Looking to build meaningful connections with new consumers, Nordstrom is ramping up its focus on influencer fashion lines.

On Monday, Nordstrom launched private-label brand Something Navy, created with the influencer behind the blog of the same name, Arielle Charnas. She has 1.1 million followers on Instagram, while @somethingnavy has 118,000. Nordstrom currently has more than 35 private label lines, and each has a design director who oversees the brand. For Something Navy, Charnas provided the design director with inspiration, from calling out interesting shapes she wanted to see to creating mood boards.

It’s the first time the retailer is teaming with an influencer to create a brand. It’s a step up from its previous strategy of selling the influencers’ lines or collaborating with them on capsule collections. This year alone, the retailer has picked up a number of influencer brands as the exclusive wholesale partner, including Gal Meets Glam Collection, a dress line by influencer Julia Engel and, most recently, The Chriselle Lim Collection. Another not-yet-announced exclusive influencer collaboration is set to launch in early October. 

“One thing we love about working with influencers is they have their audience they’re really engaged with. It gives us the opportunity to connect with new and existing customers,” said a Nordstrom’s brand PR manager, noting the importance of selling influencer styles exclusively. “We look to identify influencers who share our brand values and our goal of delivering new products to our customers they can’t find anywhere else.”

The strategy imitates Nordstrom’s practice of securing the first wholesale partnership with a number of direct-to-consumer brands, including Bonobos, Everlane and Reformation. It’s charting a promising course, with annual revenue increasing from $11.7 billion in 2012 to $15.1 billion in 2017.

The growing sub-business of influencer marketing
Nordstrom isn’t the only retailer linking with influencers: In August, plus-size fashion retailer Lane Bryant announced its first influencer collaboration, with Tanesha Awasthi of Girl With Curves. And during New York Fashion Week, Macy’s started selling an exclusive line by Natalie Suarez (@natalieoffduty), called INSPR-D by Natalie Off Duty, online and in The Market at Macy’s shop-in-shops. 

A company playing a large part in the recent influencer launches is Digital Brand Products, a division of influencer management agency Digital Brand Architects. It started three years ago to help DBA’s top clients (Shea Marie, Aimee Song and Chriselle Lim, to name a few) build out their brands through product lines, often through licensing agreements. Digital Brand Products helps an influencer find a company to back the product line they’re hoping to launch. In the case of Something Navy, that was Nordstrom Corporate.

To Digital Brand Products, Nordstrom is an ideal partner as it does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of getting influencers’ products to market; in other cases, DBP is more involved in managing the launch and the growth of the business. What’s more, the retailer stacks up, in regard to offering desirable brand alignment. “Something Navy is going to be sitting on the floor next to every major brand at Nordstrom,” said Daniel Landver, CEO of Digital Brand Products.

We’re here to build influencers’ vision,” said Landver. “What they’re doing is meaningful and powerful, especially as retail is changing and meaningful connections with consumers are becoming more important. Influencers are the future of retail.”

The ins and outs of influencer fashion brands
With the partnerships, retailers typically benefit from influencers’ engaged audiences, while influencers gain a safety net of sorts, should their influence wane with time.

Testing the waters with an influencer through a collaboration — where an influencer’s style is injected into a current collection, as the result of the influencer playing a consulting role in the design process — is regular practice for retailers considering embarking on a long-term partnership. For influencers, collaborations offer the opportunity to learn about the business side of fashion and the product development cycle, as well as weigh the connection with a potential long-term partner, said Landver.

Nordstrom worked with Charnas on a collaborative collection with its private label Treasure & Bond last fall. Based on the strong feedback the brand received from Nordstrom customers and the engagement it drove among Charnas’ followers, Nordstrom decided to continue the relationship, said the Nordstrom representative. By February of this year, plans were underway for the Something Navy brand.

“These influencers don’t have a conventional design background, but they have a very strong point of view and aesthetic.” he said. “With Nordstrom, her vision was clearly communicated, and that’s what wound up on the market — there was a lot of back and forth with the design team to ensure that happened.… Not being able to sketch doesn’t mean you’re not a designer.” 

The debut Something Navy collection includes apparel in sizes 00 to 18, as well as shoes, jewelry, belts, scarves and headbands, all ranging in price from $29 to $150. The line is now sold on 55 stores and on Nordstrom.com. In addition, a Something Navy trunk is now available at Trunk Club, featuring a selection of Something Navy products and items from other Nordstrom brands, curated by Charnas.

The Nordstrom representative said Charnas talked to her followers throughout the design process, sharing swatches of fabrics and colors, as well as silhouettes and styles she was considering, on Instagram Stories. “We were able to get real-time feedback,” she said. “Consumers were part of the fashion journey in a way we haven’t seen before.”