Quick + Dirty Breakdown:
Endorsements and a large dose of taste-making are pretty much her entire business, an invention of the Instagram age. Hewlett and Packard immortalized the garage–Jenner has her (or her mom’s) kitchen table. Her near-billion-dollar empire consists of just seven full-time and five part-time employees. Manufacturing and packaging? Outsourced to Seed Beauty, a private-label producer in nearby Oxnard, California. Sales and fulfillment? Outsourced to the online outlet Shopify. Finance and PR? Her shrewd mother, Kris, handles the actual business stuff, in exchange for the 10% management cut she takes from all her children. As ultralight startups go, Jenner’s operation is essentially air. And because of those minuscule overhead and marketing costs, the profits are outsize and go right into Jenner’s pocket.
Basically, all Jenner does to make all that money is leverage her social media following. Almost hourly, she takes to Instagram and Snapchat, pouting for selfies with captions about which Kylie Cosmetics shades she’s wearing, takes videos of forthcoming products and announces new launches. It sounds inane until you realize that she has over 110 million followers on Instagram and millions more on Snapchat, and many of them are young women and girls–an audience at once massive and targeted, at least if you’re selling lip products. And that’s before the 16.4 million who follow her company directly, or the 25.6 million who follow her on Twitter, or the occasional social media assists from her siblings and friends.
It’s not that much different from the early days of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, when his strategy basically consisted of calling in to television shows, tweeting provocatively and holding an occasional rally. Products of reality television, both Trump and Jenner understood how fame can be leveraged–that they are as much brands as people and that fame is just another word for free marketing. While this has always been somewhat true–it’s the very nature of a celebrity endorsement–social media has weaponized fame to the point that a real estate mogul can be president and a 20-year-old from a family “famous for being famous” can approach billionaire status by monetizing that to the extreme.