If you didn’t realize Rihanna is now a bona fide business powerhouse, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. Taking branding inspiration from her own full name, Robyn Rihanna Fenty, the singer now has three lines: Fenty PUMA, Fenty Beauty, and her latest venture, lingerie line Savage x Fenty.
Fenty PUMA by Rihanna debuted early in 2016. And as is appropriate for any collaboration with a sneaker brand, Fenty’s output has included a host of hyped footwear, including the furry slides that were huge in Spring/Summer 2016 and the Fenty PUMA Creeper, which earned Rihanna Shoe of the Year at the 2016 Footwear News Achievement Awards — making her the first female sneaker designer to win the award.
But Fenty PUMA isn’t focused solely on footwear. Since its launch, Rihanna has carved out a space for the label at New York Fashion Week, where it has been covered by — and won accolades from — Vogue, among other fashion publications. And while Rihanna has opted to skip the official Fashion Week schedule for 2018, last year Fenty PUMA was nominated in the Urban Luxe Brand category at the British Fashion Council’s The Fashion Awards. Sitting alongside Gosha Rubchinskiy, OFF-WHITE, Supreme, and Vetements, the nomination placed Fenty PUMA among the big dogs at the intersection of high fashion and streetwear. Even in light of Kanye West’s success with YEEZY, Rihanna’s achievement is both rare and impressive for a celebrity-led line.
“There’s a saying: ‘It’s ugly until Rihanna decides it isn’t.’ And it’s totally true,” says Jihan Forbes, digital editor of Allure magazine. “I think what’s so great about her Fenty PUMA line is it makes RiRi’s personal style accessible to the rest of us. And best of all, it looks cute on regular people.”
A focus on wearability mixed with a star’s personal style has worked for other celebrity-led lines — most notably Jessica Simpson’s eponymous label, which she’s turned into a billion-dollar empire. But Fenty PUMA is marketed toward a different consumer, and what sets it apart is how it walks the line between high fashion and appealing to regular fans, all without offering a cheesy “Rihanna Lite” version of the singer’s style.
While Fenty PUMA introduced Rihanna as a legitimate designer and businesswoman, it was the launch of makeup line Fenty Beauty that solidified her position as a business tastemaker.
Just a month after its launch, Fenty Beauty had brought in an impressive $72 million in sales and was subsequently named one of TIME’s 25 Best Inventions of 2017 alongside the iPhone X and Tesla Model 3.
The key to Rihanna’s success is not only the strength of her personal brand — this is Rihanna, after all — but her inclusive attitude. Fenty Beauty’s foundations come in 40 shades and, unlike with many beauty brands on the market, the majority are not various shades of beige. Instead, the singer paid attention to the diverse tones of different women’s skin and offered everything from super light to very dark shades, with a variety of undertones (which are vital for getting the right color) designed to suit everyone.
When you sign up for the Fenty Beauty newsletter, you receive an email welcoming you to “the Fenty Beauty family.” This is a trope used by countless brands, but the sense of community does go a little deeper with Rihanna’s Fenty lines.
Women of color, who have been routinely ignored or underserved by other makeup brands, are finally being catered to — and they’ve responded with their hard-earned dollars. “Fenty Beauty did a really good job at talking to consumers about what it offered. It’s the brand that landed the ‘40 shades of foundation’ conversation on the map,” says Allison Collins, beauty financial editor at Women’s Wear Daily. “Other brands had done 40 shades — or more than 40 shades [at] MAC — but making sure that women of color really had options wasn’t something brands had focused the conversation around before. It generated buzz, and that buzz led to sales.”
Forbes agrees that the shade range was vital to Fenty Beauty’s success. “All she was doing was giving the people what they wanted without any excuses as to why it wasn’t possible,” she says. “I also think that Fenty Beauty made the makeup industry hear loud and clear that women of color buy makeup, and they will shell out the coins to get their hands on quality makeup made with them in mind. There is a demand for it, and that demand needed to be met.”
Fenty Beauty’s inclusivity doesn’t stop at shades of foundation. The brand’s models range in race, size, and skin tone, and Fenty Beauty has actively built a community on Instagram, reposting images from consumers and regularly surprising fans with free products. As Collins notes, the Fenty Beauty community helps build the brand “in addition to Rihanna’s 63 million Instagram followers.”
A lot of the hype surrounding Rihanna’s Fenty lines is down to her existing fame, yes, but her hands-on involvement with both Fenty PUMA and Fenty Beauty have ensured their success. “This wasn’t something industry people created and added her name onto,” Collins says. “It’s also something she promoted and still promotes on her personal social media pages.”
Another reason for Rihanna’s success is the business backing behind both lines. Fenty Beauty’s distribution is handled by Kendo — an LVMH brand founded to develop products for Sephora — and this, according to Collins, meant Fenty Beauty had a “massive, multi-country, well-supported launch that led to its success.”
Rihanna’s Fenty ventures are most easily be compared to Beyoncé’s Ivy Park clothing line and the Kardashian-Jenner beauty empire, but RiRi is rivaling even the wildly successful Kardashian-Jenner clan. WWD reported that Fenty Beauty is on course to outsell both Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Beauty and Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty by the end of the year. And while Ivy Park has enjoyed steady sales, Beyoncé hasn’t been able to generate the same levels of social media enthusiasm for her collections as Rihanna’s drops.
The biggest surprise about Rihanna’s most recent endeavor, lingerie line Savage x Fenty, is that it didn’t arrive earlier, considering the star’s undeniable sex appeal. This is the artist who wrote “Sex With Me,” after all.
In the run-up to the line’s May 11 launch, Rihanna posted images of her wearing the lingerie — which ranges from basic T-shirt bras to feather-lined dresses and robes — alongside teasers featuring women of various sizes, races, and skin tones. It was a similar marketing strategy to the one deployed with great success by Fenty Beauty. And it appeared to work. There was a wait time of over an hour just to access the site on drop day, and most of the items sold out immediately. When some fans noted that the inclusive sizing still left out some women, the star promised the brand would be incorporating a wider range of sizes in future releases.
Ultimately, Rihanna’s business success comes down three vital things: community, inclusivity, and Rihanna’s own formidable star power. Savage x Fenty is still in its nascent stages, so it’s hard to gauge if the initial wave of hype will translate to long-term sales, but Forbes predicts success. “I guarantee you will see a Savage x Fenty piece at every day party this summer, just as I saw every girl in New York City rocking her Uncensored Stunna Lip Paint shade after its release,” she says.
We’ll have to see if Rihanna’s Fenty brands can keep up the momentum, but if so, who knows what’s next for the singer-cum-entrepreneur? As the artist sings in her single “American Oxygen,” released in 2015, a year before the first Fenty line was released: “We sweat for a nickel and a dime / Turn it into an empire.”
Next up; here’s why pop culture is reevaluating its relationship with Xanex.