MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
If you've listened to Cardi B, you know she has expensive taste.
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CARDI B: (Rapping) I like those Balenciagas, the ones look like socks. I like going to the jeweler. I put rocks all in my watch.
KELLY: But Cardi B is a spokesperson for a brand that is much more affordable than Balenciaga. A new NPR-Marist poll finds that online shoppers are roughly divided when it comes to shopping with brand loyalty in mind versus a good deal. Well, Fashion Nova does both. The company is known for sexy, affordable clothing worn by celebrities and Instagram models. Jasmine Garsd reports on how Fashion Nova came to become one of the top trending fashion brands on Google.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: In this commercial, Cardi B walks into an elevator looking like a sexy Inspector Gadget in a blue trench coat and whispers her secret to looking so good.
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CARDI B: This drip right here - Fashion Nova. But don't tell nobody. Shh.
GARSD: Cardi B recently published the video on her Instagram page for over 25 million followers to see. This is how Fashion Nova silently became a retail juggernaut. A spokesperson for the company says they've seen triple-digit growth every year since they were founded. Most of the outfits cost less than 40 bucks, but when you wear Fashion Nova, you're wearing the same thing your favorite star wore a few nights ago.
GABRIELLA SANTANIELLO: Basically, they're doing nothing to promote their brand, aside from getting it into the hands of the hottest celebrities out there like the Kardashians, Cardi B.
GARSD: Gabriella Santaniello is a fashion industry analyst. These days, every brand wants you to follow them on social media. Fashion Nova has just been super successful at tapping into millennial neurosis, the obsession with seeing and being seen. They understood that one selfie posted by Kylie Jenner wearing your dress translates into a legion of customers, and Kylie Jenner does that a lot.
SANTANIELLO: Getting your product in the hands of an influencer is incredibly important. They have followers, and they're able to influence their buying decisions.
GARSD: Fashion Nova has also used social media to fill this void left by the big brand names and high fashion magazines. It caters to curvy women and women of color.
GABRIELLA LASCANO: I'm fat. Like, models aren't fat.
GARSD: That's what Gabriella Lascano thought when she was a kid. Now, she's a 27-year-old plus-size Instagram model for Fashion Nova's Curve line. She has 220,000 followers. She's gorgeous but also relatable, living a normal life here in the Bronx. Lascano first gained some popularity on Instagram for her makeup tutorials. Then, in 2016, Fashion Nova started sending her clothing.
LASCANO: This is another dress. Isn't it pretty?
GARSD: The lace...
At first, she got to keep the outfits she wore in the pictures. As her following on Instagram increased, Fashion Nova started paying. She won't tell me how much, and she looks carefree and glamorous, but the page is meticulously well-planned out. She watches her audience numbers intensely. She's like a marketing team rolled into one.
LASCANO: I'm at a solid, like, 62, 63 percent women and their age - the age for women is mostly between 18 and 34, which is perfect, right?
GARSD: She even times her posts to get maximum visibility. This is her full-time job.
LASCANO: I do my own hair, my own makeup, the photography, the editing - all of that work I do myself.
GARSD: Like a magazine ad, but unlike supermodels, she talks to her Fashion Nova followers, responds to their adoring comments. This is not Twitter. There's no nasty trolling. Instagram has a filter which allows users to block words from the comments section. Lascano's list of blocked words and phrases is long.
LASCANO: Early death, elephant, everyone's lying to her, fat, Fiona, you know, from "Shrek." People love that one.
GARSD: Even though she can't see those comments anymore, Lascano says being an Instagram model and her own editor can trigger a lot of insecurities. It's that millennial neurosis, again. You aren't just watching. You're being watched in high def. But as Lascano scrolls through the comments section on her most recent post, her face lights up.
LASCANO: Beautiful girl - (speaking Spanish) which is you're beautiful Spanish. Slay - you look amazing. Where did you buy that bathing suit (laughter)?
GARSD: For NPR News, I'm Jasmine Garsd in the Bronx.
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