Influencer-Led Apparel Brands Seemed Like the Future, but Execution Is Proving Complicated

The closure of Julia Berolzheimer's Gal Meets Glam Collection raises questions about the model

apparel influencers mashup
Influencer-fronted apparel brands have become a major force, but the trend doesn't tell the whole story. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: galmeetsglam, rachparcell, somethingnavy, emilyijackson
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Julia Berolzheimer, arguably one of the world’s most successful influencers with 1.2 million Instagram followers, started her brand, Gal Meets Glam, as a personal style blog while she was still in college. Within a few years, it transitioned to a full-blown content business. And in early 2018, it expanded with the launch of Gal Meets Glam Collection, a clothing line initially focused on dresses.

The project, Berolzheimer said, was over three years in the making. Once the collection dropped in April 2018, it appeared to be an instant success, with items selling out within hours. In the two years since, Gal Meets Glam Collection grew, expanding into new categories, such as coats and pajamas. It also expanded beyond its initial retail channels—a direct-to-consumer website and Nordstrom—into stores including Neiman Marcus, Anthropologie and a number of independent boutiques.

But last week, Berolzheimer took to her blog and announced that after just over two years, Gal Meets Glam Collection would be ending, at least in its current form. The decision “stems from the lengthy disagreement between how we wanted to build Gal Meets Glam and how our business partner felt it should be run,” she wrote.

The end of Gal Meets Glam Collection also means the end of the Gal Meets Glam brand with Berolzheimer at the forefront. The brand, she said, may be able to live on without her one day, but its future was unknown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, she said, she would transition her content business to go by her name.

That means Berolzheimer is not just departing her 2-year-old apparel brand, but giving up the brand name she’s built over the past 10 years into one of the best-known influencer brands.

It’s a surprising move for those who have followed her business. By all consumer-facing measures, Gal Meets Glam Collection was a smash success—the picture of what an influencer-led apparel brand could be. And she hasn’t been alone in her success.

The rise in popularity of influencer apparel brands has coincided with the growth of the influencer industry at large. Influencing is big business, estimated to be worth nearly $10 billion this year, and it’s easier than ever for an influencer to have a lucrative career through brand partnerships, affiliate sales and other methods of advertising. With the rise of influencers as public figures, influencer-fronted apparel brands have become a major force, a natural next step for the influencer industry’s most successful players. Some, like Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, have even raised venture capital to fund their businesses.

The trend of influencers launching apparel brands doesn’t tell the full story and Berolzheimer’s announcement has greater implications beyond her own career. Suddenly, what once felt inevitable—powerful fashion influencers getting into the product game—now feels uncertain. If Berolzheimer couldn’t—or doesn’t want to—make it work, who could?

Running a clothing line is no small undertaking, and as the current retail landscape shows, it’s a hard one with which to find major monetary success. As influencers’ content-driven businesses become more financially fruitful, the prospect of a clothing brand may seem less appealing, particularly for those in the thick of it who see the difficulties.

The rise of the influencer-led brand

In a crowded retail marketplace, it’s become increasingly difficult for a new brand to garner attention. But influencers aren’t new brands—and that’s exactly what makes them uniquely positioned to enter the apparel space. They already have rabidly loyal fan bases as well as a stylistic sensibility. Instead of starting from scratch, these apparel lines simply extend the brand an influencer has already built.

“The amount of traffic that they drive to websites and product pages is astronomical,” said Chris Vaccarino, founder and CEO of Fanjoy, a company that makes merchandise for influencers. “They can get their fans to take action.”

Several major players in the retail space have taken note. Nordstrom, in particular, is a champion of influencer brands, collaborating with the likes of Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific on a series of capsule collections for its in-house label, Halogen, and serving as the launching pad and exclusive retail partner for influencer brands like Rachel Parcell. Amazon also teams up with influencers to create capsule collections released through its The Drop program.

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.