After Meghan Markle wore its jeans, a brand had to move to a bigger factory

She’s got the power.
She’s got the power.
Image: Ian Vogler/Pool via AP
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You know you have influence when a brand has to move to a larger factory just because you wore its jeans.

The New York Times recently offered a detailed accounting (paywall) of the “Meghan Markle effect”—the marketing power of the American actress who is set to marry Britain’s Prince Harry on May 19. From the Times story:

When Ms. Markle carried a Strathberry bag for her first official appearance after the engagement, it sold out in 11 minutes, and traffic to the Scottish company’s website rose 5,000 percent. In January, she wore a pair of black jeans from Hiut Denim, a small Welsh brand, and in March the company moved to a bigger factory to fulfill demand.

It’s true that Hiut Denim is a small company. It was producing a mere 150 pairs of jeans a week. Levi’s, by contrast, sold about $94 million worth of its products each week in 2017. Hiut wasn’t exactly set up for a large influx of orders, the owners told UK tabloid the Daily Mail in March, when the news was first reported. But black jeans aren’t hard to come by either, especially at less than £230 (about $317), the cost of Markle’s jeans. Which means that people wanted those jeans, the ones she wore—and they wanted them enough to create a three-month backlog of orders at Hiut.

Markle is a mega-influencer, one who holds whole nations in her thrall—at least when it comes to what she’s wearing. Just how valuable is the princess-to-be to brands she wears? Brand Finance, a British brand valuation consultancy, has some thoughts. It recently produced a report estimating that the royal wedding will give the UK economy a boost of about £1 billion, taking into account increased tourism to Britain and all the money people spend on activities and things around the wedding. One component of that is the additional sales of clothing and other items that benefit from being associated with or worn by the happy couple.

“We said that the effect of the wedding on clothing and other fashion items will be about £150 million,” explains David Haigh, CEO and founder of Brand Finance. “Probably one of the largest items in that will be the impact on things like rings, handbags, hats—wedding attire basically.”

How her influence compares with that of others is hard to say. Brand Finance hasn’t done similar studies on other influential people, according to Haigh, because there really aren’t other such people—except someone like Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and Markle’s soon-to-be sister-in-law, or maybe one of the Kardashian/Jenner clan. An expert did once estimate how much Michelle Obama lifted the market capitalization of brands she wore over a certain period while she was the US first lady: The combined boost totaled $2.7 billion.

It’s hard to estimate an intangible quantity like endorsement value. Brand Finance acknowledges that it’s all a moving target. In fact, the company originally pegged the economic boost of the wedding at £500 million, but now says it underestimated the frenzy over the event, and has doubled its number.

Whatever the couple’s promotional power, Markle undoubtedly owns the greater share. Anytime she goes out, websites and tabloids publish breakdowns of what she wore. ”She’s become like a walking fashion catalogue,” Haigh says.