Fashion Nova conquered Instagram by embracing the “thirst trap”

Fashion Nova’s Instagram page features customers’ photos alongside models.
Fashion Nova’s Instagram page features customers’ photos alongside models.
Image: Fashion Nova/Instagram
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Instagram is a performance space. It’s where untold numbers of young women and men, in search of attention, validation, or something else, go to show off their best sides—literally. It’s the natural habitat of the sexily posed, scantily clad portraits dubbed “thirst traps.”

For brands, meanwhile, it’s a powerful tool to advertise their wares and attract customers, thanks to its visual format and massive user base. And no brand has better used that tool than Fashion Nova, a clothing label that has quickly exploded, in large part thanks to the voluptuously curvy, racially diverse models, celebrities, and regular customers whose pictures populate its Instagram, often in sultry poses proven to elicit “likes” and comments.

The company hasn’t revealed its sales, but in an interview with WWD (paywall) last year, founder and CEO Richard Saghian said it grew 600% in 2017. It also ranked among Google’s top-searched fashion brands by millennials, beating out labels such as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.

Fashion Nova built its massive fanbase partly by satisfying its customers’ desire for attention—sharing their selfies and shouting them out on Instagram. There they reside alongside celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, who wore the brand’s $18 skin-tight romper to Coachella, and rapper Cardi B, another of the brand’s well-known ambassadors.

Fashion Nova was Instagram’s top-performing brand in earned-media value (EMV) through the first five months of 2018, according to a new report by InfluencerDB, an influencer-marketing platform, based on an analysis of more than 900,000 Instagram posts. EMV is the equivalent of what it would cost a brand in traditional advertising to generate the same level of publicity, and it’s measured through all the mentions, likes, and comments coming from its fans.

The brand finished well ahead of far larger players, including Zara and H&M. It had an EMV of about $125 million, coming from 12,468 influencers who mentioned the brand, about 700 of which were paid. (Fashion Nova has noted before that it works with 3,000 to 5,000 influencers.)

Fashion Nova’s success is directly related to its willingness to bring its fans the attention they seek, InfluencerDB found. ”Fashion Nova encourages followers to share their everyday as well as sexy looks for reposts on the Fashion Nova account, which is highly desirable to an audience of ‘hardcore fans’ and those looking to grow their own base following,” says Robert Levenhagen, CEO and cofounder of InfluencerDB. “One example of where they’ve done this, is by promoting provocative mirror selfies and pictures showcasing a lot of skin which may not typically be reposted for most brands, but Fashion Nova uses it to create an avalanche of highly loyal brand ambassadors, for free.”

The brand’s success has as much to do with its digital savvy and understanding of its customers as the actual clothes it sells, which tend to be cheap fast fashion. But they cater to women many other brands still fail to design thoughtfully for—those with full hips and butts and busts. Fashion Nova’s clothes tend to highlight these features, and instead of relegating larger women to shapeless, matronly designs, their clothing for these customers is similarly fitted and shows plenty of skin.

“In other words, don’t alienate your customer,” Noël Duan wrote for Quartz. “Embrace them. The brand’s Instagram, for example, re-posts about 30 outfits from customers’ Instagrams every week, in addition to engaging on every single photo in which the brand is tagged. All of them!”

The message broadcast by the Fashion Nova site and its Instagram page is that you don’t have to be a skinny white model to be desirable. Curves are sexy. All skin tones are beautiful. And self-confidence is the ultimate thirst trap.