CMO of the Week: JustFab's Daria Burke

Daria Burke began her new role of chief marketing officer at ecommerce fashion platform JustFab in late 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on global lockdown and placed a significant dent on demand for JustFab’s core business of fashion membership subscriptions, led by its popular footwear.

Daria Burke began her new role of chief marketing officer at ecommerce fashion platform JustFab in late 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on global lockdown and placed a significant dent on demand for JustFab’s core business of fashion membership subscriptions, led by its popular footwear.

But when Burke looks back at her first three months of pre-COVID onboarding, she’s grateful for the time she was able to spend relocating from New York to Los Angeles and making a quick trip to Barcelona to meet with her new teams in-person. “We were just starting to think about what JustFab 2.0 could be as we were entering into a new decade for the brand,” she says. “Part of that involved reimagining our marketing, but also how we would work together. So getting to plant the seeds and lay the foundation beforehand was so crucial.”

JustFab was founded in 2010 as a division of TechStyle Fashion Group, home to Shoedazzle, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, the Kate Hudson co-founded Fabletics and other female-focused fashion brands, with an emphasis on a membership model where customers could have the latest footwear and accessory trends delivered to their door in an inclusive range of sizes and widths. But as work-from-home protocols virtually eliminated the need for chic shoes overnight, shelter-in-place fashion helped write the playbook for Burke to usher in JustFab’s 2.0 era with an increased focus on apparel and leisurewear.

“People are dressing from the waist up, and when they are putting on shoes they’re wearing slippers and sneakers maybe to walk the dog or take their kids to the park,” says Burke. “So how could we meet our customer there as a fashion-forward brand? It had to be part of what we introduced as a pillar. While we are still footwear-first and shoe-forward, the role of apparel has to play a role in that.”

The product pivots helped JustFab deliver pockets of growth during a transitional year for the footwear category. U.S. footwear sales were expected to finish Q4 2020 with single-digit sales declines overall, but with double-digit growth for in-demand categories like cold-weather boots and hiking shoes, according to an October study from NPD. For JustFab, which doesn’t share sales or subscription figures publicly, those trends were mirrored in its own business last year, including the emergence of women’s slippers as a new category altogether. Enhanced offerings of clothing also helped diversify the company’s business, with 68% of sales coming from footwear and 22% from apparel in 2020.

Prior to joining JustFab in November 2019, Burke held a variety of senior roles across the brand and media side of fashion & beauty companies, including L’Oreal, Rent The Runway (where she was one of 10 founding members), Estee Lauder, Burke Luxe Lab, CVS Health and most recently Facebook, where she led the platform’s fashion and retail advertising partnerships.

Brand Innovators caught up with Burke from her home in Los Angeles to learn more about fashion marketing “at a time when people certainly don’t need to buy shoes,” the strategy that led to partnering with Kelly Rowland and the power of female leadership. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Brand Innovators: You recently completed your first full year as CMO of JustFab. What brand pillars have you identified for the company, and how did you activate them this past year?

Daria Burke: I think about pillars in a few different ways. The first was just brand architecture, and really thinking about it from the perspective of what is our value proposition, what were we saying to the world? As a 10-year-old brand, we came up through performance marketing, which helped us become known for delivering great, fashion-forward, on-trend footwear at a really accessible price with a membership model that eliminated the middle man. Our mission is to make it really easy for people to have access to great merch without paying a lot. 

When you think about what's happening over the last decade and how the landscape has evolved both in fast fashion and membership commerce, how we show up and where we started was novel then. It became less novel now. So we started with our value proposition: who are we, what are we about, and what is the value we’re delivering to the millions of women who are a member of our program? 

If you look at the market right now, you can’t really find that breadth of sizing we have in terms of even the 5.5 up to a 12. And to have a brand that also accommodates the wide width and wide calf, you typically only see that in plus size fashion. And with that inclusivity comes how we show up, how we story tell and who we partner with in terms of brand ambassadors, influencers, creators and storytellers or the models we hire, the talent we use. All of that has to ladder back to the mission of inclusivity.

Which brings me to our other core pillar of accessibility. Some of that is as small as or easy as having a deeper discount and access to a lower price point than someone who would come to our site and checkout as a guest. But also being able to inform what we do and how we design. We used to do events, now we’re doing it all virtually, so we’re communicating in real-time with our members to receive direct feedback on the merch, trying it on, touching and feeling it and helping us think through what we create next. 

