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Dolls Kill Founder Shaudi Lynn Built a Brand Around 'Doing Whatever You Want'

She went from slinging clothes on Ebay as a teen to growing one of the most popular online destinations for millennial and Gen-Z shoppers.
An image from the Dr. Martens x Dolls Kill campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

An image from the Dr. Martens x Dolls Kill campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

Shaudi Lynn never really wanted to be a designer. As a creative kid, Lynn knew she wanted to do something in the arts, but wasn't sure what exactly. It took a chance encounter with her then-future husband Bobby Fahari at a rave in Los Angeles, where she was DJing under the name "Shoddy" Lynn, for the idea behind Dolls Kill to be born.

"Ever since I was 14 or 15 I was always, like, slinging clothes on Ebay and was into wearing weird shit, so it's always been in my DNA,” she says. Lynn and Fahari launched Dolls Kill in 2011 with a collection of foxtail keychains. Over the course of the next decade, it has expanded into one of the most popular online destinations for millennial and Gen-Z shoppers, selling everything from from black Fila bike shorts to holographic bell-bottoms with cutouts at the waist. The retailer recently released a line of clothes inspired by the cult-classic movie "The Craft" complete with sheer babydoll dresses and mesh mini skirts.

Lynn's approach to fashion is simple: "You can dress like a hooker on the weekend, go to work during the week, who the fuck cares?" she declares. "Live your life."

Her "do whatever you want" approach has garnered collaborations with the likes of '90s super-brand Delia's and, most-recently, Dr. Martens. The latter collection — which officially launches Oct. 19 — features the classic punk boot with the highest platform that the footwear brand has ever created. At the time of our conversation, on the evening of the collaboration's launch party at New York City's The Dance, Lynn is dressed to impress in her very own pair.

Shaudi Lynn. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

Shaudi Lynn. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

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The appeal of working with the classic brand was simple: What's old is new again. "Fashion is cyclical, it goes in waves," she says. "One thing is cool one day, and it's not the other day. Dr. Martens, for a while, no one was wearing them and now they're back again."

Working with brands that may have once seen brighter days — like, say, Delia's, which filed for bankruptcy in 2014 — is part of what makes Dolls Kill such a hit with fans of all ages. And while Lynn doesn't necessarily consider Dolls Kill to be particularly goth, its selection of clothes, shoes and accessories hit a nostalgic note for shoppers looking for a bit of edge amidst the Revolves of the world.

Despite rapid growth fueled in part by $5 million from venture-capital firm Maveron in 2014, Dolls Kill has remained true to the fans that have so lovingly worn its pieces for the past decade. "We're an authentic brand. We are dedicated to who our fans are, who our girls are, who our guys are, so in that sense it's the same. We're always speaking to the same group of individuals," Lynn says of the loyal shoppers who have made the brand a household name. "Within our customer base, it's become so acceptable to be different and cool and do whatever the fuck you want."

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An image from the Dr. Martens x Dolls Kill campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

An image from the Dr. Martens x Dolls Kill campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

Much of Dolls Kill's ability to as hold onto its fan base owes to its savvy use of social media. At the time of its launch, the brand eschewed print and television ads for Instagram and Facebook marketing, and many of the models featured on the site have been plucked off of Instagram. Lynn prides herself on knowing exactly what her customers are thinking and feeling in order to keep them happy and engaged. With 2.9 million Instagram followers, keeping up is a challenge that Lynn readily accepts. "I see the customer complaints and the things they love," she says. "It really is a great way to pay attention to where the brand is going." Plus, Gen-Z-leaning platforms like Snapchat and TikTok allow Dolls Kill to market to a younger set of users at the heels of discovering their own sense of personal style.

"We are in the process of working on TikTok and other new social media outlets," Lynn says when asked about the future of Dolls Kill's social media growth. "We see social media as always innovating, and losing touch with this would be the death of any brand." 

When it comes to social media strategy, festival season is the Olympics. Retailers flock to Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Governors Ball to promote their latest and greatest offerings. While other brands send out hoards of product to a massive crop of influencers and editors each season, Dolls Kill hand-selects people who it feels push the brand's specific message — and who are already massive fans, too.

"We want to work with people who wear the brand, are into the brand, love the brand, love the clothes," Lynn says of who makes the final cut. While Dolls Kill does gift product, Lynn and her team don't tell the recipients how to specifically create their content. They also throw events — like a Coachella kick-off party in 2018 — to spread awareness in a more fun, playful way. This past summer, Dolls Kill launched its very own Bling Tour activation, including an ice cream truck that made stops around the country, stocked full of its infamous Billionaire Bling Boot. The limited-edition shoe made waves online back in 2018 for selling out in 30 minutes during its original launch.

An image from the Dr. Martens x Dolls Kill campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

An image from the Dr. Martens x Dolls Kill campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

The rapid success across online and social has lead to the opening of two flagship brick-and-mortar locations in both San Francisco and on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, just down the block from Supreme. It's not always easy for online brands to create worthwhile and lasting offline experiences, but Lynn believes that her brand can draw customers into stores IRL. She says the stores serve as the perfect vehicles to "blur everything into one setting."

Rather than using the classic pop-up method so beloved by other online-only brands and retailers like Madhappy or Revolve, Lynn believes in having a few key flagship locations across the country — and across the globe. She cites places like Miami, London and New York as possibilities for future locations. At the massive Fairfax Avenue location, shoppers are submerged in the Dolls Kill universe. Neon lights cover the walls and bumping bass-heavy music blares through the speakers. Lynn's troop of cool-girl shop assistants wear the latest collections, the human exemplification of the site.

"I think touching and feeling the clothes is really important. There are so many details and designs that we do that I think are really hard to show online," she says of why opening stores was the next step for the brand. "When you walk into the store, there's a real feeling. You really get the brand as soon as you walk in."

After our interview, Lynn sits with her husband to have a drink. At the launch party that night, her mission becomes realized. Partygoers dressed in latex and vinyl danced to beats produced by Brooke Candy well into the night. Photos lined the walls of models clad in fishnets and plaid mini skirts with Doll Kill's signature platform boots. Lynn, the ringleader, sat on stage with her own posse of girls dressed in their Dr. Martens, doing whatever the fuck they wanted. 

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