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Move Over Fashion Nova: How a Niche Designer Brand Won Coachella

Tiny New York label Area was everywhere on social media at this year’s Coachella, alongside much bigger brands like Revolve. Here’s how they did it - without paying a cent.
Katy Perry performs at Coachella in Area | Source: Getty Images
By
  • Alexandra Mondalek

INDIO, United States — Whether you call Coachella, the annual music festival that attracts a quarter of a million people to the California desert, the "Super Bowl of fashion" or the "Influencer Olympics," the two-weekend occasion marks a lucrative opportunity for brands to capitalise not only on a captive audience, but also on the millions of people experiencing the festival digitally across the world.

In the past, accessible fashion brands like Revolve and Fashion Nova have dominated the digital conversation, wooing dozens of influencers with free clothes or cash to unleash a torrent of social media posts that put the brands in front of millions of followers.

But Coachella 2019 included an unusual entrant into the social media sweepstakes: While Revolve and Fashion Nova remain the two most popular fashion brands at the festival according to earned media value (the industry-favoured metric that puts a dollar amount on social media exposure), New York-based cult favourite brand Area placed third. And they didn’t spend a single penny to do it.

According to InfluencerDB, an influencer marketing data software company, combined earned media value (EMV) of Coachella was over $10 million for the top 10 brands, led in the fashion category by Revolve ($691,718), Fashion Nova ($568,859), and Area ($421,778).

We're not pressured to pay someone to wear something. They want to wear it because they genuinely love the brand and the product.

Known for its crystal embellishment on everything from stretch lame club dresses to tracksuits, Area's big win comes by way of dressing a major performer, Katy Perry, whose team reached out to the brand for a stage look. The brand hit the jackpot when Perry tagged Area after the show, again without its involvement. Area's apparel was also photographed on mega-influencers like model Kendall Jenner and K-pop star Tiffany Young, neither of whom were paid or gifted product.

A brand can't buy the kind of exposure that comes when a celebrity with millions of followers wears their clothes because they want to, not because they were paid (at least, a still-small brand like Area can't afford it). And those instances of spontaneous publicity are far more likely to happen with globally-recognized brands like Gucci or Louis Vuitton, which, in addition to having the cash to dole out on large-scale campaigns, usually have exclusive contracts with A-listers who may only appear in that brand. For these reasons, many young labels rely on sponsored Instagram posts and influencer campaigns.

Area has taken a different approach since designers and co-founders Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk launched the brand in 2014, focusing on the product and profit margins rather than social media presence. To be sure, stockists ranging from Barney’s to Opening Ceremony considered the brand to be niche until recently (“Everyone used to say, ‘you’re just clubwear!’ Pansczczyk said), though Area has struck a chord with at least one influential constituency: celebrity and editorial stylists, who featured the brand in all the major glossies and on red carpets. Sales this year are already six times last year's total.

“We’re not pressured to pay someone to wear something,” Fogg said. “They want to wear it because they genuinely love the brand and the product. It’s an honest relationship. And I also think that people respond to it because you can tell it’s honest, it’s not being forced.”

We just started hearing all these numbers as people have started analyzing our data, the opportunity is insane.

Sales of the products Jenner and Young wore — on Jenner, a crystal-fringe PVC box bag and on Young, a silver leather balloon-shaped mini-bag — spiked during and after Coachella, Fogg said. The brand is looking to turn its social media buzz into something more permanent. In the weeks before Coachella, Area had redesigned its online shop and hired digital strategist Azelle Harris, who has worked with Loewe and Miaou. At the moment, Area’s social media team consists of one person, Pansczczyk’s husband.

"We're talking with all these digital people now, and they're all like, 'Woah, you guys already have built such organic online growth, which is all pointing to your website. So it's like how do you now capitalise on your success?'" said Pansczczyk. They're considering options to boost their e-commerce presence, including Instagram's new in-app shopping feature, Checkout.

“It’s fascinating to keep hearing these numbers that we didn’t know were so special, like over 50 percent of our traffic driven to our website is directly from our Instagram, which apparently is crazy,” Fogg said. “We just started hearing all these numbers as people have started analyzing our data, the opportunity is insane. I think that’s so exciting.”

Area’s success at Coachella was partly a case of being the right brand in the right setting at the right time.

Coachella gets a lot of attention because people like experiences and it tells a good story, on a whole, those things tend to be overplayed in terms of their overall impact.

The greater focus on fashion-capital-F at Coachella means there was space for Area to shine. As the stakes to have the most-liked social media posts at the festival have become greater, the humble flower crown has fallen out of favor, replaced with Vogue-approved labels like Marine Serre (which Jenner wore along with Area in one look), Craig Green (as seen on Pusha T and Justin Bieber during their respective performances) and Dries van Noten (the insider brand that received It-girl love from Gigi Hadid.) And who's to say whether Kanye West's Sunday Service performance was actually another Yeezy Season.

Plus, Area, with its grand total of zero brand activations, had a better chance at making an impact digitally since there were fewer large-scale branded events overall at Coachella this year compared to years previous, said Conor Begley co-founder of Tribe Dynamics, a data analytics firm.

“Branded activations are not necessarily the most efficient way to spend your budget,” he said. “Coachella gets a lot of attention because people like experiences and it tells a good story, on a whole, those things tend to be overplayed in terms of their overall impact.”

It was about creating something long-term that wasn't just a fad

That's not to say the concerts were free of marketing. Retail and data analytics platform Edited found that Coachella marketing and promotional brand communications in the US sent before the festival increased three percent from last year.

Brands like Area need to be strategic about how they’re implementing strategies over an entire year rather than making a big push during one high-profile event.

“There were so many times we could have taken a different direction and had quick, immediate gratification and success, and we didn’t,” Fogg said. “At one point, we almost became a really successful t-shirt brand, but that really wasn’t Area in the end. It was about creating something long-term that wasn’t just a fad and disappear.”

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