How did these pillars and the changes to your business brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic influence your collaboration with Kelly Rowland this past fall?

Kelly very much represents that chic, relatable friend that we want to be for our members, and that our members tend to describe us as. Obviously, sheltering in place also meant thinking about our merchandise strategy and pivoting to being more aligned to what she was wearing right now. 

We also spent a lot of time developing our brand ambassador program and how we continue to reinvent that through the lens of being inclusive, working with a very diverse group of women for truly the first time in a meaningful way and doing that at scale. We have a really sophisticated model where our media budgets feed into that. It’s not just a brand play where we pay somebody to create great content, we think about how our influencer program drives our business and translates to VIP conversions. We think of them as a channel just as we would Facebook or YouTube.

How did the real-time changes to how we dress at home vs. in public manifest in your company’s sales last year?

We saw huge spikes in apparel, knitwear and sweaters, loungewear, activewear — all those things. We also saw sneakers and flats and more wearable styles spike as well. We immediately went into the mode of ensuring that we had the inventory to cover the demand and where we could pivot otherwise away from sandals with heels and those types of things.  

But it was funny, because we started to see pockets of growth in the back half of the year. I don’t know if it was hope or thinking about the future, but we did start to see pumps and heeled boots come back, even lace-up combat boots with heels, lower and higher heels were selling as part of this 80s and 90s wave that’s happening in fashion. As consumer sentiment starts to evolve with our frustration in COVID, it’s interesting how people are willing themselves into the future fashion they’ll get to wear at some point. And sometimes it’s just, “No, I’m dressing for myself at this point even though I’m at home all day,” and wanting those feel-good moments. Even though there was a lull where you saw a lot of people just dressing for the practical, I think there are a lot of people coming back to fun styles and having fun again. 

What guiding principles define you personally as a marketer? 

Storytelling is something I've always loved to do. I had the pleasure of starting my career and growing up at places like L’Oreal and Estee Lauder, where turning consumer dreams into reality is at the heart of what you do. So bringing that spirit to a brand like JustFab has just been so fun and gets me out of bed everyday. That even translates to things like “Leading With Style,” which is a new content series we rolled out. It all ladders back to our core belief that shoes themselves alone may not change the world, but the women who wear those shoes absolutely will. This is such an important time to elevate the stories of these women, and women we admire.

The other thing hands down is my team probably the most committed, powerful team of women. My entire leadership is female. It’s a great group of women who demonstrate what at TechStyle is our “one team” mindset. And not for nothing, I joined at a time when those teams were pretty disparate. They weren’t fully integrated and operated in silos, so when we did right before the pandemic of all things, it made it more powerful. It made all the work we set out to do possible. There was nothing that we set out to do in 2020 that we didn’t achieve despite COVID. And that’s only because of the excitement for the vision, and loving each other enough to come together enough to do it anyway. I give them all the credit, because my job is to keep priority on the vision high, and the barriers low and then get out of the way.

What new initiatives or product rollouts are you most excited about for 2021? 

I am super excited about our continued partnership with Kelly Rowland. On March 1, we will debut her spring collection. It’s her first ever designed collection with us, it is so stunning and so cool. And our visual identity will continue to evolve. We did a lot of the work around photography and storytelling and just thinking about brand elevation. When we think about identity and packaging, we are really doing a lot of that work with the environment in mind. How does sustainability and being an environmentally focused company come into play with that work? And last but not least, doubling down on our value proposition and how that manifests in the products, like our JustFab classics collection to help make sure women can get dressed for any occasion of her life. 

I’m also looking forward to continuing the work around our new visual brand identity. When I came on board it was one of my first priorities to lead the team to reimagine the brand, giving it a new voice and visual signature in order to create reach, relevance and resonance with both current and new customers. The change was rooted in an evolved brand architecture that honors what we are known for, while further articulating where the brand is going. As such, we have elevated our product and editorial photography, shifted the talent and models that we work with, revisited the way we use typography and color — as well as what colors we use — and refreshed how we communicate with our customer via tone of voice and copy choices. Overall, we now look at our creative direction with an entirely new lens than we did as a company prior to 2020. We have evolved across the board making shifts in everything; carefully considering our customers' evolving needs and the rapidly changing fast-fashion landscape.

And then hopefully being out in the world! Even if we don’t have an event, I just want to be with my team in the office again. So I’m really looking forward to that.

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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