The e-commerce fashion retailer Revolve was forced to make a public apology on Tuesday (19 April) after attendees at its annual festival, creatively titled “Revolve Festival”, were left stranded in the Californian sun waiting for festival shuttles, without food or water.
Guests have compared the event to Fyre Festival, the 2017 “luxury” music festival that resulted in thousands of people eating limp cheese sandwiches in disaster relief tents in the Bahamas, and earned its founder a prison sentence, a $26m fine, and the attention of multiple documentary makers. But the comparison is meritless – because unlike Fyre, the purpose of Revolve Festival isn’t to sell tickets. In fact, no one pays to be there at all.
The event has been run by the fashion brand since 2015 as an invite-only party held on the first weekend of Coachella Festival. Its guest list is almost entirely composed of influencers – TikTok stars, fashion bloggers and former reality TV contestants.
The invitees get a free night at a hotel, food, alcohol (provided by Revolve-partner Kendall Jenner’s tequila brand, 818), and most importantly, clothes. In return, they wear all Revolve, all weekend, and post content from the event. The idea is that attendees’ followers then buy the clothing featured.
The strategy appears to work. For the average fashion e-retailer, the Christmas season is the most profitable: from March to August 2019, Asos’s group revenue averaged over £236.5m per month, but from September 2019 to Feb 2020, despite festive discounts, monthly revenues averaged £266m. For Revolve, the opposite is true: its most profitable season is April to June, due to the marketing juggernaut that is its festival.
During the second quarter of 2018, Revolve's quarterly net sales almost doubled from the first quarter, while its gross profit increased 130 per cent compared with the previous three months. During the same period in 2019, Revolve's quarterly gross profits again surpassed $90m.
Its fortunes took a dive at the start of the pandemic. In the second quarter of 2020, with the world in lockdown and Coachella (and thus Revolve Festival) cancelled, the brand’s profits barely inched past its first-quarter levels. During the following couple of years, unable to rely on glamorous events, it shifted its focus to TikTok, partnering with the influencers created by the explosion in the app's popularity. It was a success: in 2021, Revolve’s annual orders number 6.6 million, 40 per cent higher than in 2019, while gross profit hit $490m, 50 per cent higher than 2019.
Its association with the likes of Jenner have also helped to cement its reputation as a premium brand: the average value of a single Revolve order in 2021 was $271, whereas the average Asos sale amounts to £39.75. But that doesn't necessarily lead to higher quality: Revolve scores 2 per cent on the 2021 Fashion Transparency Index, lower than Asos, Boohoo and Primark, while Good On You rates it “very poor” for environmental and labour impact due to “extreme risk of labour abuse”.
The question is whether the headlines surrounding this year’s Revolve Festival will damage the brand, or whether the criticisms will simply be lost in a sea of perfectly curated content.