For Savage X Fenty’s Natalie Guzman, Risk Taking Is In Her Blood.
BY SETH MATLINS
Taking entrepreneurial risk is a lot easier when there’s less at risk; after all, what do you have to lose? It becomes harder when you’ve passed unicorn status in a moment, and even more so when, as Natalie Guzman, co-president and CMO of Savage x Fenty, the lingerie brand founded by Rihanna, says “it can feel like the eyes of the world are on us.”
People in and out of the industry waiting and watching to see if you’ll fall or fail aren’t ideal circumstances for keeping entrepreneurial spirit and marketing alive at the reportedly four-year-old company considering an IPO that would value it at over $3 billion. But for a brand literally and figuratively designed to disrupt industry and cultural status quos, seeking safety and comfort in the tried and true is most definitely not, as Natalie says, “what it means to be Savage.”
Keenly aware that while the company manufactures and merchandises lingerie, it is marketing “confidence, fearlessness, individuality, and, in Rihanna’s words, ‘doing it for your damn self.” But as the brand’s marketing leader, Guzman knows she’s doing what she does for more than her damn self—she’s doing it for a community of people “who’ve been marginalized, ignored and underrepresented for too long.”
At a time when marketing’s over and misuse of words like authenticity, inclusivity, diversity and disrupt Threatening to rob them of meaning, Savage x Fenty is elevating the breadth of human individuality and expression, as anyone watching their Amazon Prime-distributed, Emmy-nominated shows has seen writ large and beautifully.
“We want women to have the power to define what it means to be sexy and beautiful on their own terms. Representing all individuals happened organically for the brand because there was still representation missing. Body positivity and diversity doesn’t stop with gender,” Guzman says.
Among the first to bring scale to sultry, lacy thongs and sheer underpants for those who identify as male and non-binary, the brand—from its television-distributed fashion shows to its omni-channel retail footprint across e-commerce, social media and An expanding physical retail investment—shows up in ways that consistently invite and encourage humans of all shapes, sizes, colors and identities to show up equally as themselves.
It’s no wonder the brand’s community—employees, customers, members, talent, influencers, ambassadors—have such a personal relationship with the brand, and why they’re such an engaged and vital part of its content marketing and company culture.
Of course, when your brand is changing the game and conversation, staying ahead of expectations creates “a lot of pressure, pressure to stay scrappy and keep being innovators and leaders,” Guzman acknowledges, “making something incredible with what we’ve got or building it if we don’t.”
Natalie makes clear that while the big strategic and creative swings are important, it’s equally crucial to recognize that entrepreneurial mindset and impact also “happen in so many small ways. In creating a culture that challenges our team to think different, test new processes, tools, channels, mediums, talent, collaborations, fabrications, silhouettes…Everything is on the table, and every problem is an opportunity to do things differently.”
Fortunately for Savage x Fenty, Guzman grasps the importance of granting herself—and her teams—the permission and tools to take risks. “Risk is in my blood,” says the only daughter of immigrant-entrepreneur parents. She credits her father in particular for her entrepreneurial spirit. Her tendency to challenge gender-based constraints began long before this job, and her career is both a product of and reaction to her upbringing, which took place amidst cultural traditions perpetuating many of the same gender-based double standards that Savage X is now working to tear down. Men were raised, she says, “with the pressure of providing for and bringing pride to the family, while women had to avoid bringing shame.”
Throughout her career, which began with her selling digital media, Natalie has drawn motivation from what she calls out as “feeling undervalued as a woman.” It’s this same outlook that’s brought her to this brand and role—one that now finds her leading the teams responsible for the strategy and execution of brand, PR, social, customer acquisition, CRM and creative, as well as overseeing the overall growth, performance and operations of the company and sitting on the board. But it’s also what’s allowed her to find commonality with the brand’s community, a community that begins internally with their employees and extends out to their VIPs.
When asked what advice she’d give to other marketers, she initially demurs. “Everybody’s personal experience is different,” she says. But one thing is true: “If you believe it, pursue it. This job has made me believe in myself more. I’ve never felt more empowered and inspired, or that more was possible.”
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