Highsnobiety’s David Fischer: Subculture is the new pop culture

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Streetwear publisher Highsnobiety began in 2005, when founder David Fischer started blogging about limited-edition sneakers out of his room at his parents’ house in Geneva, Switzerland. The blog started receiving increasing traffic, and then in 2007 he closed a $40,000 deal with Scion, the now-discontinued car company. That’s when Fischer knew this was no more just a side hustle. As the brand grows, it now staffs just under 80 people split between their offices in Berlin and New York.

In the last twelve years, the Berlin-based company has taken an approach influenced by Colette. It’s positioned itself as a brand at the forefront of emerging streetwear trends for their audience, in staying on the pulse of streetwear trends, covering lifestyle, and selling streetwear products. The lifestyle industry has come into its own, and Fischer says it’s not only good for monetization, but this streetwear niche also enjoys wide popularity.

“There is a whole generation that has grown up with us. Subculture is the new pop culture. What we have been writing about has become mainstream. We’ve built an image over the years where people know we understand how trends are built, and how you can create demand for a product. It’s not about price. It’s about accessibility, exclusivity, cultural backgrounds that make a product interesting.”

Highsnobiety’s following is huge, especially on social media platforms. This March, Tubular Labs calculated it drove over 10 million video views across Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Fischer joined Digiday editor-in-chief Brian Morrissey to discuss Highsnobiety’s social media strategy, revenue streams and the path to building scale.

Edited highlights appear below.

VC funding was never required
“We never actively went out looking for VC funding. We were approached many times, especially in the last few years where there was a media revival and content became a big thing. I have to admit that we were naturally bootstrapped for as long as I can think.”

Subculture is now pop culture
“Our core demographic is 18-24-year-olds. 24-35 is the second-largest group we speak to. There is an entire generation of people that grew up with us. Subculture has begun pop culture. What we have been writing about has become mainstream. We’ve positioned our brand at the forefront of emerging trends. We’ve built an image over the years where people know we understand how trends are built and how you can create demand for a product. It’s not about price. It’s about accessibility, exclusivity, cultural backgrounds that make a product interesting.”

The duopoly is a partner
“Traditional publishers have trouble with Facebook and Google, but these are just not issues that we think about. More than anything, we think of these platforms as partners. They help us reach millions of people. We reach over 50 million people on these platforms. We spend zero time on these platform issues. Our dot-com is still growing, but it’s one part of our platforms. It’s not more or less important than platforms. We entered Facebook, Instagram and Twitter early. These platforms are very important to us and how we tell our stories. We get a lot of traffic from Google and Facebook, but also from direct because we have a very loyal audience.”

Being a lifestyle brand helps
“We’ve always been a lifestyle publisher that focuses on product. Today, you get product coverage, in-depth storytelling, opinion pieces and other content from us. It’s different from the past, which was an endless feed of cool products. It’s in our DNA to speak as experts about products, and that allows us endless ways of monetizing the platform.”

Brand partnerships work in many ways
“All of our growth over the last few years came from the Highsnobiety Plus, our creative studio. It’s difficult for us to break it down because every single brand partnership that we do today goes way beyond one or two channels. It includes content creation, photo and video production, POS [point-of-sale] material for the brand or retailer, right to use our footage at the trade fairs or at dealerships or even event execution. It’s very multiplatform. We help them from start to finish. Pageviews or display ads is about 10-20 percent of our revenue today. But it has a different purpose. It’s there to merchandise our campaign content that we produce.”

Instagram is a premium content environment
“If Facebook was the most important in our field two years ago, it’s Instagram today. Instagram Stories allow us to use video in an efficient way, and for the first time, also link out from Instagram. Since everything is so visual, Instagram is a natural fit for us.Snapchat for us is cable TV and Instagram Stories is HBO. Instagram Stories on the technical side allows us to reproduce content. We use that tool, and we decided to go on a more high-quality route for Instagram Story. We produce one story every day, and it can be an editorially driven story or a brand partnership story. It’s very brand safe because we can show our partners what’s going up before it goes live. Now it even allows us to drive traffic.”

It’s necessary to be smart about scale
“We want to have scale that matters within our market. We make brands feel like a part of the niche but still give them a global reach. We knew early on that trying to become the biggest wouldn’t work for us. If we want to continue to be relevant in our culture, we cannot be the biggest. It doesn’t work. We are growing aggressively but in a way that allows us to remain in the trendsetter culture.”

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