08.24.14 9:45 AM ET
Inside StyleHaul, the Largest Fashion Network on YouTube You’ve Never Heard Of
Allie Evans gushes about her favorite liquid eyeliner from Maybelline, painting a thin, black line on the delicate skin above her lashes. The look accentuates her feline eyes and “really opens up them up,” she chirps. She stresses the importance of using minimal mascara and shows off her favorite from Maybelline, which comes with a smaller brush for the lower lashes and is “perfect to create the perfect elongated eyelashes to suit your winged eyeliner.” It's one of Evans’ many how-to videos on her popular YouTube channel.
Evans, 18, wore the “Egyptian look” for a meet and greet with fans in Los Angeles last month organized by StyleHaul, one of numerous multi-channel networks on YouTube promoting its stable of young stars — mostly women offering fashion and beauty tips. They are what the network refers to as “influencers” or “creators.”
StyleHaul was founded in 2011 by Stephanie Horbaczewski, who left her job as a marketing executive at Saks Fifth Avenue to launch the network, hoping to expand the fashion editorial landscape across digital, social and multi-platform networks.
It has since become the largest online community in the categories of fashion and beauty, with 175 million network subscribers and more than 60 million monthly unique visitors to its 4,600 YouTube channels, which reach across 62 countries (its global team, StyleHaul Mundo, has helped them grow a robust presence, especially in Central and South America).
StyleHaul’s meteoric growth over the last three years, partnering with big-name global beauty brands on content programs, has seen the fledgling company secure $17 million in investments from other major media companies. The network has also expanded into the entertainment realm. Last year, StyleHaul signed a deal with FremantleMedia to develop 10 original content series, and the company recently acquired the digital rights to “Web Therapy,” a comedy series starring Lisa Kudrow that also runs on Showtime.
And this meteoric growth shows no sign of abating. According to media reports, Amazon, 21st Century Fox, Hearst, and Condé Nast are all vying to acquire StyleHaul. (StyleHaul declined to comment on the acquisition rumors).
Women between the ages of 14 and 30 make up the majority of StyleHaul’s audience, and their talent falls neatly into that age group — a generation of video bloggers who are branding themselves as Internet personalities and making a profit from YouTube’s direct-to-consumer business model. And in the age of the Internet celebrity, (pop sensations Justin Bieber and Lana Del Rey were discovered on YouTube), networks like StyleHaul are investing in thousands of enterprising millennials making names for themselves online.
YouTube can be lucrative for people with popular channels. People who sign up for YouTube’s Adsense program are paid a dollar amount for every 1,000 views of their channel, which YouTube sells ads against. The rate fluctuates with number of subscribers and other variables.
StyleHaul, on the other hand, negotiates a flat rate with YouTubers, taking control of their Adsense accounts while promoting their channels. It helps the girls gain more exposure and ultimately grow their audience, but at the likely cost of money down the road as the audience grows. And because StyleHaul’s contract agreements are kept under wraps — neither Evans nor StyleHaul would comment on details of contracts, such as length or other terms — it’s unclear how much the network’s flat rate pays off in the end.
YouTubers have logged multiple complaints in other online beauty communities about StyleHaul’s pay policy.
While StyleHaul has covetable cachet, the network isn’t particularly exclusive: any teen, tween, or twentysomething YouTuber with a channel that attracts 3,000 views for three consecutive months can join StyleHaul — if they’re willing to sign the company’s contract.
Evans is one of StyleHaul’s original “influencers,” having signed with the network at the tender age of 13. “I was basically a fetus,” she says. “At 13 or 14 years old, you are basically signing your life away when you sign a four-year contract.”
Now, she is featured prominently on StyleHaul’s website, and is as much an ambassador for the network (she recently re-signed with the company) as she is for Maybelline. Evans has become what StyleHaul talent director Vanessa Del Muro calls a “megastar channel,” one of the company’s premiere success stories. “We consider them celebrities,” says Del Muro.
Many of StyleHaul’s influencers are younger than Evans was when she first signed with the network. “We have some girls who are twelve or thirteen and some younger,” says Del Muro, noting that parents must negotiate contracts on behalf of their daughters at that age.
Evans is happy she signed with StyleHaul when she was so young, crediting them with much of her success. “It started as a partnership where they brought opportunity for me,” she says. “Over the years they’ve brought me a ton of branded deals like Maybelline and G by Guess.”
But now that the company is giving her more autonomy, she pitches content as often as they pitch to her. “Today I pitched different show concepts which don’t necessarily feature me as the face of a brand. I’ll be working more with other StyleHaul creators,” she says. “They’ve really taught me about being behind the camera as much as they’ve taught me about being in front of it.”
Not all StyleHaul recruits are so happy. Several have complained about the network’s management on Beautylish, an online makeup community and e-commerce site.
“They are no help I signed and now been with about 5 months and no promotion what so ever [sic],” one wrote. “They asked me to send links of videos to promote on twitter which I have but they have not once featured me.”
According to Del Muro, StyleHaul tailors its development programs to the size of their influencers’ YouTube channels. They hold online classes for smaller channels, teaching them basic social media and web development skills — like “how to have a solid thumbnail or how to have a banner at the top of your page,” says Del Muro — and setting influencers up with other channels so they can help each other grow.
“The more visitors their channels attract, the more one-on-one attention they get from the network,” says Del Muro. “At a certain stage we begin making more sophisticated introductions, whether that’s putting them in brand campaigns or setting them up with other content creators.”
Evans just re-signed her contract, and while she doesn’t see herself being a YouTube personality forever, she’s certainly sacrificing other opportunities to elevate her StyleHaul stardom. She graduated high school early (she was homeschooled) and has no plans to go to college, though she says she hasn’t ruled it out for the future. “At the moment i’m working with some of the largest companies in the world and have a job that a lot of people who go to college in hopes of doing what I’m doing won’t be able to get when they graduate.”
Evans may have a better understanding of Internet entrepreneurship than most 18-year-olds, but she admits she had an unusual, truncated childhood. “I figured out what I wanted to do early in life and because of that I don’t feel like I’ve ever truly been a kid. I feel like I skipped about 80 steps. But I want to do everything in my power to continue on this path.”
It’s incongruous with her advice to other aspiring young YouTube stars.
“People seem to be creating channels younger and younger now and they don’t understand how much of a business YouTube really is,” she says. “You’re only going to be the hot commodity on YouTube for so long until someone else replaces you.”
Because too often, YouTube fame is as fleeting as a thirty-second video of a pig saving a goat from drowning.