Richard Saghian doesn’t do many interviews. Until now, he’s tried to avoid them, save for some general statements and phone conversations with a few publications here and there.
It’s partly because being interviewed clearly makes him uncomfortable. Saghian, who is Iranian-American with a boyish face and a full head of wispy hair, doesn’t want a lot of attention. He dismisses the idea of a portrait photograph to accompany this story and he has on a very low-key, trend agnostic outfit: a denim shirt worn unbuttoned over a T-shirt, jeans and a black chunky watch with gold accents that looks expensive, but isn’t ostentatious.
Saghian also likes to speak in talking points and grand themes that aren’t always conducive to a free-flowing conversation with a reporter. Saghian says the following: “overpriced fashion is dead”And “Fashion Nova is the fastest-growing women’s apparel company.” To help guide the interview, which took place in a conference room at Fashion Nova’s headquarters right outside of downtown Los Angeles, he referred to an Excel sheet of questions he’s received from this journalist and other reporters over the past few months, which were coupled with very prepared, corporate answers.
But he also doesn’t need press. He’s been able to build and grow Fashion Nova, which has 10.7 million followers on Instagram, independent of the traditional powers that be. According to Google, Fashion Nova was the most searched for topic in 2017. fashionGucci, Supreme, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Chanel are all brands. And the company landed in fourth place without a runway showPlacements in magazines, traditional marketing campaigns, or, Saghian said, forced SEO tactics.
So why should he agree to an interview now.
“For recruitment,”He spoke in an uncertain tone. “I know most of the people who read WWD probably don’t even know what Fashion Nova is.”
Fashion Nova is easy to describe for the uninitiated. “an Instagram brand.”Saghian loves to call it a viral brand. But something about those descriptions makes the company feel ephemeral or illegitimate. Fashion Nova is a bona fide apparel, accessories and beauty business that’s attracted women with body measurements that don’t always fit within standard sizing — although Saghian says the clothes are for everyone. Women like Belcalis Almanzar, also known as Cardi B, or Angela Renée White, also known as Blac Chyna, who have bulbous hips, rotund butts, spindlelike waists — and big Instagram followings. Saghian has made these clothes fashionable, trendy, and affordable by working with celebrities. By working with a network of more than 3,000 influencers, he’s made them pervasive. It’s easy to assume that Fashion Nova only exists online, but it has five stores within malls across Southern California. Saghian stated that the company grew 600 percent in 2017 but is still profitable, but declined to disclose its revenue. Boohoo is another fast-growing company.fashion retailer that has 3.1 million followers Instagram, had a revenue of £294.64 million in 2017, which translates to $411.43 million.
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The Fashion Nova head offices, which are located in an industrial district, are not striking. It doesn’t have that sterile, start-up sheen nor is it decorated with disco balls and lacquer furniture. It’s homey, with remnants of Valentine’s Day and boxes of doughnuts, a Friday mainstay, scattered about — free food and the employee discount are apparently big perks at Fashion Nova. Fashion Nova is constantly changing and attracting new talent. They just released a new logo — it no longer has the hot pink woman’s silhouette and the text is cleaner and bolder.
Saghian stated that retaining and attracting talent is a major concern. Fashion Nova is often the first job they have after graduation. He brings up poaching often, as if it’s a tactic used by his competitors, another term he uses often, to dismantle his company. One gets the sense that Saghian never imagined the business would get this big and he wants to protect and cultivate his team, which he believes will be key to Fashion Nova’s continued success. There are currently about 20 job opportunities, which include a denim buyer, a data architect, and a director in accounting.
“I could stop it right here and live a good life, but I want to grow the business,”Saghian. “I’m the ceo, cmo and the cfo, so I’m trying to build up this company and I need help.”
What he doesn’t seemed worried about is outside investment. Fashion Nova is a privately owned company and he intends to keep it that way for the foreseeable future.
“A lot of my competitors have teams that work on a budget all day and are obsessed with profit margins,”Saghian. “I don’t want to focus on that right now. I believe that as long as we focus on giving the best product at the best price and getting it to our customer fast, we will continue to grow. Right now the focus is getting as many people onto the platform as possible.”
