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To escape the algorithm, fashion girls are shopping via Substack

3 min read

For Reilly, Substack is her primary revenue driver, making up around 80 per cent of her income (the rest is through Instagram partnerships). Most of this comes through affiliate links, in which a person or publication receives a small commission from the purchases driven by their recommendations. Through long, detailed articles that include wedding guest dress edits and the best deals from every online sale happening now, one year in, Reilly was able to quit her day job and go full-time on the platform. Now, she’s making more than she did in-house, even after paying a part-time news editor is taken into account.

“Affiliates are so widespread now that for 75 per cent of the brands I want to cover, there is a way to include them in an affiliate channel,” Reilly explains. “So it’s just taking money that would otherwise be left on the table.” But she cautions that audiences can sniff out when affiliate opportunities are prioritised ahead of the actual recommendations. “You have to make sure you’re serving your readers honestly before you think about making any money.”

As Substack grows into an understood format, the brand partnership side, which Reilly initially exclusively executed through Instagram, is becoming a larger part of her revenue. Brands will often now ask for a split across the two platforms. For bag brand Cuyana, for example, Reilly has included mentions organically in newsletter coverage, done paid placements within newsletter content, posted paid content on her Instagram and hosted a dinner. “What’s great about Substack is that you can tailor it to however brands want to integrate with you, or however it makes sense to present their concept, versus Instagram, where you have set formats of a post, a story, or a reel,” says Reilly. “It’s this amazing blank page. The opportunities are kind of infinite.”

The site’s ability to foster an intimate and engaged audience is highly valuable for brands looking to build deeper connections with their customers. It’s also a way of adapting to today’s digital climate where people are more clued in than ever. “People are very savvy to how the media works. There’s no hiding anymore,” says Amy Odell, former Cosmopolitan editor, who has over 37,000 subscribers to her Substack Back Row — around 5 per cent of which are paying. “People see things for what they are. They know how publicity works, they know how native advertising works, they know how fashion show seating works.” Before Substack, Odell would freelance, and says Substack has been a “much better return” for her.

Brands buying in

Brands are already aware of the opportunity to tap into these engaged communities. Substack says Denim company Still Here, which partnered with five creators for the launch of its Everyday Jean, found that 80 to 90 per cent of click-throughs originated from Substack newsletter emails versus social media. Each creator was given full creative agency over how they spoke about the product and, with an over 75 per cent open rate, the jeans sold out on launch day.

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