Why Chic Travel Upstart Béis Economizes on its Instagram Shoots

Shay Mitchell explains why "real" images draw more eyeballs than fancy ones

Actress Shay Mitchell shared her experiences as an entrepreneur at the 2020 Challenger Brands Summit. Sean T. Smith for Adweek

For a celebrity founder who counts 27.4 million followers on Instagram—and whose brand’s ecommerce reportedly depends on a whopping 80% of its traffic from the same platform—it’s logical to assume that Shay Mitchell’s upstart company Béis sinks major money into the colorful luggage and travel accessories shots that wind up online.

And why shouldn’t it? Béis’ products, though accessibly priced and roughly on par with competitors like Away and Arlo Skye, are designed to appeal to the young and status-conscious—the sort of customers who’ve already watched Mitchell on shows like ABC’s Pretty Little Liars and Hulu’s Dollface. With Béis generating somewhere around $1 million in monthly sales (and that was last year’s figure), it’s a fair bet the brand can afford the pricey photo shoots to make its weekender bags, cosmetic cases and backpacks look their trendy best.

But Mitchell, whose brand launched a year and four months ago, admitted yesterday that Béis actually relies on a do-it-yourself approach when it comes to the brand’s product shots. What’s more, the reason isn’t to save money, but instead because younger customers are more likely to respond to content that looks like something they might have shot themselves.

“It’s more authentic,” Michell said, explaining that, if she were to put herself in the shoes of the typical Béis customer, “that’s the kind of stuff I’d have liked to have seen.”

Speaking at Adweek’s second annual Challenger Brands Summit in New York in conversation with departments editor Ko Im, Mitchell also related that, when it comes to photo shoots, she participates in all of them, sometimes standing on chairs to get the angles she wants.

A perusal of the company’s Instagram account reveals photos that, while nicely lit and very attractive, nevertheless feature rather ordinary styling: products sit on the floor, for example, or are arranged on a bathroom countertop. Since giving birth to her daughter Atlas in October of last year, Mitchell has included casual pics with the baby, too—in one notable instance, posing for a selfie in the mirror of what looks a lot like a public restroom.

These images, in sharp contrast to the slickly produced, supermodel-filled pics that pop up on the feeds for the likes of Louis Vuitton, are “funny and real,” Mitchell continued. “That’s what people want. Social media is over-saturated,” she added. “How do you separate yourself? You bring them in and show them behind the scenes.”

And she actually does show them that, too. Mitchell’s YouTube channel features a video titled How I Launched My Brand” that walks viewers through the clearly overwhelming task of choosing everything from fabric swatches to zipper pulls in the wholesale markets in China. The clip, while well-produced, still feels like the sort of bob-along video that a friend would shoot of you going shopping.

Brand president Adeela Hussain Johnson adds that Mitchell’s feelings about the marketing value of everyday, nonprofessional photography isn’t just a gut impression; there are metrics to back it up.

“Yes, you can have really overpriced, wonderful photography—and you can get amazing content out of it,” she said. “But all kinds of data shows that the more raw, natural photography and content is more cost effective and real.”

Launched in the fall of 2018 by brand incubator Beach House Group (also the developer behind Kendall Jenner’s brand Moon), Béis is privately held and does not release sales figures. But a year after its debut, WWD reported that the brand had grown by 200% and was on target to reach $20 million in sales.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.