Saghian learned about offering value to customers from his father, who owned women’s retail stores. He worked in them during summers and knew he wanted something similar, but his own way. In Panorama City, Calif., he opened his first Fashion Nova store in 2006. He noticed that other websites were selling the same product, but at a higher price point. He considered an ecommerce site but knew he needed a way to direct people there. Saghian decided to use Instagram to post photos of his most-sold pieces on models. Many of his Fashion Nova customers were already taking pictures on Instagram of themselves wearing the clothes, before he began to work directly with them by giving them free product in return for promotion.
“I had 60,000 followers on Instagram before I launched the site,”Saghian. “I kept delaying it because I don’t think I believed it was going to do this well.”
In 2013, Saghian went live on fashionnova.com and sold out everything in a matter of days. Fashion Nova was able to hire celebrities to wear the label and promote the brand on Instagram as Fashion Nova gained more money. Cardi B has previously said Fashion Nova offers her $20,000 a month to wear the label and post about it to her 19 million followers, and Saghian has told New York Magazine’s The Cut that a post from Kylie Jenner, who started working with the brand in 2016, can translate to $50,000 in sales.
Fashion Nova has built a following for its jeans, which retail for around $35 and are mostly made in the U.S. from a stretch denim that hugs the hips and the waist, which isn’t always an easy feat for women with Coca-Cola bottle figures. Some of his former endorsers have become competitors because of these jeans. Khloé Kardashian, who used to wear Fashion Nova jeans, released similar styles with Good American denim, which retail for around $150, while La La Anthony also got into the business with an eponymous line of jeans that are priced around $90.
“I think it’s great,”Saghian answered the question about these lines. “The more options the customer has, the better.”
Saghian likes to say he’s turned fast fashion into ultra-fast fashion. Fashion Nova’s design and buying team works with more than 1,000 manufacturers on product — during the summer months, 80 percent of the clothes are produced in L.A. and during the colder months, 80 percent are made overseas. Saghian claims that they are able produce samples faster than other companies due to their partnership with L.A. based manufacturers. Samples can be made within 24 hours of the creation of the concept. The items can be shot on models within 48 hours. Models are available Monday through Friday to model the 600 items Fashion Nova releases each week. The pieces are then posted, with easy-to-search names such as the “Netflix and Chill Set,”In the new arrivals section, you will find simple style numbers rather than complicated ones. Customers can sign up to be notified when it’s in stock. The pieces are usually ready within one to two week of conception. They sell out quickly depending on the item’s performance and they restock it. Then it’s wash, rinse, repeat.
“It’s important to have a lot of styles because our customers post so much online and need new clothes. We don’t want girls showing up to the club in the same outfit. We need 50 different denim jackets. Not just one,”Saghian.
He’s also making the clothes easy to get. On top of them being so cheap — most of the assortment is less than $50 and there’s always a sale or discount code to take advantage of — speedy fulfillment is important for Saghian. Fashion Nova ships worldwide and offers two-day shipping for all domestic orders. For shoppers living within a 40-mile radius from Los Angeles, they can also receive their order via Postmates the same day if they place an order before 1 p.m. Fashion Nova takes traditional methods of payment along with PayPal and Amazon Pay, but while big brands are figuring out mutually beneficial ways to partner with Amazon, Saghian said he doesn’t sell any product on the site.
“We don’t need to work with Amazon. Our customer comes to our site,”Saghian added that Fashion Nova is visited by millions each month. “And most girls don’t want to tell their friends they bought a dress from Amazon.”
At the Burbank Town Center Mall, the Fashion Nova store, which is about 3,000 square feet, isn’t picturesque — think a lower-budget Rainbow — but that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s a Saturday afternoon and there’s a buy-one-get-one 50-percent-off sale happening. The base comes from “No Limit,” G-Eazy’s song with Cardi B and A$AP Rocky, is reverberating through the shop. The shop is filled with girls who are either browsing the racks with their friends or pushing baby strollers through a cluster of headless mannequins. There are also tables covered in skinny jeans. The shop has the energy of a pregame spot — the place where people party before the party — but minus the alcohol. A few guys wait patiently at the front, while one stands in the long fitting area line with his girlfriend holding her selections. The vibe is decidedly different next door at Charlotte Russe — Lorde’s “Green Light” is playing in the background — and a little further down at Forever 21 things are much more sedate and youthful.
