Highsnobiety curates and recommends the latest sneakers, streetwear and men’s fashion to its readers. Now David Fischer, the founder and CEO of the 14-year-old media brand, is using that expertise to create its own ecommerce, direct-to-consumer business.
Highsnobiety’s first product “drop” in May, a partnership with Prada’s streetwear imprint “Linea Rossa,” sold out of the $750 sneakers and $1,980 jackets. Five more drops are scheduled for this summer with other partners. And Highsnobiety will launch its own private-label sneaker and streetwear business.
Fischer envisions a brand where people who buy Highsnobiety products become more voracious readers of its content and identify with its brand more strongly – a true win-win for both sides of the business.
“The beauty is how the two sides of the business will fuel each other,” he said. “People buying and wearing products all adds to the brand.”
Fischer talked to AdExchanger about Highsnobiety’s journey to launch its own products.
DAVID FISCHER: Products have been at the center of what we do for a long time. We made a one-year anniversary product in 2006, and a 10th anniversary product. We have done product collaborations with Adidas, Carhartt, a sunglass brand and many, many more. In the past, it was more of a marketing tool for us than a revenue driver.
What did you have to build leading up to the Prada product launch?
When we were a digital magazine, we needed a different tech team. We’ve worked toward this launch for over 12 months and spent a lot of time building tech in house and getting it right.
We built a headless API commerce system, which allows us to show up with an online store module wherever the audience is [on Snapchat, WhatsApp, embedded in an article, etc.] We are also doing fulfillment, which is an entirely different thing we had to build. We have been pitching our commerce initiative to brands for eight months.
Why build your own tech and fulfillment when many direct-to-consumer brands use Shopify and drop shipping?
We had used a Shopify solution to sell our print magazine that comes out twice a year. For what we needed, we couldn’t go with an off-the-shelf solution. We needed to solve for a full content-commerce integration and build something that was future-proof.
As you can imagine, even the more sophisticated Shopify solutions would have been much cheaper and quicker to produce. We made the decision to enter commerce almost two years ago and worked on the initiative for 12 to 14 months. For us, commerce is not a test.
Why are brands interested in partnering with Highsnobiety around a drop?
Every brand loved the idea of truly fusing content and commerce. Most brands don’t have the skillset or the space to tell stories around their products.
How is the transition going from publisher to marketer?
All of that is really our day to day [already]. The entire Prada activation, from the content produced around the release, to the influencers seeding it and having them do something interesting around it, is something we’re used to doing with our content studio. We offer content creation, influencers, experiential events, data and insights. The exciting thing is that we get to do this for ourselves.
Followers don’t always translate into sales. What’s the relationship between audience size and conversions?
The honest answer is we don’t know. We will need quite a few more product releases to understand who shops from us today, and who can be shopping from us tomorrow. We are clustering our audience into buckets – super fans, fanatics and more regular audience. We are looking at people who sign up to our newsletters, follow us on platforms and come back daily. We’ve put a lot of focus on building that portion of our audience in editorial and audience development, because that’s the portion of the audience that will matter most.
The “drop” model we’ve chosen will allow us to build personas of our audience. Almost 30% of our audience are women. Why not have a couple of drops for women? Or X% of our audience is sneakerheads, so we need X drops a week with sneakers. We want to build different personas over time and deliver a drop strategy that targets those personas.
How has entering commerce changed your data needs?
As a publisher, data is important. But as a retailer, it’s even more important. We invested heavily in data warehousing analytics and staffing in the past few months to look at, store and analyze all this data.
We need to understand exactly who our customer is, where they come from and how we convert our audience to a customer. We also think of conversions differently than a traditional retailer. Conversions for a retailer cost money.
Our investment is not in [advertising], it’s content. How many Facebook, Instagram posts are we making? How many stories are we writing about Brand XYZ or Trend XYZ to convert them into shoppers for the next drop? Does featuring the person or the product in the Instagram post work better? These are the crazy details we are looking at, because there are vast differences between them, and they influence production costs.
Why do you think commerce is such a popular way for content producers – everyone from influencers to media brands – to diversify these days?
The publishing market has been heavily invested in by VCs, who have pressured them to aggressively grow their business. They went from traditional advertising to branded content to TV. The next thing that happened was commerce, and you have publishers like BuzzFeed doing social listening and building products.
One key difference is we have been around for 14 years. We have been profitable for the most part of our journey and only took VC investment [$8.5 million in January 2018] 13 years in. The other main difference is we are not building commerce now because it’s the next big thing. We are building commerce because it’s the right thing for our brand. It’s a very, very organic move for us to go into commerce and products, and something we have done on many occasions before.
Is entering commerce a hedge against a slower-growing advertising business?
As it stands today, we have a growing branded partnerships business. We don’t see a big slowdown on [the advertising] side, but we think commerce is a valuable extension for the Highsnobiety brand. We believe that commerce can be an equally big – if not bigger – revenue driver for us in the future.
What is the one thing you’re most worried about getting right?
The thing I pay the most attention to is staying 100% true to our brand. On the commerce side, you’re being put in front of a lot of opportunities. Not all of them are the right ones.
We have to show our audience that we continually make the right decisions for them. Every time we pick something wrong and put something up that doesn’t meet the standards of our audience, we risk losing our tastemaker status. If we get it right, the bond we have with our audience will be even stronger.
This interview has been edited and condensed.