Boy Smells charts growth plans

With a growing wholesale business and ambition to become a full-fledged lifestyle brand, gender-neutral candle and fragrance label Boy Smells announced its first CEO this week.

A former retail executive with experience at Coach, Banana Republic and J. Crew, David Duplantis was officially unveiled as the 5-year-old company’s CEO after six months with the brand in an advisory capacity. Duplantis plans to oversee the brand’s next stage of growth following the pandemic-led candle-buying boom, the brand’s expansion into fragrance and the rising popularity of gender-neutral products among consumers. Boy Smells has seen a 450% increase in sales since 2019.

“We see Boy Smells as a lifestyle brand,” said Duplantis. “Our customer and the market have given us permission to enter into new categories.” 

Boy Smells debuted six years ago by co-founders Matthew Herman and David Kien as a disruptive candle brand featuring gender-neutral scents — the brand calls them “genderful.” It introduced a line of fragrances for the first time in March 2021, following underwear in 2018. Fragrance now makes up 15% of the brand’s total sales. The next categories it plans to enter are soaps and lotions in 2022.

Herman and Kien will retain their roles as co-founders, with full creative control over the brand’s identity and product pipeline.

“David has a legacy of lending high-value impact in every leadership role he’s served, while ushering brands to reach their fullest potential,” said Herman. “His appointment as Boy Smells’ CEO will be instrumental in evolving the way we as a brand continue to challenge the industry’s norms surrounding the gender binary and embrace non-traditional marketing strategies.”

Wholesale is also a big part of the brand’s growth equation, and now makes up 55% of the brand’s total sales. In 2021, its wholesale sales expanded by 305% year-over-year with launches in 100 Nordstrom stores and new retail partnerships with Space NK — online and via UK and North American shop-in-shops — and FIKA Canada.

“We know that consumers are still learning about brands through wholesale channels,” said Duplantis. “In particular, given that we’re a fine fragrance company without any brick-and-mortar locations, it’s important for consumers to be able to experience this firsthand in wholesale channels.”

The brand is also in a conversation with an undisclosed retailer for a holiday pop-up. It is also considering its own physical retail.

“We don’t want to be a 1,000-store chain at any point. However, we do believe that there is an opportunity for stores,” said Duplantis. He also plans to continue the brand’s international expansion. Other international wholesale accounts include Selfridges, Lane Crawford, Browns, Galeries Lafayette and Holt Renfrew. 

The brand will also continue to build up brand awareness through collaborations, following popular partnerships with singer Kacey Musgraves and fashion label Ganni. It has a new collaboration with an unnamed public figure Duplantis calls a “genderful icon” launching in February 2022 for New York Fashion Week.

“The role of a collaboration is to work with a like-minded artist or brand that we believe is a natural connection,” said Duplantis. “We have a number of people who have reached out to us that are very big celebrities, and we’ve turned them down because we don’t believe that it’s a natural fit.” 

Currently, 65% of customers are under the age of 45, with millennials ages 24-35 making up its core customer group. The customer base is currently 41% male, which skews high for a candle brand, said Duplantis. He sees significant promise in the millennial and Gen-Z demographics for the rise of gender-neutral products. 

“I started my career in the mid-’80s; there’s always been men’s and women’s, and there’s nothing in between,” he said. “The conversation of gender non-binary is greater than it’s ever been. New generations of consumers have a strong point of view about what they’re looking for to satisfy their own personal belief system.” 

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