Social-Media Star Laura Lee Unveils Fashion Line
Social-media influencers have captured the imaginations of many consumers by acting as the ambassadors for brands and fashion lines on Instagram and YouTube. A handful of these influencers also are taking the leap into designing their own fashions.
One member of this new wave of designers is Laura Lee, who posts videos to her YouTube channel Laura88Lee and Instagram account @larlarlee from Los Angeles. In fall 2020, she introduced Nudie Patootie, a self-funded, contemporary fashion line. It’s the second of Lee’s entrepreneurial ventures. In 2017, she introduced her cosmetics brand, Laura Lee Los Angeles.
Lee said that Nudie Patootie is still a work in progress. By holiday 2021, the line will offer items specifically designed by Lee. Currently, it is a startup venture offering casual-contemporary fashions produced by third-party vendors. Lee tells the world about her brands through her videos, seen by her 4.5 million YouTube subscribers, 1.8 million Instagram followers, as well as fans on TikTok and Twitter. She directs a staff of seven people who take care of fulfillment and other office tasks. She sells clothes exclusively on the digital channel shopnudiepatootie.com. Retail price points range from $30 to $60, and she says items frequently sell out days after designs are released.
Nudie Patootie is the first fashion venture for Lee, but she is confident that it will have longevity because of strong support from her followers.
“It’s a thin line between Nudie Patootie and its audience,” she said. “Having the audience at our fingertips helped us become successful.” She is in heavy contact with her customers. Almost every hour of the day she fields audience suggestions and comments through Instagram direct messages and comments from other social-media channels.
She has made changes to her line following audience feedback. For example, her followers requested Nudie Patootie release more loungewear, oversize T-shirts and flannels. There were also requests to offer more plus sizes. Currently, the line’s sizes range from small to 4XL. She had long wanted to produce a branded fashion line, and the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic gave her free time to develop Nudie Patootie. The line also happens to be named after the most popular eye-shadow palette in her cosmetics line—a neutral color scheme that she incorporated into her fashion line’s dresses, pants, outerwear, hats and sweaters.
There’s a small group of influencers who sell their own fashion brands including the Sincerely Jules fashion line designed by Julie Sariñana, who also manages her @sincerelyjules Instagram profile, which has 5.7 million followers. Expect this class of designers to grow, said J’Net Nguyen, an entrepreneur and creative director who has given lectures on fashion, marketing and digital media for the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.
“We’re living in an era that is more personalized. Many people don’t want to wear brands that are omnipresent. They want brands that connect them personally from a political and social standpoint. They want something unique to tell the world who they are,” Nguyen said.
Influencers are well equipped to offer this personal connection because they spend almost all of their time letting the world into their lives, Nguyen added. But a deep connection with an audience does not guarantee success. “Like any other clothing brand, no matter if there’s brand recognition, the design still has to appeal to their audience, and a marketing strategy is necessary,” she said.
Lee did not foresee that she would be an entrepreneur when she was growing up in Montgomery, Ala. Entering into the influencer game around 2009 when she was working as a medical assistant, Lee took some business courses at night. Neither her job nor her coursework were fulfilling. She was considering a career as a makeup artist and posted tutorial videos on what was then a new internet platform called YouTube.
The key to Lee gaining fans was her approach to creating tutorials that weren’t dry classes. “I'm very goofy, lighthearted and fun,” she said. “It’s not serious. We’re gonna make some jokes. We’re gonna laugh through the video. YouTube is about showing your personality.”
By 2011, beauty companies started noticing her. Cosmetics brands started giving her sponsorships. Working as an influencer became her full-time job, and in 2016 she moved to Los Angeles with her husband, Tyler, and purchased a home in the San Fernando Valley.
The Nudie Patootie line will most likely remain a digital native, but Lee might produce some physical pop-up shops in the future while expanding the line’s categories.
“Fashion moves so fast, and we’d like to be on-trend, but we’ll always stay true to Nudie Patootie style,” Lee said.