Arielle Charnas, the mega fashion influencer with 1.3 million followers on Instagram, is relaunching her Something Navy brand Monday — this time on her own.
Charnas' launch, previously set to take place in March, comes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to hammer much of the retail industry and has already resulted in numerous bankruptcies from companies including J.Crew, Brooks Brothers, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and Lucky Brand, to name a few.
The pandemic pushed back the timing of Something Navy's reboot, following a stint at Nordstrom, as retailers quickly were forced to adapt to stores being shut and consumers were stuck at home and many out of work. Today, according to Charnas, her followers are eager to shop for apparel again.
"I've gotten a lot of feedback from my followers, and they are ready ... they are really excited to have that spark of hope and something to look forward to," Charnas said in a phone interview. "They want to buy pieces to go to dinner, even if they are sitting outside with a mask on."
Previously, you could find pieces from Something Navy at Nordstrom, after Charnas struck a deal with the Seattle-based department store chain to be the sole purveyor of her line. Nordstrom produced the items, which would almost instantly sell out of sizes and styles after each drop, with Charnas promoting and styling outfits on her Instagram page. In September 2018, when Something Navy went live at Nordstrom, more than $4.4 million worth of clothing and accessories were sold in one day, the companies said.
Nordstrom President Pete Nordstrom at one point called Charnas' collection the "most successful" launch at the retailer, ever.
But late in 2019, when Charnas was offered the opportunity to either renew her contract with Nordstrom or go solo, she voted for the latter.
"Working with Nordstrom was one of the most amazing opportunities ... with one of the biggest players in the retail space," she said. "I learned so much. But at the end of the day, I wanted more control. The whole purpose of this brand is to deliver exactly what my followers are asking for. The best way to do that was to not be attached to anyone else."
Still, she has caught the attention of others to help her out along the way.
Hong Kong billionaire Silas Chou, an early investor in brands Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, through his Vanterra Capital fund recently participated in a $10 million funding round for Something Navy, valuing the business at roughly $45 million.
Other investors in Something Navy include Box Group, which backs glasses maker Warby Parker; M3 Ventures; Silas Capital; Third Kind Venture Capital; and Rent the Runway co-founder Jennifer Fleiss.
Charnas, currently serving as Something Navy founder and chief creative officer, also recently handed over key leadership responsibilities to another brand's founder, Matt Scanlan. He co-founded the direct-to-consumer cashmere brand Naadam, and now holds the title of Something Navy's interim CEO.
"I have never seen a community that is as passionate or engaged," Scanlan said about Charnas' following. "A powerful conversation with your community ultimately can build a more efficient and sustainable business."
If you follow Charnas' personal Instagram account, you will often see her posting polls asking people to respond to what colors they want in a top, what style shoes they prefer or what pant cut looks best.
Those hundreds of thousands of responses "inform inventory planning and buying," Scanlan said. "This can impact how profitable we can become."
To be sure, since the Something Navy brand is so closely tied to Charnas, the fortunes of the company could be aligned closely with her own personal success. Being such a big name, Charnas has faced her share of backlash online over the years, most recently for fleeing to the Hamptons after receiving a Covid-19 diagnosis. As is the case when major retailers sign deals with celebrities as endorsements, there is a large amount of trust instilled in that person to be the face of the brand.
Charnas went on to tell CNBC that the future of fashion, in her mind, is brands having "two-way conversations" with consumers.
"I am always talking to my customers," she said. "I think that is the biggest difference between the brand I have created and some of those bigger companies."
Charnas and Scanlan are betting their fate will be better than many in the business of selling clothing and accessories today. Dollars spent on clothing were down nearly 45% year-over year for the three months ended May 2020, according to data from the NPD Group. However, the firm said there is some optimism sparking online.
Early in June, U.S. consumers were planning to make more than 50% of their apparel purchases in the coming weeks online, according to the NPD. Last week, online apparel shopping activity was still 50% above the levels it was in the first half of June, even as stores are beginning to open back up, the firm added.
"Online shopping is one of many new behaviors and routines developed while under stay-at-home restrictions that are likely to have some staying power," NPD apparel analyst Maria Rugolo said.
For now, Something Navy will live entirely online, as plans to open a bricks-and-mortar shop in New York have been postponed due to the pandemic. But stores are in the works, and even potentially wholesale distribution one day, according to Charnas and Scanlan.
The launch of Something Navy could prove, in some respects, where fashion is headed in a more digital world where many young consumers are tethered to their phones and social media accounts. Are people more apt to turn to celebrities to buy clothes? Time will tell.
Everything in the Something Navy collection's first drop is priced under $200.