It’s Fashion Week in New York, and among all the influential media people who will be gaping down runways is Stephanie Horbaczewski, founder of StyleHaul.com.
She doesn’t have the clout of Anna Wintour, but she can claim her fashion and beauty sites grab 48 million unique viewers a month via YouTube, and that she channel hosts in 37 countries.
The StyleHaul channels—there are 1,400 of them on YouTube —are hosted by teenagers and young adult women—who create short videos about their shopping excursions or hair style and make-up tips. It’s all pretty chatty, informative and girl-to-girl intimate.
These hosts get paid by StyleHaul and sometimes by brands. The videos are usually kind of simple, and often enough, they’re recorded from a teenager’s poster-filled bedroom.
Girls and young women peer into their laptop camera and just talk, or show and tell. Viewers respond. The average StyleHaul viewer is watching 90 minutes a month. According to ComScore in December, StyleHaul’s channels had 119 views per minute. Brands now pursue StyleHaul which is the number one style and fashion site on the Web.
CNN Money reported that in July 2012, StyleHaul users watched a collective 109 million minutes.
“That’s a lot of two to five minute videos a month,” says Horbaczewski, 34, a winsome, rapid-talking overachiever, with a law degree, an MBA and deep-down passion about fashion marketing. Before StyleHaul, she was a regional director for Saks Fifth Avenue but that seems like a long, long time ago. A couple weeks ago, Inc. magazine named her one of “10 Women to Watch in Tech” in 2013.
StyleHaul is a darling of the YouTube suite of channels, like male-oriented Machinima.com, whose founders Allen and Aaron Debevoise helped Horbaczweski start StyleHaul. She’s since raised more than $4 million in funding and is in the midst of second round of collecting investors.
StyleHaul is constantly starting more YouTube channels staffed by its own gurus and influencers and that huge contingent of outside hosts—“I think we brought in 30 last week,” she said a few days ago. It has its own channels too, including ones that use such style influencers as Geri Hirsch for StyleHaul’s eminently watchable Leaf.tv (for Living, Eating Fashion).
Shortly after it started in 2010, Horbaczewski knew she had a powerful brand. “Three or four months in it, we started to see the traction and opportunity for brand partners,” she says. “We had already been approached by JC Penney. We were already international. Wow, I thought, we are really on to something. This is game-changing."
Certainly it is the least pretentious. Its hosts are fun to watch for their frankness and their freshness, and surprises. On YouTube recently, one young host with a mouthful of braces veered off topic and devoted a video to answering viewers’ questions not about beauty and fashion about how she got the job (she wrote in) and about how much she gets paid. That, she said firmly, she couldn’t tell us, because it’s confidential and nobody knows “except my mom and dad because...they’re my mom and dad.”
The bulk of StyleHaul’s viewers are in the younger end of the 12-34 range, but Horbaczewski is growing them up
A good example of a transitional host like that is CarliBel55,a hair dresser whose straight-talking StyleHaul videos about beauty aids have attracted 5.5 million viewers in her first year. “She just took off,” Horbaczweski says.
CarliBell is a great example of a host who casually touts brands and cautions against others. She is straightforward in a way that benefits some advertisers, after they get to understand how it works.
Advertisers don’t always get it. For example, Horbaczewski tells a story about one channel host who used a particular hair product and was hired by the brand to do a segment about it. She was excited by her idea--a segment about styling her hair with the help of her seldom-seen boyfriend, a storyline she knew her followers would like. When the manufacturer previewed the video, they thought she hadn’t shown or mentioned the product enough. In a snit, she took the video and excised every mention of the brand, and then ran it anyway. It ended up getting three times as many viewers as she normally does—and she let the brand know about those impressive metrics.
“That happened a year ago,” Horbaczweski says. “I don’t think that same thing could happen again today. I think the brands have learned that our creators will know the best way to reach their consumers.”
And that’s the idea.