If Rihanna’s career as a pop star ever goes south, she could go on to have an extremely lucrative life as a saleswoman for fashion brands. The singer and designer can set the Internet on fire by simply dropping a pair of slides with fur on them. Even with a price tag nearing $100, the singer’s Puma slides sold out almost immediately when they were released on Friday.
Rihanna has been a huge boon for Puma’s sales. She got a $10 million contract from LVMH to go into business on a makeup line together. She recently released a collection with Stance socks and was the first black woman to be the face of Dior. A 2015 study found that Rihanna is the most marketable celebrity in the world. Simply put, the BadGal is good at this.
But Rihanna doesn’t fit our cookie-cutter image of what a brand ambassador should look like. She is aggressively open about her weed use, routinely murders dudes in her video, and treats clothing like an annoying and unnecessary part of life—much to the delight of the Complex social staff. We can’t imagine her behavior sits well with America’s more conservative factions. However, Shanu Walpita, WGSN’s Youth Editor, argues that’s part of Rihanna’s power.
“There’s a level of controversy to her and to some people that’s scary, but to others it’s really appealing,” Walpita says. “The brands that are turning her down are probably brands that don’t really work with her image anyway. It makes sense that there are only certain brands that want to work with her and vice versa. So it only strengthens her branding.”
Walpita gets at the idea that if Rihanna is working with a brand, then she believes in that brand and its ideals. The singer’s status as a CFDA-certified fashion icon only amplifies her strength as a spokeswoman. “She’s so part of the fashion scene,” Walpita says. "She’s always at fashion shows, at fashion weeks, she collaborated with different designers, she’s been the muse [to] different designers."
Because Rihanna garnered this cred as a fashionable person, it helps consumers trust that she knows what's stylish and what's not. “If she says, 'This shoe is cool,' it’s going to sell out,” Walpita explains.
However, this whole thing falls apart without Rihanna’s secret weapon: her authenticity. Even if she’s in designer clothing, if she’s not authentic, consumers may not trust that she actually believes in what she’s wearing. “She’s stylish and that’s awesome,” Walpita says. “But I do think the strength of pop stars is that individuality… She’s not a malleable pop star who will just be dressed and told to wear certain things. That’s probably why she’s so popular in fashion—she really stands for something.”
It goes back to the idea that Rihanna's status as a controversial figure is actually a good thing. "She’s very much, 'I am who I am,'" Walpita says. "And that’s what’s appealing about her and really reinforces that element of authenticity as a performer, but also as an individual." Rihanna is strengthening her brand when she messages with a fan struggling to come out. Or when she takes a picture with someone dressed as a Rihanna-inspired meme. These instances make Rihanna a relatable human being. We trust her when she tells us to check something out in the same way we would trust a friend.
What makes Rihanna so powerful is that if she’s wearing something, she’s doing it because she thinks it’s cool, and that makes it cool in return. It’s why a massive range of companies, from multi-million dollar corporations like LVMH to smaller brands such as Stance Socks, all want a piece of Rihanna right now and for the foreseeable future. For Rihanna, being herself has turned out to be the best business move she could make.