The photos are all over Instagram: Uniformly curvaceous women squeezed into tight, strategically ripped jeans, body-conscious velvet dresses, and lace-up bodysuits.
But the women — despite their resemblance to reality TV stars like Kylie Jenner — aren’t celebrities, for the most part. They’re influencers for Fashion Nova, a brand you’ve heard of, maybe even shopped, whose ground game is almost entirely focused on social media, rather than spreads in magazines or shelf space in boutiques.
The campaign seems to be working. In just three years, Fashion Nova has grown to a staff more than 600 people, who churn out up to 500 new clothing designs every week. Along the way the company has picked up 6.9 million Instagram followers and a stable of celebrity endorsers like Jenner and Amber Rose.
Or, put another way, as rapper and reality star Cardi B wrote in an Instagram post: “My shoes Balenciaga but my fit @fashionnova THOOO Duuuuhhhhhh.”
Fashion Nova says its bodycon brand has been built by obsessing over what people are wearing on social media, turning out affordable pieces inspired by the Instagram feeds of reality TV stars — often within days of the photos being posted.
“The concept is that the runways are dying,” Richard Saghian, its founder and CEO, told BuzzFeed News. “If you think about it, why did they have runways before? Because there was no internet. People are now looking at their feed for fashion inspiration more than they are the runways.”
A key part of Fashion Nova’s saturation of Instagram feeds across the country lies in its network of about 3,000 social media influencers — a constellation of fashion and lifestyle bloggers with tens of thousands of followers each, and sometimes hundreds of thousands.
Ivette Saucedo, a fashion blogger with more than 329,000 Instagram followers, has worked with Fashion Nova for two years. She told BuzzFeed News she was a fan of the brand before a representative reached out to her to model their clothes on her own profile.
“I love their clothes,” she said, adding that they are designed for “voluptuous” bodies like hers. “They’re great. They’re super trendy, not too expensive, and they’re good quality.”
Saucedo, along with four other social media influencers reached by BuzzFeed News, described her agreement with them as simple — a representative emails her about once a month to get her clothing order, she picks out anywhere from 10 to 15 items and then posts a picture to Instagram wearing the product. She said no money changes hands — just free clothes.
Each post includes a note encouraging followers to use the influencer’s discount code, which tracks their individual sales.
“My sales do well,” Jessika O’Neal, a beauty blogger with over 22,000 Instagram followers and Fashion Nova influencer for about a year and a half, 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, a fashion blogger with more than 338,000 followers on Instagram, told BuzzFeed News that while she doesn’t make a commission on sales from her Fashion Nova code, she’s happy just getting a steady supply of free new clothes.
“All my followers use my codes constantly and say they have a great experience with Fashion Nova,” she said. “I don’t work with things that are going to cause any drama because that reflects back on me. I want everybody to have a good experience.”
Saghian says his company, based in Vernon, California, has grown its sales “exponentially” every year since it launched online in 2014 — although he declined to give specific financial or sales figures. While the brand doesn’t invest its time wooing elite tastemakers in the fashion media, it 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.
“We launch 500 new styles a week,” said Saghian. “A lot of the big brands may bring 500 fresh styles in a year. But people don’t get tired of us.”
The numbers, at least on social, seem to bear that out. Fashion Nova is adding 500,000 new Instagram followers every month, and its “Curve” page, dedicated to plus sizes, has more than 217,000 followers. Its fans include celebrities like Blac Chyna, Cardi B and Lala Anthony, who have all been spotted wearing the brand’s jeans, which typically cost no more than $40.
The company works with about 500 sewing factories across Los Angeles. About 80% of its products are made in LA, Saghian said, and those local factories help maintain a warp-speed pace of new releases — blazing fast even by the standards of the fast fashion industry, where giants like H&M now move styles from catwalks to store shelves in a matter of weeks, rather than months.
How fast? Fashion Nova’s social media team monitors what’s being worn online, sending trending styles to a design team that can produce sample products in less than 24 hours. Then those LA factories get involved, and depending on the quantities involved, the company can start selling the design within a week or two.
And it sells them cheap. Shoes are priced anywhere between $30 for a pair of ankle boots or heels to $55 for a pair of thigh-high boots. Dresses are as low as $28, and no more than $40. “We’re trying to make the fashion industry play by the rules,” said Saghian. “I don’t think it’s fair for a brand to sell an item for $100 that they made for $20.”
For people living online in 2017, it’s a familiar kind of business. In the same way that a viral tweet now ricochets across the internet, inspiring news articles, videos, memes, and reaction posts in a matter of hours, Fashion Nova has built an operation capable of turning a viral celebrity photo into clothing ready for shipping, all at a truly frantic speed.
“We don’t even really have a strategy,” said Saghian. “We grew so fast. We are just grabbing the tiger by the tail.”