This article first appeared in The State of Fashion 2022, an in-depth report on the global fashion industry, co-published by BoF and McKinsey & Company. To learn more and download a copy of the report, click here.
After years as a fashion director at Condé Nast titles Allure and Teen Vogue, Rajni Jacques switched gears. In June 2021, she moved to Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc. to serve as its global head of fashion and beauty partnerships. Jacques joined at a time when the platform and its competitors were making big pushes into social commerce, launching more shopping capabilities directly within their apps. For Snap, which considers itself a camera company first, those capabilities have primarily centred on augmented reality (AR) and features such as virtual try-on that have drawn brands and retailers ranging from Prada and Dior to American Eagle and Champs Sports.
The aim thus far, however, has not been to turn shopping into a revenue stream by grabbing a cut of sales. Snap says it neither takes a commission nor charges fees for brands to use its AR products. Instead, the company, which derives effectively all its revenue from advertising, views shopping as a way to bolster its appeal to users and brand partners alike. Jacques’s mission is to attract and assist those fashion and beauty brands looking to use Snap’s technology to connect with its largely Gen-Z audience.
BoF: Snapchat recently launched a number of new products and features to support shopping on the app, such as expanding virtual try-on, improving the look and movement of fabric, and introducing API-enabled lenses that let brands create content based on real-time product inventory. Why is the company investing so much in shopping?
Rajni Jacques: We think of ourselves as [a camera company] first, and when it comes to AR, we have about 200 million Snapchatters engaging in AR every single day. That truly is revolutionising how fashion and beauty brands operate. We’re harnessing a different type of power when it comes to shopping [and] when it comes to retail, unlocking a whole new range of experiences for Snapchatters and people on the app to engage with products. Everyone gets to try on a variety of different products from makeup to shoes to sunglasses to jewellery, and there’s way more that’s coming down the pipeline. We are investing heavily in it because we know that brands are looking to, in a way, future-proof their businesses.
BoF: There are different ways shoppers can discover and buy products through Snapchat right now. There’s the approach taken by retailers like American Eagle, which has set up a Shop tab on its profile page that users can browse, much like a regular e-commerce site, or there’s Dior’s approach with AR for its B27 sneakers to “Shop Now,” which takes you to the product on Dior’s e-commerce site. What else is Snapchat doing to make it easier or more enticing for shoppers to buy products directly in the app?
RJ: We are long-term investing in augmented reality and personalisation for everyone. As consumers, we love personalisation. Snap has been laying the groundwork for an improved online shopping experience and creating value for the shopper but also for the fashion brands, to help reimagine what their fashion [point of view] is [and] help reimagine their campaigns. AR is really at the forefront of this. And it is working. For instance, Dior’s try-on campaign resulted in over [six times the] return on the ad spend. Gucci, when we did all their sneaker try-ons, and even their beauty stuff, reached about 20 million people.
But there are so many different ways brands can use our technology. We worked with Farfetch and were able to do voice-enabled controls, where shoppers can say what they’re looking for, like “I’m looking for a polka dot jacket.” We did something with Prada where they tapped into our gesture recognition, where it allows you to stand in front of the camera and with your actual hands swipe so you can change the colour.
BoF: If I’m a brand, what’s the value of trying to attract shoppers on Snapchat versus other social platforms, particularly since Snapchat’s audience may be smaller than some of its bigger rivals?
RJ: It’s all because of AR. To be able to play with a brand is exactly what Snapchat gives you [and] makes it very different in the marketplace. AR allows you to put [clothes] on. When it comes to beauty, being able to swipe different colours on your eyelids, different colours on your cheeks, or different lipstick colours. There’s nothing like having an immersive experience.
BoF: Are there certain categories of products that shoppers are more willing to buy in the app?
RJ: Beauty is at the forefront of that, but then accessories: bags, shoes, jewellery.
BoF: Is Snapchat doing anything specifically to attract beauty brands and help them to engage users on the app?
