In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
Designer and influencer Anine Bing's namesake label is officially out of new-brand territory. Having surpassed its five-year mark, the 35-year-old's business is proof that building a brand on Instagram can expand into a global empire with a growing list of new categories and physical storefronts.
Bing, who was born in Denmark, grew up in Sweden and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21, first started working in the fashion industry during her teenage years as a model. She started a blog back during the online medium's heyday and was an early adopter to Instagram when it launched in 2010. "In Sweden, people were early to get on with blogging," remembers Bing. "I had a blog for nine years and grew a following, so I was lucky when I launched a brand."
Bing's influencer status obviously helped with building awareness when she debuted her first collection — two pairs of denim, a white T-shirt and a black leather jacket — from her Silver Lake home in 2012. Over the years, her humble webshop has expanded from a two-person team to an LA-based headquarters of about 45 employees, as well as nine brick-and-mortar locations across the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Her collections — which are released monthly with new pieces (between five and 10) that drop every week — have grown to include knitwear, footwear, jewelry, leather goods and a fragrance. Around 2013, she launched lingerie, which quickly became a cult item among her customers, and last year, revamped her undergarments collection with more styles that ring in just under $100.
This year, Bing is going even bigger with her eponymous line, adding children's wear and opening a brand-new storefront in New York City's Soho neighborhood. "I didn't know back when I was 21 that I was going to have my own brand and this big business," says Bing. "I dreamed about it, but I could have never imagined where it would actually take me."
We chatted with Bing over the phone from LA to learn more about how she launched her business, how it's expanded across categories and around the world, as well as how she's evolved as a designer. Read on to learn more.
Did you have a career in fashion before launching your line?
I started out as a model when I was 14 and traveled the world and worked for 10 years and through that, I had an inside look into many different parts of the business and built up connections to everybody in the industry. Then I wrote for a couple of magazines in Europe and I had a blog for many years. People always had an interest in what I was wearing and I was always good at collecting pieces from a vintage stores and flea markets. Then, about seven years ago, the idea started for my own brand. It was also when Instagram had started out and I saw the potential to build a brand through Instagram. I didn't have a design background, but I always knew exactly how I wanted people to look.
What were the early days of launching your brand like?
Me and my husband, who has a production background, started the brand about six years ago and it was very simple — just with a couple of pairs of denim, T-shirts and a leather jacket and grew it slowly from there. We had a little online shop out of our garage in Silver Lake. I was wearing the pieces on Instagram and I walked into different stores in LA and the buyers would ask what I was wearing. We started to get into really cool stores early on. Our "Charlie" boot, which I designed a couple of months into the brand, really put us on the map. That's kind of how we got into more stores and we grew really fast from there. It started as an online project and today, we have nine stores around the world.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your business?
I wouldn't do anything differently, but I wish I knew how hard the work would be. I really had to learn everything from scratch. I love what I'm doing, but I had no idea what it would take to build this company. I didn't have any idea how big we would get either, so I started out kind of naïve. Then, I had to learn day by day how to build this whole business, anything from the design process to leading a team.
Is there a career mantra or a phrase that you apply to your work?
I have a phrase tattooed into my arm that says, "You know when you know." That's really about following your gut — like with a design decision, if I feel this piece is going to be great, then often it will. If it feels good, then you do it. We still very much work out of that gut feeling.
What do you look for when you're hiring for your team?
First and foremost, their personality. They need to have that attitude that nothing is impossible and they're ready to work hard. Some just have the right mentality and others because they have a great background within whatever area it is that we are looking for. But it's so important, with the personality. You can look great on paper, but if you're not ready to roll up your sleeves, then it's not the right place for you.
What advice would you give to someone starting a brand, especially in the age of Instagram?
My advice would be to have a strong aesthetic. I'm all about the aesthetic; the feed needs to look really nice. Whatever it is, stay to one. Stay true to yourself so people recognize your brand and don't try to be something that's already out there. Update your Instagram a couple of times a day — not much, not too little. It's a fine balance: You don't want to spam people's feeds, but you also want to make sure they see you. Also, comment when people are wearing your stuff and make sure they all feel seen.
Is there a certain category that you really enjoy designing?
I'm excited about boots at the moment. Our factory does a really great job. Handbags are something that I've been waiting to do and worked on for many years. But it's taken time to really get to the level I wanted, quality-wise. I also love denim because when you put on a great pair of denim, you just feel so good about yourself.
How have you evolved as a designer?
I'm getting much braver. My true style is very simple and rock 'n' roll, so I'm stepping a little bit out of my comfort zone. For our fall collection coming out in July and August, there's going to be more colors, more prints. I think I'm just finally taking a little more risks, which is so fun, but also still staying true to the brand. It's a really exciting time for me as a designer.
Tell us about your new kid's collection and how that idea came about.
I'm a mom myself and my daughter, who is seven now, has always been wanting to wear the same pieces as me. She wanted skinny jeans and a leather jacket and I couldn't find anything like that out there. Clothes were either super-cutesy dresses or a lot of prints. I felt like there was something missing in the market. I wanted something simple and more unisex, so both of my kids could throw it on. The collection came very naturally from my own needs. It's really easy and all of the pieces can go together.
What advice would you give to new working moms?
It is super-hard, but it's also so rewarding and so fun to be able to do both. My advice is to stay focused wherever you are. If you're home, try to put away the phone and spend time with your children. When you're at the office, be there 100 percent and don't feel guilty that you're not with your children at that time. Be focused wherever you are.
What's the ultimate goal for your brand?
I'm really excited for the direction it's taking. For the next couple of years, we're going to open many more stores. It feels really cool to have all of them around the world. It's a way for people to get to know the brand. I look forward to growing the brand and adding more people to the team and getting better each day on what we're doing. We are, of course, talking about other categories, but it's not 100 percent set in stone. I just want to grow into a big fashion empire. I'm so lucky to get to work on what I love every day.
See more of the Anine Bing children's wear collection in the gallery below.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.