Fast or Frivolous 2018: How consumer brands are evolving, accelerating and evaporating

The Backstory

Fast or Frivolous? How consumer brands are evolving, accelerating and evaporating, our flagship report from 2017, charted the rapid changes—but also continuity—that the internet brought to the consumer economy. Before the internet, the playbook for consumer brands remained largely static, with incremental improvements such as catalogs, but the digital revolution gave rise to a new flurry of activity and distribution methods. Thanks to a the digital point of entry, which requires much less capital and resources, the number of brands flowered exponentially.

But even though the landscape changed, the fundamental process of doing “good business” did not. The maxims, “don’t spend more than you make,” and, “don’t grow too fast,” should have continued to guide consumer brands, but many batted these adages away as antiquated and no longer relevant to their digitally-native philosophies, particularly given the abundant influx of venture capital funneled to digital brands, totaling billions of dollars—a level of financing that legacy brands did not raise. Subsequently, many digitally-native brands grew too fast and spent too much—some have since shuttered, while many others struggle to stand out, stay afloat or find suitable exits that make money for everyone involved in the business.

2018 has been one of the more transformational years in the consumer economy, largely affirming the path Fast or Frivolous 2017 anticipated brands to follow. First, while the rise of new digitally-native brands has not slowed, more are diversifying their channels into offline spaces. Witnessing this return to traditional avenues, we saw the peak of digitization in 2017, and that increasingly, digitally-native businesses are returning to the multi-channel sales strategy that brands have always used, in which ecommerce, retail and wholesale all play a role. As more traditional brands devote greater attention to selling direct-to-consumer as opposed to wholesale and offline retail, multi-channel businesses will grow more uniform, regardless of whether a brand started online or offline.

This report is both a follow-up of Fast or Frivolous 2017—a continued exploration of what the brands featured in the original report have faced over the course of the past year—and now an ongoing annual survey of the consumer brand landscape.

This Special Report is available to our annual Plus, Team and Premier Members. Learn more

Special Report: Shooting Stars: Celebrity-driven brands are reaching the stratosphere. Will they come crashing back to earth?


As competition for consumer attention increases, brands need ways to stay above the noise. Social media has become a mainstream marketing channel, displacing advertising dollars that once fed into traditional media channels. As a result, traditional licensing and spokesmanship—a brand marketing tactic heavily used in the past—is decreasing in prominence. The advent and ubiquity of social media has also triggered more celebrities to pushing their own brands forward, serving as the primary conduit and beneficiaries of the brand.

This Special Report looks at the phenomenon of celebrity brands, highlighting insights about both the successes and the flops. It also includes two Playbooks, How to build a celebrity brand and How to work with celebrities and their brands.

Featuring case studies on: Beats by Dre, Casamigos, Diddy and Cîroc, Estée Lauder and Kendall Jenner, Fenty Beauty, Gigi Hadid and Tommy Hilfiger, The Honest Company, The Jessica Simpson Collection, Kat Von D Beauty, KKW Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics, Pop & Suki and Selena Gomez and Coach.

This article is exclusive to Loose Threads Members, who get access to actionable analysis, insights and private events that drive growth.

Fast or Frivolous 2017: How building consumer brands is evolving, accelerating, and evaporating.


For hundreds of years, the playbook for building consumer product companies has incrementally improved. There have been marginal advances, but the fundamental premise of selling goods locally never wavered.

Then the internet happened, promising to fundamentally reshape the brand-building playbook. Today, there are more brands vying for the spotlight than ever before.

But will the new playbook (and the brands that use it) be as big, successful and long lasting as those that came before it? This Special Report seeks to answer this question by looking into 13 different case studies of brands that started during the 20th and 21st centuries.

We created three different cohorts of brands for this study: Heritage Brands (Comme De Garçons, Nike, Patagonia, Ralph Lauren, and Victoria’s Secret), Digitally-Native Phase 1 Brands (Bonobos, The Honest Company, Happy Socks, Nasty Gal, and Warby Parker) and Digitally-Native Phase 2 Brands (Allbirds, Casper, and Away).

We analyzed Heritage Brands and Digitally-Native Brands across six different vectors:

  1. How did the brands fund themselves in the early days?

  2. How long did it take for the brands to open their first stores and how many stores did they have after ten years?

  3. How many years did it take the brands to reach $10 million in revenue?

  4. How long did it take the brands to become profitable?

  5. How long did it take the brands to reach $100 million in sales?

  6. How long did it take the brands to run into their first financial crisis?

The best way to understand the new brand building playbook is to look at how it has changed since the old one was written. Only then can one determine the longevity of brands in the new era.  

This article is exclusive to Loose Threads Members, who get access to actionable analysis, insights and private events that drive growth.