The Rise of the Instagram Boutique, from a College Girl’s Perspective

These hit-or-miss websites are gaining a significant following online, and today I’m explaining why.

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Shopping on Instagram

It’s 10:39 pm, and I’m in bed, trying to focus on getting something productive done on a Saturday night in by myself. Instead, I find myself with tabs open on Missguided, Boohoo, and Pretty Little Thing

Earlier in the day, I had been surfing the Princess Polly website. The day before, I had been looking at Nakd Fashion and Tiger Mist. This got me thinking about how I found these boutiques in the first place. 

After much deliberation, I decided that this topic had become something I should really discuss in depth. We’ve covered Instagram boutiques on CF before, but have you ever wondered how they work?

Let’s talk about it. After all, these stores are only getting more and more popular.

What is an Instagram Boutique?

An “Instagram boutique,” for our purposes, is a brand that has based their public relations and advertising on social media pages instead of having brick and mortar stores.

You may remember I wrote a piece that slightly overlaps with this topic discussing the struggling retail industry this year. But this is another world in itself. 

These boutiques are all competing with the fast fashion stores we’re all used to, namely staples like H&M, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe

What interested me most is that these stores kind of popped out of nowhere and in the span of months got on mainstream radar. How crazy is that? 

Now, let’s get into how they made this happen. Why are Instagram boutiques so successful?

Instagram Boutiques & Influencers

Reason one for the success of these companies is their ability to leverage influencers

Let’s take FashionNova, a company that appeared in 2014 but has since become huge online, thanks to celebrities posting photos wearing their clothing. Larger brands like Forever 21 are plastered across magazines. FashionNova, however, rarely features there, and for a long time was not worn by major players in the game. 

And yet, FashionNova is everywhere now. A big reason for that success is their influencer relationships.

Kylie Jenner is a huge influencer – that is a fact. In fact, here she is, wearing the brand:

Now, even though I’m an english major, I can still do the math and estimate the amount of influence she has for her ~100 million followers. It’s considerable.

Other brands are following suit, such as Pretty Little Thing, who has also worked with Kylie:

And it doesn’t stop at the Kardashian/Jenner clan. Youtubers and content creators are all prime targets to collaborate with these brands. A great example is Carli Bybel, a youtuber beauty guru who has had at least two capsule collections with the British company Missguided. You probably know their name, even though they don’t have stores in the US.

What I’m getting at here is that they are succeeding for many reasons, and the influencer base they have is significantly powerful. 

Instagram Boutiques & Business Structure

Reason two for the rise in Instagram boutique success: the structure of the business

A rough breakdown of a typical retail store would be as follows: 

  1. A factory makes the clothing, with workers and supervisors and the like. 
  2. The clothing gets shipped to America, where it is distributed to stores by drivers who take large shipments by truck all around the country. 
  3. The clothing moves to retail, which refers to the stores, and the salespeople who help you and fold the clothes (that was me for two years). 
  4. Finally, you, the consumer, comes and buys clothes and provides incentive for the company to send money and resources back to the factory.
  5. We start the cycle again. 

That, essentially, was a single fast fashion cycle. This happens very quickly in stores like Zara, for instance. 

In Instagram boutiques, this process happens even faster.

According to BuzzFeed News, FashionNova apparently does this entire cycle in a week or two. That is a LOT of money to be churned through this system in such a short time.

This ties into why clothing is cheaper through FashionNova than at Forever 21 or H&M. How? Because buying from the link on Instagram takes you to the page where the specific item is being sold. You skip the salesperson and the retail store. 

You are cutting out one step in the fashion cycle. Thus, you save money. Easy math.

How else do they cut costs? They save on customer service by using social media to directly converse with fans of the brand. These brands respond with funny things to customer comments, or answer casual questions and send users to the FAQ page on the website. Easy. 

In an article for GaloreMag, a representative for FashionNova explained that they post every half hour and remain on top of the comments section of their photos. 

Doing this also cuts corners on advertising. It’s free to post pictures on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. So they post pictures of their clothes. All. The. Time. A shot or two of an item and you have a post that can incite a lot of shopping behavior. And how much did you have to spend on that advertising budget? Yeah, not much, if anything. 

Instagram Boutiques & Us

Finally, we come to reason three for the success of these brands: They cater to the most fashion frenzied group of all — US! 

We young girls love ourselves some new boots every year to replace the ones we battered last year stomping to class. But we don’t have money to spend on the new Balenciaga pointy toed heels, so we turn to Public Desire for our bootie fix. It’s a cheap and small commitment since the trend could be over in four or five months. 

To make it even more tempting, these websites post discounts and sales more often than we hit the gym. We log onto Facebook and see our friend wearing this great wrap dress and we think “Whoa! I need that in pink!” and we buy it for less than $20 online. Even though the sizing may be off by just a touch, we still wear it since it was so stinking cheap and the quality isn’t that bad. 

I still have these tabs open on my browser. These brands are masters at tempting us with cheap, on-trend clothes. Behold a picture of my cart on Pretty Little Thing. 

Screenshot of Pretty Little Thing website.
Screenshot of Pretty Little Thing site. 

Does anyone else just add to cart and leave it because they can’t spend the money right now? (Just me?) These brands get us to obsess over them by invading our social media space — and then our brains.

Now, that brings me to my final comment – the quality. The quality of these brands is about the same as you would find at Forever 21, which is as expected. I have seen a few articles critiquing these brands and complaining about bad quality. This is OK if you know what you’re buying. But I wouldn’t go shopping on these sites expecting couture level stuff.

What do you think of Insta boutiques?

So there you have it! Let me know what you think of this new type of store popping up on your feed. Do you buy clothes from these brands – or do you prefer Urban Outfitters and Gap and keep your social media and shopping separate?

2 thoughts on “The Rise of the Instagram Boutique, from a College Girl’s Perspective”

  1. Using Instagram is smart, but it’s still fast fashion and I’m not a fan. It’s a faster, more addicting way to create waste and take up space. As well as low factory standards necessary to create such cheap items.


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