Imagine a world where your colleague, your best friend and your niece have never heard of ASOS. They stare blankly at you when you even mutter the name. But, they do know Revolve. And, like 2.3 million people they follow the e-tailer’s Instagram account avidly. Put a pin in that dream because that’s a lived reality in the United States where the LA-based mega site rivals our humble UK-born multi-label site in size, popularity and millennial appeal.
It’s a sunny day in Los Angeles, which sounds like a cliche but for the last week the city has been besieged by June gloom - California’s so-called grey perma-pollution-cloud - and I’m standing on the roof terrace of Revolve’s social hub. Behind a set of unmarked double doors on Melrose Avenue lies this inner reIm of influencer exclusivity where the rails of clothes are there to be chosen from for free and the drinks are free flowing. It’s everything you’d imagine it to be (bar the sinister weather): there are Instagrammable cushions and ironic neon signs as well as mirrors, lots of them. After all, every corner, surface and situation is designed with the selfie in mind.
Just like ASOS, Revolve is driven by the celebrity-obsessed, selfie-era consumer. With one thumb always on their phone and a job title that includes a slash (think: student-slash-model or entrepreneur-slash-vlogger), these millennials are switched on 24/7. It’s enough to make you feel unconnected and exhausted. No wonder, they’ve become the makers-and-breakers of fashion trends and brands. It’s because of them that Revolve has evolved into one of the most powerful online retailers in the world even though it has only just launched the same shipping and returns (i.e. no headaches, no hassle, no shipping duties or VAT) in the UK as the US.
Tour The Revolve Social Hub:
Once considered mythical, ‘unicorns’ exist in the fashion industry - and not just on socks and t-shirts. It’s the term coined by TechCrunch for start-ups that have crossed the $1 billion threshold. Though Farfetch is one of them and Net-A-Porter is also part of the club, the name alone hints at how rare this accolade is, which makes it all the more impressive that privately-owned US brand Revolve is worth over $1billion.
The website has evolved a lot since launched in 2003 by the two Mikes, Michael Mente and Michael Karanikolas. ‘The first era was about providing access as we understood that people were searching online but billion-dollar brands had zero products online for them to access’, says Mente. Around 2007, he and his partner had a brainwave and switched from traditional marketing and buying known brands to stocking a wider mix of emerging designers, exclusives and focusing on a Facebook generation. Why? Data told them to.
Coy about what data they track, Mente explains 'that it is some of the secret aspects of what drives the business, but there is a broad set of metrics, some of what drives the business and some of them have a little subjectivity so we can measure and compare everything from consumer engagement to return on spend on various levels.’ He’s referring to their famous parties (like the Hamptons pool party hosted by Kim Kardashian) that seem like a social marketing experiment but are carefully evaluated based on how many mentions and clicks they get, consumer engagement, return on spend and the quality of the photographs as well as how they’ve been optimised.
For ‘gram fans this won’t seem surprising, as they will know the site from their much-photographed Coachella parties and #Revolvearoundtheworld marketing campaigns that sweep influencers off on 5* holidays. While it might be data that steers the e-commerce ship, this Cali company have made getting tagged by super-influencers into an art form. A dedicated team nurture an influencer program that sweeps the likes of Victoria Justice (14.4m followers), Olivia Culpo (2.8m) and Hailey Clauson (501K) off to far-flung beach resorts and A-List events. ‘We can be really choosey about who we work with,’ Revolve’s marketing mastermind Raissa Gerona explains. They study, ‘how on brand they are, where they live, their engagement. We really look at the whole package when it comes to working with an influencers.’
Initially this school of marketing sets out to capitalize on the personal following of these Instagram stars, but as time has gone on for many being involved with Revolve has helped propel their career. Mente jumps in and cites fashion week as an example. For a company like Revolve, or ASOS, fashion week is not relevant to its consumers - it’s expensive, out of sync with their shopping calendar and overtly exclusive. However, for influencers, attending a couture show is a status symbol, a sign that they’ve reached a new commercial crest. Take Chiara Ferragni (13m followers) for instance, the Blonde Salad blogger is a mainstay at Milan fashion Week but has had ties to Revolve for years. Exposure by Revolve can be enough to push an It Girl like Ferragni to the next level.
Though the website has changed and continues to do so, there is one thing that seems unstoppable: their success. Whether it’s sponsoring Pia Arrobio’s (102K followers) ready-to-wear line LPA or keeping Coachella relevant with it’s famous desert get-togethers, Revolve has become a millennial-driven powerhouse that’s marketing and data know-how is the rubric for many other e-coms (looking at you Boohoo, Missguided and Nasty Gal).