The past few months have left few retail brands unscathed, but apparel has been especially hard hit. In April, spending on clothes and accessories was down over 50% year over year. June numbers indicated that sales are beginning to recover, but still, it hardly seemed an optimal time to launch a new clothing brand.
Arielle Charnas, the influencer also known by her online moniker Something Navy, however, proved retail trends wrong—at least for her direct-to-consumer brand, which launched last week. According to a spokesperson for the brand, Something Navy, named for the blog Charnas started in 2009, sold $1 million worth of product in the first 30 minutes.
For those who have followed Charnas over the past few years, her success is likely not a surprise. Her first brush with the world of products came in 2017, when she collaborated with Treasure & Bond, Nordstrom’s in-house label, on a 30-piece collection. After that trial run, the Seattle-based retailer moved forward with a longer-term licensing deal, debuting a standalone Something Navy collection that was so successful, the web traffic it drove crashed Nordstrom.com.
A rare success among influencer-led brands
Charnas has over 1 million Instagram followers and a brand she’s built over 10 years; she is one of the earliest influencers to turn a hobby into a full-fledged business.
With her new DTC business, she’s become a trailblazer in a different way. As other influencers of her caliber, such as Julia Berolzheimer, are shuttering their brands due to clashes with wholesale partners, Charnas is perhaps paving the way for a new kind of influencer-led brand: one without a powerful retail partner that allows an influencer to captain their own ship, so to speak.
“I wanted to have full control,” Charnas told Adweek of her decision to launch a Something Navy product line on her own, which she’s doing with the help of the brand’s newly minted CEO, Matt Scanlan (he holds the same role at DTC cashmere brand Naadam).
Full control, of course, comes at a cost. In her partnership with Nordstrom, the retailer handled the logistics of manufacturing and the supply chain. Now, those jobs—and the associated costs—are on Charnas’ shoulders. So last year, Charnas also became one of the first influencers to raise venture capital for their brand, completing a $10 million funding round last August that valued Something Navy at $45 million and included the participation of Hong Kong billionaire Silas Chou, who has invested in the likes of Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger in the early days of their brands, too.
Striking out on her own (and seeking venture capital to do so) wasn’t something Charnas originally planned to do—even after the success of her Nordstrom collaborations.
“Before all of this, I was just doing Something Navy as a fun hobby,” she said. “I loved what I was doing, putting looks together and working with awesome brands. And then Nordstrom happened, and I saw the power then, but I didn’t really think much about the big picture.”
Building a community before the brand
Charnas said teaming up with Scanlan and, in particular, meeting with investors who saw the promise of Something Navy, made her grasp the possibilities for the brand. According to Scanlan, he wanted to work with Charnas after they collaborated on a sponsored post for Naadam, which led to an instant uptick in sales unlike anything he had seen before.
Scanlan found that Charnas had a unique proposition as an influencer: Not only did she have a huge audience (she currently has over 1.3 million followers), but they shopped, too.
“The engagement within this audience is massive,” he said. “It wasn’t just a random act of conversion. What had been built over a 10-year period was a brand, a community. And that community was engaged at a degree that few on the brand side or on the media side really ever experienced.”