Is Substack the new specialty store? Designers think so

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“Fashion founders and designers started showing up in bigger numbers last year,” says Christina Loff, head of lifestyle partnerships at Substack. The uptick in brand founders may go beyond the correlation of Substack’s overall growth. The appeal of having a direct line to your customers is particularly prevalent in the sea of social media campaigns. “People are tired of being marketed to, and Substack is a respite from all the promotions and ads we’re constantly bombarded with,” says Loff.

Loff says the platform has seen total subscriptions in the fashion and beauty category rise 80 per cent year-on-year. With more than three million paid subscriptions on Substack and more than 35 million active subscribers, she says the “critical mass” of engaged readers and shoppers appeals to designers looking to reach new audiences.

To Herman, Substack is filling the gaping hole of specialised retail stores like her father’s famous Los Angeles boutique, Ron Herman, which shut its doors in 2023. “People ask me for one place to go to try on all the best jeans and I don’t know where to tell them. Retail stores are closing,” she says. “But shopping on Substack is similar to what the retail experience has historically been, with buyers showing you all the best clothes from different brands and then some people that worked at the store would also make things too.”

This is how she approaches posting about her brand within her Substack — similar to how her mom once sold jackets she designed in her father’s store. Herman never wants Jane On Jeans to feel like a marketing tool. “It’s an expression of my continued love for jeans,” she says. She regularly shares affiliate links for readers to shop the items she posts.

Since launching in 2017, Substack has built a reputation around authenticity and user-generated recommendations. It’s become a platform where influencers, editors and stylists take their own (non-sponsored) recommendations, and aspiring writers publish personal and informal articles that traditional media outlets wouldn’t.

Meg Strachan, founder and CEO of jewellery brand Dorsey, launched her What I Put On Today Substack in January 2023. A little over a year later, she has accumulated over 13,000 subscribers. “People would DM me on Instagram asking what I was wearing and it became hard to share links, and Instagram stories expire in 24 hours,” she says. “I realised a link [on Substack] would stay live for an indefinite period.”

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