Italian women’s clothing and accessory brand Brandy Melville has bounced back from the COVID-19 shutdowns seemingly better than ever. Since June, the retailer has enjoyed consistent and lengthy lineups at its Canadian stores, partly due to the brand’s resurgence on social media.
Currently there are three Brandy Melville stores operating in Canada — one on Queen Street West in Toronto, one on Saint-Catherine Street West in Montreal, and one on Vancouver’s Granville Street. Since reopening stores this summer, all three locations have experienced exceptional in-store popularity, with abnormally long lineups day after day — so much so that the Vancouver Police Department was said to be concerned about crowds at that downtown store.
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This kind of traction has not been experienced by other brands in the wake of stores reopening. On Toronto’s Queen Street West, Brandy Melville is the only store experiencing consistent lineups, despite its close proximity to popular brands such as Aritzia, Lululemon, H&M, and Adidas. Strangely, last year the Queen Street store was up for sublease but now it’s highly unlikely that Brandy Melville will be vacating anytime soon.
Established in 1970 in Italy by Silvio Marsan and his son, Stephan Marsan, Brandy Melville opened its first North American store in 2009 in Los Angeles. Today it operates 96 locations in the US and three in Canada.
Marketed towards teenage girls and young women, Brandy Melville is a one-size-fits-all, fast-fashion brand. Although originally Italian, the company is known for adjusting its prices, clothing styles, and accessory items to fit a North American consumer base. Although to keep a European aesthetic within American stores, Brandy Melville marks the prices of clothing items with fake euro symbols.
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Brandy Melville is known for placing little emphasis on advertising, instead relying heavily on social media and word of mouth. The Brandy Melville Instagram account has 3.9 million followers and posts appear regularly, although not every day.
This strategy seems to be working for the brand, however, as social media’s newest networking platform — TikTok — has catapulted Brandy Melville back into the limelight.
Appearing to be worn by all of TikTok’s most followed users, Brandy Melville has regained momentum with a new generation of young teenagers who are all active on the social media platform. According to official company announcements, TikTok has over 500 million monthly users, and has been downloaded from the Google Play store over 1 billion times.
The Brandy Melville mania on TikTok has bled into online, peer-to-peer social shopping app Depop, where Brandy clothing is often sold at marked-up prices. Depop — with its 15 million users — operates similarly to a social media site, using hashtags and key words to curate search options. Terms such as ‘deadstock’ (implying an item is unworn and highly coveted), or ‘Y2K’ (referring to a particular retro-futuristic aesthetic from the turn of the century that is making an almighty comeback) are seen frequently as hashtags across the site. Joining the ranks and becoming increasingly popular is the term ‘Rare Brandy’ — a hashtag used to reference Brandy Melville items that are highly sought after. On an average day, over 2.5k new Brandy Melville listings are made on Depop, with 300 specifically tagged ‘Rare Brandy’.
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In recent years, the brand closed at least six of its Canadian stores — at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, Square One in Mississauga, CF Carrefour Laval near Montreal, CF Rideau Centre in OttaCF Market Mall in Calgary and at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton. When these locations closed following the US parent company buy-out, it appeared that the brand was slowly being phasing out. No one seemed to be talking about Brandy Melville or its all-American, preppy style, instead the targeted demographic was pivoting to street style and seemingly ‘edgier’ trends.
In the past, Brandy Melville’s one-size-fits-all concept has often been critically referred to as ‘one-size-fits-small’ as the clothing is clearly designed with a petite frame in mind — a business model very much in contrast with today’s body positivity movement. It’s unusual that this criticism hasn’t hindered the retailer’s success. Many refuse to endorse the brand, accusing it of perpetuating the media’s toxic and unrealistic beauty standards. Other’s will say it promotes eating disorders in young women and girls. And while these may well be extremely valid points, the brand seems unfazed and the thousands of Canadian consumers lining up outside even less so.
Evidently, the power of social media is working in Brandy Melville’s favour. Other brands would be envious of such attention, particularly during a pandemic and following temporary store closures over the past several months. Foot traffic is down across the country, but Brandy Melville’s explosive popularity in Canada is evidence that consumers are still willing to shop if they’re excited about a brand or product.