Even if you don’t watch their television show, even if you don’t have cable, or a television set, or access to clean water, you probably still know who the Kardashians are. Their fame is persistent, tireless, inescapable—like the Eye of Sauron. This fame was born of the E! reality program, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and has been further fueled by a number of other avenues, all of which are designed to define and market the Kardashian lifestyle brand.
Nearly all of these avenues provide direct revenue sources, in varying combinations, to Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall, Kylie, and of course, the ultimate momager, Kris Jenner. This includes the obvious things, like branded clothing (some are now defunct, though Kardashian Kids and the Kendall + Kylie line are still going strong), beauty and hair care items, and various ghost-written books. It also includes awe-inspiring product, like their insanely profitable apps and smartphone games, and downright odd moneymaking plans, like endorsements for things like weight loss teas, waist trainers, and hair growth gummies. Kylie is a lipstick mogul. Kendall is a top model. Khloe is a New York Times best-selling author. The point is, all of these methods of income make sense (theoretically anyway—best-selling authorship aside). And then, there is DASH.
DASH is now a mini-chain of three boutiques (in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York) as well as an online store. But back in 2006, it was just a nascent Calabasas dream, an open retail space beside Kris Jenner’s old baby shop Smooch, a way for Kourtney to give her hard-partying sister Khloe some responsibility. But most importantly, it was apparently one of the biggest motivations for Kim and the family Kardashian to agree to do this new reality show, because they thought it might help boost sales for their new store. Take a minute with that one. Ten years, several spin offs, and hundreds of millions of dollars and social media followers later, the Kardashians are hardly in need of the income provided by DASH. Yet, the company remains in business. Why? And maybe more importantly, how?
In 2016, DASH positions itself as “one stop contemporary women’s boutique set to inspire the mindset of the confident, captivating, and charismatic women of today with an immaculate eye for fashion and style.” The stores stock pricey, but not necessarily high-end, goods; think $200 to $400 Coachella-ready lace dresses from For Love And Lemons. The shelves are filled with the type of items the Kardashians are often photographed wearing to Starbucks, or to go shopping at other stores: beige-colored bodysuits, body-con pencil skirts, meticulously distressed designer jeans. The clothes are far from garbage, but they’re also not exactly unique; you can find similar trendy garb in Nordstrom or Planet Blue or whatever. All of this is to say that it’s doubtful that these items are flying off the shelves. Judging by the fact that the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game has brought in $160 million in revenue in the last two years, it’s a safe assumption to make that far more imaginary clothing is being purchased in that game than real clothing is being sold in these stores. (A DASH rep did not respond to a request for an interview for this piece.)
When I walked into the West Hollywood location, I was struck by something that was undoubtedly unique to DASH—a table positioned directly in front of the door like an obstacle, piled high with a combination of only the following items: Kim’s selfie book (three stacks), Khloe’s self-help book (one stack), Kris’ memoir (two books total), and a whole bunch of Lumee boxes and Kardashian Brand candles. The shelves lining the wall directly to the right are lined with more books penned by members of the Kardashian family (including the dystopian sci-fi YA novel Rebels: City of Indra by Kendall and Kylie), Rob Kardashian’s Arthur George sock collection, and all variety of DASH branded goody: T-shirts, make-up bags, candles, pens, pencils, key chains, notebooks, and water bottles, amongst other items.
I ask the two shop girls, all fake eyelashes and sparkling bronzer dust, what the top selling items are. They both tell me the same thing: The DASH branded items are the most frequently purchased items, except when Kanye West’s Pablo merchandise drops. That tends to sell out within days. The young girls I talk to outside on the street are 21 and 17 and on vacation with their parents. They tell me they’re from Michigan, and they came here specifically to buy DASH T-shirts (their father also bought a pair of Arthur George socks). Of the handful of other customers with shopping bags who I accosted on their way out of the store, 100% of them had bought DASH merchandise, 100% of them were from another state, and at least 90% of them were wearing tank tops with cut off jean shorts (an observation that may or may not be scientifically relevant).
Between my three social networks, I can only get two of my friends to admit to ever having shopped at a DASH boutique. A music industry executive—whom I promised would remain nameless—tells me she was lured in by some cute bikinis on the sale rack outside the shop and actually didn’t know it was DASH until she was in the store for a few minutes. She ended up buying a few bathing suits and was surprised that the boutique was “actually pretty ‘normal’ all things considered. Not cluttered and not as cheesy as you would think, due to the brands they carry.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Faye Orlove, artist and owner of the community space Junior High in Los Angeles. She is a proud ride-or-die Kardashian fan girl who has known about the store since the first season of the Keeping Up With the Kardashians. She even once made a pilgrimage to the original Calabasas location in hopes of glimpsing one of the sisters. Over the years she has purchased several different DASH and Pablo items, including a white T-shirt that says Kris&Kourtney&Kim&Khloe&Kendall&Kylie&Kanye. “But, I legit cut off the bottom of the shirt with Kanye's name, ‘cause, like, he isn't a Kardashian,” she reports. Orlove has nothing but sincere praise for the stores. “I like that it's essentially a really normal retail experience. I genuinely would wear so much of the clothes if I had more money. I also like that there are pieces for sale that I recognize the Kardashians actually wearing.” Orlove says her pilgrimages to DASH are mostly “for the experience of knowing the Kardashians have stood on the same ground. But there are affordable things, and it doesn't feel bourgeois or inaccessible or like they're trying to present a lifestyle they don't endorse.”
These accounts were helpful, though entirely anecdotal—I’m not, like, a scientist, but I figured this could use some actual evidence. So, it was time to go to the source. DASH has strict rules for their employees in terms of disclosure, but in the absence of any official statement from their PR about who shops there and why, I was able to get one DASH shop girl—who must remain anonymous—to fill me in on what really sells and what kind of person actually shops there.
“Of course, there are the DASH tees and small items like key chains and water bottles, which have become best-sellers as the Kardashians have gained extreme fame and the store has become more of a tourist attraction,” she tells me. “However, DASH does have a steady clientele of locals who love the brands they carry and consistently shop them. I'd say the three types of customers are tourists, locals just stopping by, and the returning VIP customer.”
She continues, “Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that it's just like any other trendy boutique carrying popular women's brands, except it has famous owners.” Not exactly the exposé I was looking for — human trafficking ring, drug front, or home of clandestine Kardashianati meetings would have sufficed — but it’s a fairly reasonable account nonetheless.
So, in conclusion: DASH is just a normal, average, run-of-the-mill boutique that happens to be buoyed by a high sales volume of branded trinket, fueled by the fact that the owners just happen to be members of the world’s most famous family. The truth is, there’s no real mystery here: If Kim Kardashian can make millions of dollars selling imaginary clothing to people through iPhones (landing her the cover of Forbes, no less), then of course she can keep a store that sells real ones afloat. That’s just science.