims that price is a huge driver for consumers, particularly of the Gen-Z and millennial kinds. “Overpriced fashion is dead and fast fashion is the new trend,” he said. And in furtherance of this model, he revealed that the company “has experienced ‘explosive growth’ in sales within the last year, claiming that three-quarters of its customers return to the site within 90 days.”

Interestingly, Saghian said he “isn’t waiting for the fashion industry to knight him. He wants Fashion Nova to disrupt the status quo.” And by residing on Google’s list of the most heavily-searched brands, among the likes of the industry’s most coveted high fashion houses, his company may just be achieving that.

This is as Saghian predicted. “If you go to a hairdresser nowadays, no one cares about magazines anymore. They only want a phone charger so they can look at their feed, right?” he told Vice. “Before, people were looking for fashion trends on the runway, but I think the runway is kind of dying. People are going to their feed, and they want to buy what is on our feed and what is on our 3,000 influencers’ feed. We’re giving them what they want.”