Neither Fashion Nova’s business model nor its product is that unique — there are quite a few U.K.-based retailers such as Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Boohoo that operate in the same space. But Saghian has distinguished Fashion Nova from other players by speaking directly to an urban demographic that’s not always prioritized by brands and retailers, but has a resounding reach on social media. Cardi B, for example, has made Fashion Nova a resounding success with her viral Instagram videos. show her mixing the company’s clothes with Patek Philippe diamond watches or Balenciaga shoes. Saghian was a partner with the Bronx native before she was a signed artist. “Bodak Yellow”It became an anthem that was omnipresent. But despite these successes, Kollin Carter, Cardi B’s stylist, recently told Cosmopolitan.com that even now, many designers don’t lend her samples. “Certain names are finally coming around, because they [are starting to] get [her star power]. But we still have a lot more designers [who] need to become believers,”He said. “Fashion Nova will always be super close to her. That was a brand that was lending to her before anybody believed in her. They worked together way before [she hired] me. I always have respect for her Fashion Nova moments, because it is a part of who she is.”
“We were doing well before Cardi, but she definitely gave us some legitimacy,”Saghian. “She is one of our favorite partners because when she talks about Fashion Nova, she speaks from the heart.”
This added legitimacy has translated to increased traffic in stores — Saghian claims the shops have become tourist destinations — but he has no desire to open up a big flashy flagship on Melrose or anywhere else for that matter.
“I had a goal of opening 100 stores across the U.S. when I first started the business, but the effort it takes to launch a store is far more harder than it is to increase revenue online,”Saghian. “Why open up more stores when I can open up to more countries?”
So instead of building out brick-and-mortar locations, he and his team exert their energy on Instagram by posting every 30 minutes throughout the day and talking to his customers, who are usually 16 to 35 years old, in a language that’s familiar and familial. Saghian has honed in on the Millennial generation’s need to be seen, heard and validated. He calls his customers #NovaBabes and #NovaStars. Fashion Nova likes and comments upon each post, and sometimes reposts images on its Instagram account. Fashion Nova staff sign off on Instagram customer service inquiries “love”Customer service e-mails and double-heart emojis can be used. “Love and Light”Salutation
But sometimes the zen voice doesn’t work, particularly when customers are upset about not receiving their orders in a timely manner. Fashion Nova, Rebecca Minkoff, Asos, and Sephora all experienced issues with delayed shipping after Black Friday last year. The site used to deliver orders within three to five days. Now it takes 16 days. Saghian stated that the problem was fixed and that a walk-through of the warehouse revealed some new efficiencies such as an automated barcode system that can fulfill multiple order simultaneously.
There have been complaints about some business practices. Saghian boasts the return rate for Fashion Nova is below industry standard, but that could be because it’s easier for customers to keep merchandise they don’t want. Fashion Nova doesn’t offer cash refunds, only store credit, and shoppers must pay a shipping fee to make exchanges, which can cost more than the original purchase. Forever 21 once had a no-refund policy. But, it was changed last year.
“Our girls like the credit system. It’s not an issue,” said Saghian dismissively.
Moving forward, Fashion Nova will be a one-stop shop to #NovaBabes. He launched Fashion Nova Curve, a plus size assortment, last year and has big plans for the future. Saghian is aware that influencer marketing has changed. He says it’s dead and the new algorithm on Instagram has made it less impactful. But he repeatedly emphasizes that all of his customers are influencers and he’s certain that the connection Fashion Nova has formed with its #NovaBabes and #NovaStars can transcend any platform or trending celebrity. This makes it difficult to ask the neurotic chief executive officer whether Fashion Nova would have existed without Instagram.
“Absolutely,” he quickly replied. “Social media is just helping us grow faster. But if I didn’t have Instagram, I would have grown the business the old-fashioned way: by word of mouth.”