A Branded History: The Creator-led brands crafting the future.
In a time before Instagram (referred to as BI henceforth*), the influencer world was only beginning to percolate. Blogs and billboards were a brand’s bread and butter and consumers were switched onto street style over shoppable links. What we know today as the creator economy was being born, one Jeffrey Campbell platform and vignette-food shot at a time.
Rumbling amongst Tumblr reblogs and Twitter retweets were the brands of tomorrow, unaware their community-building efforts and follower-interaction at a grassroots level would catapult them to drivers of style and consumer dream boats. And at a time of Andy Sachs mayhem these breakthrough personas began to tear apart the very fabric of content consumption - a moment many a publisher would rather forget - where mainstream media neglected to shift with the tides in favour of print over progress. It’s only now with thanks to the Kardashians and the same elk that these media houses have offered legitimacy to creators and influencers.
"Who we follow (or are followed-by) acts as a badge of our taste, a testament to who we are in the performative realm of social media."
On a human level, purchasing from a creator née influencer that you feel intimately-acquainted with makes sense and cents. Followers and fandoms count themselves amongst an influencer’s inner circle, knowing their preferences, dating history, favourite brands and often life story as a hallmark of their own identity. Who we follow (or are followed-by) acts as a badge of our taste, a testament to who we are in the performative realm of social media.
So who carried the first ring-lit torch? We’ve done the groundwork (and the homework) for the creator-curious:
Born of the blog (First wave)
The original blogger set carved the path to purchase for creator-led brands. Chiara Ferragni and her blog The Blonde SaladThe Blonde Salad (started in 2009) traipsed her way to glitter-adorned espadrilles with 1.2M followers in tow; while Anine Bing brought her Scandi-refinement from blog (in 2010) to most-tagged tees by way of Anine Bing the label. Or there’s the launch of beloved Toteme by Elin Kling, another street-style veteran of the blog-first domain (from 2007 onwards) turned designer. Rumi Neely of The Fashion Toast bloggedRumi Neely of The Fashion Toast blogged first in 2007 and launched her line Are You Am I seven years later in 2014, now regarded as the home of elevated basics ‘for the girls who get it.’
They’re savvy to recognise their niche and offer a product range that didn’t cannibalise the brand deals on which influencers existed, cannot be underestimated. (Perhaps as trailblazers the usual concern of job security didn’t faze them here.) The frontrunners in an industry that wasn’t realised as such til’ it had outgrown it’s hobbyist categorisation, we have the eyes and insight of these style-icons to thank for creator-brands.
Chiara Ferragni → CF Collection (2010)
Anine Bing → Anine Bing (2012)
Elin Kling → Toteme (2014)
The Fashion Toast → Are You Am I (Rumi Neely) (2014)
The Ultimate Edit
The pages of print birthed many a brilliant idea, perhaps from editors and assistants desperate to make a living outside their minimum wage (and well-heeled) endeavours at major mastheads. And one thing’s for certain, for both Emily Weiss and Zoë Foster Blake their switch to the blog-domain long before their employers was a multi-million-dollar-savvy move. While Emily’s rise from LC-antagoniser on The Hills to Vogue employee in her own right isn’t well-documented, we can only imagine the hustle required to carve out the cache of talent that would later open their vanity on Into The Gloss. A before and after work project that saw Weiss peek into the must-haves and bathroom brilliance of a dazzling set of women - a niche so nuanced and insightful we see it replicated (read: crassly copied) still to this day. Seeing it as more than an avenue for flat-lay foreverdom, Weiss used the community platform to build the millennial pink dream we all now know as Glossier. Sidestepping traditional retailers, classic makeup brand tropes and ultimately nailing, Glossier brought the undone look of French models and je-ne-sais-quoi to the masses - at a perfectly primed price. Now worth north of a billion dollars and drives beauty trends one colour-coded lip balm at time.
"Despite their immeasurable influence, the vloggers and tutorial titans didn’t lean into their own ventures until many years later."
Across the world, Australian beauty editor Zoë Foster Blake was convincing her employers to let her start a blog - much to their dismay. Before Go-To Skin Care the perfect peach package destined to bring fun back to skin care was born, Zoë shared her tidbits and tips on Fruity Beauty. Several books, 16 products, two brand extensions and a cult following later - the brand that came to be in a garage in 2014 is now understood to be Australia’s most successful. Fans of the brand and of ZFB herself captivated by the simple, clean formulas, carefully-curated copy and education-led outfit no doubt.
Into The Gloss (2010) → Glossier (2014)
Zoë Foster Blake (2007) → Go-To Skin Care (2014)
Beauty begins (at the height of YouTube creators)
An era of sharp brows and nails that were pointier still, the height of Youtube beauty madness saw many a brand founder born. Despite their immeasurable influence, the vloggers and tutorial titans didn’t lean into their own ventures until many years later - a sign of the incredible funds on offer from makeup conglomerates. Huda Beauty being an exception to this perfectly-baked rule, having begun blogging in 2010 she partnered with her sister just a year later to bring the fine fluttery lashes to the shelves of Sephora in her native Dubai. Nowadays her empire extends far beyond mink and covers all corners of the skin care and makeup realm. Though a handful were relegated to the domain of brand perils (looking at you Jeffree Star) recent years has seen the top-tier of beauty gurus move into product - bolstered by incubators a plenty. Tati, Angel and Patrick are all first-draft picks of the YouTube elite who shifted into hawking their own wares, the shimmery, perfectly-packaged kind.
