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Behind Boy Smells’ Expansion Plans

The gender-neutral candle and fragrance maker will open its first pop-up this week, with its sights set on permanent stores, as well as product expansion and international growth.
Boy Smells tk. Courtesy.
Boy Smells' Fantôme Collection. Courtesy.
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Boy Smells, the candle, fragrance and underwear label that’s gained attention for its non-gendered approach to scent and collaborations with the likes of Kacey Musgraves, is debuting its first physical retail experiment, a Los Angeles pop-up that opens on Nov. 4 and runs through Jan. 7, 2022.

The pop-up’s opening comes on the heels of the brand hiring its first chief executive, J.Crew and Coach vet David Duplantis in August. Both moves are aimed at fulfilling the label’s ambitions to become a larger-scale lifestyle brand based on what the brand refers to as “genderfulness,” or, the refuting of outdated gender expectations.

“Being able to experience the brand in person motivates the consumer to buy more … It’s going to be really interesting to see if there are any differences between who we’re attracting online versus who we’re attracting within physical retail,” said Duplantis, who added that the brands’ average units per transaction through its DTC channels is just over two, while through its wholesale is just over that number.

Boy Smells will also use its pop-up as testing grounds for its future brick-and-mortar ventures: it will track traffic, conversion rates and customer zip codes as well as average ticket size and whether seasoned online customers will spend more in-store versus online.

“We’ve never been able to take the entire, full breadth of the collection and all our brand storytelling and put it in one [real life], physical location,” said co-founder Matthew Herman.

The five-year-old business says it has more than doubled its sales this year — with wholesale growing 305 percent year-over-year. The brands’ success thus far has a lot to do with its positioning and pricing. It’s stylish and is sold at prestige beauty retailers such as SpaceNK and Nordstrom, adjacent to legacy brands like Diptyque but at a lower price point. (A standard size Boy Smells candle is $32, while a Diptyque candle is more than double that at $68.) As a result, customers are more apt to actually burn its products frequently, then buy them again, rather than displaying them as static status symbols, according to Herman.

Additionally, Duplantis says Herman and his co-founder David Kien operate Boy Smells like a fashion brand — pairing core products with limited edition product drops, such as its collaborations with Musgraves and fashion brand Ganni. Duplantis said the top five percent of the brand’s consumers buy every six or so weeks, and its returning customer rate is up 70 percent year-over-year.

Those customers, too, “are giving [Boy Smells] permission to go into new categories,” according to Duplantis. The brand launched a fragrance collection in March 2021. Despite the product selling at a higher price point ($98 per bottle), the category immediately swelled to 18 percent of Boy Smells’ business and has stayed there, save a few dips due to sellouts.

Duplantis says Boy Smells has been profitable for four years even though it hasn’t taken on any financing (beyond its recent closing on a convertible note, a type of bond that gives the holder equity in a company prior to valuation, in October). But he recognises a need to pursue additional funding while there are opportunities and the brand is hot. He expects Boy Smells will do so in the next 12 months.

“We just happen to make candles and fine fragrance and underwear now, but this idea of ‘genderfulness’ is something that we see having a lot of legs to build a lot of other product verticals on,” said Herman.

Gender-neutral positioning is gaining increasing traction in fashion and beauty spaces. Spring/Summer 2022 saw more gender-fluid runways and brands move away from marketing to single genders. Beauty as a category, as well, is ever-expanding to include more product verticals, from sexual wellness to toothpaste.

“What we love about limits is the ability to shatter them,” said Duplantis.

Related Articles:

The Post-Pandemic Opportunity in Fragrance

How to Sell Menswear to Women and Womenswear to Men

How Digital Beauty Brands Are Making Wholesale Work

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