RJ: Oh, yes. I work on that side with the bigger companies, but then I also make sure to work with smaller companies, diverse companies. I partner with a couple of smaller companies [like] Ace Beauté [and] Kaja Beauty. They’re niche but they have such an array of product. Allowing them to create lenses — we have something called the Lens Web Builder — where they can go in and create their business profile and create their own lenses themselves, so they don’t necessarily have to have a tech arm to be able to do that. That allows them to be in the game with your MACs or [other] big companies.
BoF: One of the areas where Snapchat has really expanded its capability is virtual try-on. You started with Gucci and shoes, and more recently expanded into other categories such as clothing and accessories. Which other fashion brands are using the function and what sort of products are they offering?
RJ: Your Pradas, your Diors, your Guccis. One of my favourite activations we did was with American Eagle. We did this thing with Connected Lenses. Imagine it being social shopping, going back to the days where you went with your friend to the mall and shopped. We created Connected Lenses to allow that immersive experience to happen. It helped consumers experience the same lens together, so they’re in the same room together, like friends are actually transported to the American Eagle virtual store and can live chat, select outfits and do all those things that you would do in real life. We’ve done something with Piaget where we have a wrist try-on, so you can actually put your hand in front of the lens and see what a watch looks like on your wrist. With Kay Jewelers we did earring try-on. There are so many different brands that use the AR lens.
BoF: Shopping directly on social platforms in the US and Europe still happens on a relatively small scale compared to China. For brands and retailers, the value is still mainly as a place to market to shoppers. How are brands using Snapchat as the top of their marketing funnel?
RJ: Brands look at Snap and say, “Wow, there is a lot of innovation there. How can we be a part of that?” I work with them to create top-of-the-funnel business pushes and help them with their marketing plans: What can we do that, one, shakes things up? What can we do that, two, uses our products in the best way possible, so that everyone else can see all the cool things that we can create?
BoF: Are there any forms of marketing that seem to work better on Snapchat than others, specifically for fashion retailers?
RJ: When it comes to fashion, you have to truly give an experience that someone hasn’t seen before, or you have to give an experience where they feel like there is an emotional connection to what you’re giving them. Dior did a lens for one of their fragrances, and it changes your environment with all these flowers. You could be on the dingiest street in New York City, and you use this lens, and that dingy street gets transformed into something else. Allowing your customer to be part of something and experience something on their own using the lens is what really seems to work. Gucci did a lens, and it was tied to when they did a collaboration with The North Face. It’s a camping experience. You can literally go from day to night through that, and it transports you to being outside, and really understanding what that collaboration is about. Anything that allows someone to feel something is obviously the way to go, as opposed to something that is very like, “Here is my shoe. Buy it.” It has to have a narrative, a story, a feeling behind it for people to connect.
BoF: Where do fashion and beauty partnerships fit into Snap’s larger goals as a company?
RJ: Being the head of fashion and beauty, the mission is to bring the best organic opportunities across the Snapchat app, and Snap Inc. as a whole. That’s the broad scope of it: to bring the top brand partners, really having them be part of our ecosystem. We define organic as a non-revenue opportunity. Hopefully, that will lead to deeper investment across Snap’s products from the partners. We don’t want it to be one-and-done.
BoF: Are there any lessons you were able to bring from your background in fashion media that have helped in your role at Snapchat?
RJ: I came from Condé [Nast] as fashion director of Teen Vogue and Allure, but my job wasn’t necessarily just being the fashion director. As magazines started to get smaller it was about me doing a lot more. Not only did I look over the covers and the centre of book and stuff like that, but I also worked in brand partnerships. I also did branded content. I also worked with the business side to make sure that, alright, if we’re going to have any experiential moments that tag back to that editorial title that I was at, what does that look like? Doing all those things, being able to create, and using that head gives me a broad range to use everything that I learned.
This interview has been edited and condensed.