The Kardashians are a force to be reckoned with – and one sister in particular has built quite an empire. Read on for a deep dive into Kim's Skims success and what we can learn from it.
The Kardashians are like Marmite. But, whether you’re a lover or a hater, there’s no denying that one Kardashian in particular has created an empire that has revolutionised the shapewear industry.
In 2019, Kim Kardashian founded the shapewear brand, Skims. The continued success that the brand has seen in the last four years can partly be attributed to positive reviews, body inclusivity, and great fit of the items – but equally to the blue-chip marketing and communications strategy that Kim nailed from day one.
Off the back of this, in just a few short years, Skims has become a major player in the fashion industry – outpacing its largest competitor Spanx with a recent valuation of over $4 billion.
But how did she do it?
The Kurrent Landscape
In the last 11 months, there has been just under 3.5 million mentions* of Kim Kardashian and her leading brand – a 30% increase from the previous year. In fact, it would probably be easier to call out the months that Kim and Skims weren’t dominating online conversations. Peaks throughout 2023 coincided with some of the mogul’s smart marketing moves, including campaigns such as the most recent collaboration with NBA and Swarovski (which we’ll delve into a little later).
But it’s not all roses: 19.5% of total mentions are negative in sentiment (with just 17% positive and the remainder neutral), indicating that, despite Kim’s heavy influence on popular culture and her strong personal brand, there is still some work to be done to fully shift consumer attitudes towards her as a businesswoman and marketeer – instead of a reality TV and one-time movie star (IFKYK).
Kicking off with The Great PR Faux Pas of 2019: Kimono
Despite its current ranking within the fashion and shapewear industry, Skims did not get off to a positive start.
First launched under the name ‘Kimono’, Kim and her co-founder, Jens Grede, received countless claims about cultural appropriation due to the choice of name. While many found the name and branding to be tone deaf and inappropriate, the Kimono team responded with a true masterclass in crisis communications – featuring high-speed reactive PR that they activated. In just a week, Kim personally apologised for the oversight, and announced that the shapewear brand would be shortly relaunching under a new name. Enter: Skims…
While at its core, this was a total PR disaster, it didn’t do much to deter the brand’s core, highly engaged audience. At the time, it was noted that the brand’s willingness to course correct was likely to have actually swept up more fans, even those a little hesitant to jump aboard the Kardashian ship. The Skims PR team released a textbook response - in a timely way with responsible transparency. If you know Momager, Kris Jenner, like I do, you’ll know she paved the way for turning a PR faux pas into an opportunity, and that’s just what Skims did.
What can we learn? ALWAYS be prepared for the worst. Check, check and triple check your campaigns to ensure your strategy and consumer message is appropriate. Consider running focus groups to sense check this, and ensure that crisis comms is baked into your plans in the event that something unforeseen should happen.
Leveraging a personal brand
It almost goes without saying at this point that Kim Kardashian's personal brand is completely synonymous with luxury, style, and cultural trendsetting.
With a cult-like following on Instagram (364 million), X (75.2 million) and most recently TikTok (8.8 million), I think we can all agree that her online influence and reach are unparalleled. Kim has cleverly capitalised on this by leveraging her personal brand for Skims, to build that added layer of credibility and trust with consumers. Since its inception, her personal brand has acted as the most powerful endorsement – ultimately attracting a dedicated fan base and expanding Skims' reach to new audiences.
What can we learn? Consider creating or utilising an existing ‘face of the brand’. While it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to be given a Kim Kardashian-like spokesperson on a plate to use for interviews and content, personal brand-building, thought leadership and expert commentary strategies can help give consumers and other businesses a face to the name – adding to overall brand credibility.
Kollaborations and strategic partnerships
Kim Kardashian's ability to collaborate with influencers and other celebrities has been a lesson in marketing excellence, and has propelled the success of Skims even further. By working closely with influencers, Kim has created a concrete assurance that the brand is consistently being exposed to an endless range of potential customers.
Skims has facilitated several conversation-driving partnerships over the past few years. The sell-out co-branded collection in 2021 with Fendi reportedly raked in $1 million in sales within just one minute. The brand also embarked on a groundbreaking partnership with the Olympics in 2020 and 2022, kitting out Team USA in a capsule collection. Very much in line with the brand’s inclusive and diverse approach to visual imagery, the collaboration marketing collateral featured a range of athletes - from both the Olympic and Paralympic teams. This, again, was very well received by consumers and the media alike.
As previously mentioned, Kim’s ability to tap into trending social cultural moments is somewhat unmatched. In late 2022, I couldn’t walk from one side of the Battenhall office to the other without hearing hype about White Lotus, and it seemed that neither could Kim. Utilising the already-viral conversation, Skims promoted its Valentine’s Day collection by featuring Simona Tabasco and Beatrice Grannò.
Lastly of note, Kim most recently broke new ground by announcing that Skims would be the official underwear partner of NBA. What might seem like a fairly unexpected union, the goal of speaking to new audiences across the sport and fashion intersection is actually nothing short of genius. The partnership was extremely well-timed, following Skims’ launch of its first ever menswear range. Both of these elements have only created further opportunity for a broadened customer base, additional sales, brand exposure and conversation via social media and PR coverage. Plus, have you seen those menswear announcement shots on social…?! Like I said, genius.
What can we learn? Move QUICK and think outside of the box. As soon as you spot trending conversation, get to work with building out a content, influencer and PR strategy that can be activated on a tight timeline. Communicate the importance of the timely element of the campaign suggestion to your clients, and aim to be the brand that gets everyone talking.
What’s next for the Kultural Kween?
During a recent trip to Harvard Business School (yes, I know about this because I watch The Kardashians on Disney+ like it’s my religion), Executive Fellow Matt Higgins praised Kim’s business prowess for being "on par with the best consumer CEOs." There’s nothing the woman can’t conquer.
While Kim’s influence and personal wealth have clearly had a hugely positive impact on Skims’ overall business success to date, it’s evident that the brand wouldn’t be where it is today without the extremely well-executed, multi-channel marketing approach. With this latest round of fundraising, and what we can only assume continues to be a progressive and exciting marketing strategy, Skims is well-positioned to expand its product line and potentially IPO.
For more of Battenhall’s social media insights, sign up to receive our Whatsapp and Monthly email.
*Meltwater data from conversation period from January 1st 2023-November 3rd 2023.