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Influencer businesses can fail spectacularly despite their loyal followings

23 March 2021

Her 1.2 million Instagram followers are there for impeccable styling, so it was no surprise when Victoria Magrath teased plans to launch her own fashion line in 2020. After pushing out a questionnaire for feedback on what the In The Frow audience wanted from the brand, Victoria got to work behind the scenes. This was to be a collection of sustainable fitted suits, reflecting Victoria’s own tastes. Her followers paused plans to purchase similar pieces elsewhere, her fellow influencers shared their own excitement to support her new venture, and anticipation was high.

Then last weekend, Victoria pulled the plug. In a vlog entitled “So I failed, and wasted a lot of time and cash”, she explained this was purely down to logistics. She’d struggled to find the right team and warehouse, and manufacturing was proving tough in the middle of a pandemic, especially for a new business. After reflection, she concluded this just wasn’t the right time and that she had too much on the table with In The Frow to pour any more energy or money into the project. Instead, she decided to cut her losses and move on.

This kind of thing happens in the development stage of businesses all the time, but it’s rare to see an influencer be so open with their failure. What most people focus on is the success stories. Influencer brands are a logical way to cash in on an engaged following and for a lot of content creators, this is how they elevated themselves from “just a YouTuber” to a fully-fledged business mogul in the eyes of the wider public. Pre-cancellation, American beauty vlogger Jeffree Star was reported to earn around $7.2 million per product launch from his eponymous cosmetics line. Molly-Mae Hague repeatedly sells out her tanning range Filter By Molly-Mae, and Fisayo Longe’s Kai Collective has even been given Beyoncé’s stamp of approval.

But it can all go wrong so easily. The strength of an influencer brand is also its weakness – this is a business launched off the back of a personality, and each element is tied up with the other. If the personality falls into disrepute, so does the business, and if the business isn’t up to scratch that reflects poorly on the personality behind it. The brand’s success lies in that idea that you’re buying a little piece of that personality. There’s a reason why Kylie Jenner seems to single-handedly serve as the model for Kylie Cosmetics even a year after it sold to Coty. Without Kylie and her lips, it’s just overpriced lipstick.

And for the influencers who’ve launched products that don’t match their image, the results haven’t been pretty. Like Victoria Magrath, Lydia Millen is known for a luxurious lifestyle. Last year she launched her beauty brand Glo By Lydia, and after months of buildup, audiences clamoured to purchase its first product – a self-tanning kit. But when the reviews came in, they were decidedly negative. Averaging a score of 2/5 on Trustpilot, customers accused Lydia of overpricing her products and “slapping the word ‘luxury’ on something that is junk.” A lot of this disappointment stemmed from the fact Lydia has high standards for everything from her kitchen decor to her foundation. When these standards didn’t seem to extend to her own brand, fans jumped ship. Eight months later, the shop and Instagram quietly went on indefinite hiatus.

A similar fate met American beauty guru Jaclyn Hill’s cosmetics line in 2019. When products started arriving with signs of questionable sanitation standards, Jaclyn temporarily deactivated her social accounts and the brand ground to a halt. She’s only now taking another stab at it two years later and relaunching. And who can forget when Arii (AKA Arianna Renee) failed to sell even 36 t-shirts to her then-two million strong following? In the fallout, many pointed out that the main issue was the line’s failure to fit with the aesthetic her audience were following her for in the first place. This lack of cohesiveness is a constant obstacle that so many fail to consider. When Jamie Genevieve launched her beauty line Vieve last year, she noted how shocked the cosmetic lab technicians were that she actually wanted to test formulas before choosing them. As she told Forbes, “Surely everyone should care like I care?”

The temptation with any existing audience is to assume their loyalty outweighs reason, but this just isn’t the case. Gone are the days when you could slap the name of your YouTube channel onto a hoodie and call it a clothing brand. An influencer business is an extension of what got you to that point in the first place, and  the audience that has been with you all along can tell if you’re veering off course. Sure, it didn’t work out this time for Victoria Magrath. But better to take the loss now than jeopardise your brand later.

By Chloe James, fashion and beauty editor of CORQ.