Huda Kattan (2010) → Huda Beauty (2011)
Christine Dominique → Dominique Cosmetics (2018)
Tati Westbrook → Tati Beauty (2019)
Angel Merino → Artist Couture (2020)
Patrick Starr → One Size (2020)
"As the influencer bubble inflated still, these ventures came at a time where influencing was largely laughed at and only engaged in by brands with a level of reluctance."
The first it-girls
The second wave of it girls saw many a beloved brand launch and many a sundress sold, from the two-piece brilliance of Tash Oakley and Devin Brugman to the monochrome selects of Harper and Harley. As the influencer bubble inflated still, these ventures came at a time where influencing was largely laughed at and only engaged in by brands with a level of reluctance. But proof of their enduring ability to captivate consumers beyond the double tap, these founders have built brands still beloved today. Realisation Par was born of Billabong mainstay 4th And Bleeker and has since influenced many a fashion trend - the leopard print skirt one notable hallmark. Or in selling her aesthetic Jeanette Damas created her label Rouje to offer access to her Pinterest-ready looks, in recent years too they’ve expanded into beauty. Or there’s the likes of Danielle Bernstein and Arielle Charnas of WeWoreWhat and Something Navy who in their efforts to build something beyond the collaboration avenue courted controversy instead. The former has seen backlash in recent months for stealing designs from emerging designers and selling them to her mass audience. While Arielle Charnas saw similar controversy surrounding her designs, it was her COVID-naiviety that saw her earn Diet Prada’s wrathDiet Prada’s wrath. A peril perhaps of diving into founding too late in their influencer journey, or moreso losing touch with the very community that elevated your success. Despite some missteps there’s no doubt of the brand equity held in the perfectly-manicured palms of it-girls past and present.
A Bikini A Day (2012) → Monday Swimwear (2014)
4th And Bleeker (2010) → Realisation Par (2015)
Harper and Harley (2008) → The Undone Store (2016)
Jeanette Damas (2014) → Rouje (2016)
Arielle Charnas (2009) → Something Navy (2018)
We Wore What (2011) → (2019)
"Crowd-sourcing product names and formula-revisions from their cohort of followers to leading with influencer-imagery on their socials well before other brands cottoned on."
Masters of their craft and wielders of many a brush, the next wave of brands saw the experts take it upon themselves. An interesting development given the relationship they held with brands before this time, courted as spokespeople, development consultants and utilised by brands in a generally uneven fashion, starting their own ventures was a logical and brilliant next step. Now household names for their cult products alongside their artistry, the likes of Charlotte Tilbury, Pat McGrath and Lisa Eldgridge have made products worthy of their esteemed names. Each addressed a gap in their kit with perfect-liner precision, paving the way for Natasha Denona, Gucci Westman and Patrick Ta to venture into the very same camp. And leverage their celebrity clientele as they did so.
Another super-strand example of this is Jen Atkin of The Ouai, who caters to the Kardashian’s locks. Now a Sephora and Ulta mainstay, the brand has leveraged Atkin’s audience and content understanding innately. Crowd-sourcing product names and formula-revisions from their cohort of followers to leading with influencer-imagery on their socials well before other brands cottoned on. Another Kardashian-select Makeup My Mario only recently branched out into his own venture, due to his steady-hand in KKW Beauty until then. The man who made the beauty masterclasses a thing and baking not just a kitchen term has leveraged his education-platform to land in palette perfection; and continue creating the content that led him there.
And most recently we’ve seen the facialist to the most famous (and hydrated) of visages Shani Darden branch out into her own range. A sign of more skin-whisperers to offer their own products? That’s our glowy guess.
Charlotte Tilbury → (2013)
Pat McGrath → (2015)
Natasha Denona → (2016)
Jen Atkin → The Ouai (2016)
Lisa Eldgride → (2018)
Gucci Westman → Westman Atelier (2019)
Makeup by Mario → (2020)
Shani Darden → Shani Darden Skin Care (2020)
Patrick Ta → (2020)
"Born of gaps in the market, the creator of today is channel-agnostic, intimately connected to their community and hyper-aware of their brand elements."
Community-first is no stranger of a term in the world of brands and products aplenty, but where was that insight born from? In the wake of social media’s rise to content wave of prominence, the tides of brand’s shifted too. Gone were the days of one-way marketing conversations where specials and 2 for 1 deals were shouted out to clamouring (not-really) consumers - farewell! Good riddens, in fact! Now those not-so hushed consumers shout right back.
And though we like to romanticise the marketing field now as a purveyor of human-first ideas and customer-centricity always, we actually have good ol’ influencers to thank. The original entities making sense of new content-flows and creation-avenues, on Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok and now whatever app pops up as the platform of preference. Born of gaps in the market, the creator of today is channel-agnostic, intimately connected to their community and hyper-aware of their brand elements. And rather than cash-in on brand deals alone, they want a piece of the product-pie.