The Richest of them all
You might have thought that was Kim Kardashian West, with $350 million (about R5 billion) in net worth.
Or Kendall Jenner, the world’s highest paid model? She made just $22 million in 2017.
Nope, it’s Kylie Jenner, keeper of the most-liked Instagram post ever. And, apparently, because of her eponymous line of lipsticks, liners, glosses and more, she’s on track to become the youngest self-made billionaire. Ever.
When Forbes tallied up the value of Jenner’s cosmetics empire, combined with her earnings from TV shows and product endorsements, her estimated net worth was a cool $900m.
The sticker shock stands out given Jenner’s age and the hard-to-parse secret sauce that vaulted her family into its own celebrity stratosphere. But the figure also serves as the latest examples of how celebrities can leverage their fame to take on another job title: business mogul.
And wealthy ones at that. If Forbes stuck Jenner in its 2017 line-up of America’s 10 wealthiest celebrities, she’d fit somewhere between David Copperfield - ranked No. 5 and worth $875m - Michael Jordan, No. 4 and worth $1.4 billion.
She is richer than Jay-Z. She is richer than Diddy. But she’s no Oprah (yet).
Jenner’s feat, experts say, took a careful mastery of name recognition mixed with social-media influence. Granted, celebrities launching their businesses often have a ready fan base, and they generally have the funds to lift their companies off the ground.
But with that privilege comes the never-ending task of keeping up with consumers’ changing tastes, short attention spans and craving for relatability - even from the Kardashians.
“If we think of what Kylie Jenner has done in the past year with her personal life and even with her brand, she’s good at keeping people guessing and keeping people on edge,” said Alison Gaither, a beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel.
Jenner surprised her followers by keeping a pregnancy out of view. Her daughter, with rapper Travis Scott, was born in February. “My pregnancy was one (journey) I chose not to do in front of the world,” Jenner wrote on Instagram.
“And equally, Kylie Jenner is making huge strides in the beauty industry,” Gaither said. “She can show that anyone with the right following - you can take your beauty brand to the next level and be right on par with your L’Oreals and your Estée Lauders.”
Kylie Cosmetics debuted two years ago with $29 “lip kits” and, according to Forbes, has ballooned into a beauty industry icon valued at nearly $800m. Forbes wrote that the company has sold more than $630m worth of make-up, including roughly $330m in 2017 alone.
Core to that success is a social-media presence that convinces consumers they share a personal connection with Jenner, said Vanitha Swaminathan, a professor of marketing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.
For scale, Jenner has 111million Instagram followers - more than twice as many as Barack and Michelle Obama combined. According to Mintel data, 55% of consumers ages 18 to 23 used social media or YouTube to get information on beauty brands. Be it Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, those sites make it possible for celebrities like Jenner to not only maintain huge followings but also keep up with their audiences “in a way that’s more authentic, in a way that feels more relevant,” Swaminathan said.
Combine that with the decline in traditional advertising and the speed with which someone can boost their fame on social media.
“All of these things together make it possible for a celebrity to turn themselves into a billionaire,” Swaminathan said.
Jenner counts celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop) and Rihanna (Fenty Beauty) as fellow powerhouses in the beauty industry. But as Swaminathan noted, name recognition could backfire with any kind of public slip misstep or scandal.
Plus, fame comes and goes, and “what’s hot today might not be tomorrow”, Swaminathan said. Consumers’ attention spans on social media can dry up in a blip.
“The basic product has to have appeal, and you have to keep it updated. It has to be relevant to your audience,” Swaminathan said.
“The minute there’s even the slightest hint of inauthenticity, your audience will just stop. All of those things are hard work.”
Still, having a name like Jenner makes it easier to step up.
“(Celebrities) already have the capital,” Gaither said. “And the capital is in their name.”