Forget Sponsored Content. Pietra Wants a Consumer Brand for Every Creator

Pietra’s founder says the platform, which emerged from its beta test last week, can “democratize” influencer-led retail. But experts who spoke with Retail Brew say scaling a brand is harder than it looks, even when an outside platform does the heavy lifting.
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· 6 min read

Since the dawn of screen time, influencers and creators have created #sponsored content to push brands’ products to their social media followers. A growing number have partnered with retailers from Amazon to Nordstrom for codesigned product drops. But only a nail-thin percentage with millions of followers—like Jackie Aina, Arielle Charnas, or the Kardashian-Jenners—have secured the resources to open their own standalone brands, where products often sell out.

Pietra, a technology platform that emerged from its beta period last week, wants to make the brand creation route accessible for any creator who posts on social—be it through apparel, beauty, or fragrance. No follower minimum required.

The platform arrives at a critical juncture in retail: “There's been an evolution from direct to consumer, to what I like to call creator to consumer,” said Qianna Smith Bruneteau, founder of the American Influencer Council (AIC). While barriers to entering the creator economy are lower than ever—all you need are a phone and a defined aesthetic—monetization requires extra support and resources that not all creators have.

Roadblocks to traditional retail can explain early demand for Pietra’s services. More than 300 product lines were created on Pietra during its beta period. As of Wednesday, 15,000 creators are “in the pipeline” to launch additional collections; a Pietra spokesperson told us this list is still growing. Materials shared with Retail Brew showed off early successes, like a skincare brand by microinfluencer Ella Rose McFadin (113k Instagram followers), which sold out in two minutes.

“I hate to do forward projections,” Ronak Trivedi, Pietra CEO and former Uber executive, told Retail Brew, “but I really think this company has a chance at being one of the largest retail companies or the largest business creation platforms that exists.”

Smith Bruneteau and other experts we spoke to said Pietra reflects creators’ growing need for diverse revenue streams, rather than a threat to retailers’ reliance on influencer marketing. But even with Pietra’s easy-access tools, not all influencers will be able to turn themselves into hit products.

You get a brand, you get a brand...

Pietra plays Oprah to an audience of creators in the thousands. But instead of gifting Audis, it shells out pre-vetted designers, suppliers, and logistics facilities for consumer goods. Once a creator signs up for Pietra (for free), they pay à la carte for the infrastructure (manufacturers, samples, even digital storefronts) and to create their product line.

Trivedi told us this model shifts power to influencers, and away from retailers that control their income via sponsored content or affiliate links, or which license their likeness without creative input.

Backers in a $4 million seed round included Andreessen Horowitz and a handful of celebrity angel investors. Brianne Kimmel, founder of Worklife Ventures and a Pietra investor, said Pietra’s base of first-time entrepreneurs—currently around 80% of its members—proves its ease of use. “I do view the future of small business as being individuals and not physical locations or traditional offline businesses,” she added.

But Pietra has no illusions that every product its platform generates will become the next Skims: “We don't promise that it will be a successful product. We don't promise sales,” Trivedi told us. “We promise to bring the infrastructure.”

Notes app authenticity

Retail insiders often discuss influencers’ followers as potential customers. Key word: potential.

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A creator’s existing community may drum up hype about a product built on Pietra (or anywhere else). But followers alone can’t account for a lasting brand, according to Matt Scanlan, CEO of Naadam and Something Navy, the DTC brand built from influencer Arielle Charnas’s blog of the same name.

“For us to scale long-term and build a really big brand, we still have to make great product that you want,” Scanlan told us. For its part, Something Navy has rapidly scaled since its 2020 creation. Scanlan told us it’s on track to do $45 million in revenue in its first 18 months of business, from $12 million in the first six months.

If quality’s in doubt, the creator’s entire brand is, too—something first-time brand builders using Pietra should keep in mind.

“What's paramount is consumer trust and reputation and business ethics,” Smith Bruneteau of the AIC said. “Your community holds you to a high standard, and the product that you put out also needs to meet the quality expectations of your audience.”

Subpar creator-driven products have undermined the market before. Take Danielle Bernstein’s collection with Macy’s, which was criticized for low garment quality and copying other brands before Bernstein parted ways with the retailer. Trivedi said Pietra’s suppliers are audited and used by top retail brands. Kimmel added that Pietra will mitigate production quality concerns with courses for its users.

“Authenticity is the most overused word in the influencer marketing industry, but it’s also the key word here,” said Jasmine Enberg, senior analyst at Insider Intelligence. “Regardless of their follower count, creators need to make sure the products they create are relevant to their personal brand.”

Full social circle

Pietra may intend to free creators from marketing for other brands, but it’s not shepherding the end of the #linkinbio era for retailers. “I think brand alliances are so important for relevancy and being able to tap into audience to audience segments,” Smith Bruneteau said. In her view, product lines complement a mix of monetization options.

And no matter the size of their following, creators who launch standalone brands will still come back around to retail, Scanlan told us. He’s taking Something Navy to its first wholesale partnership in the coming weeks. And one Pietra line, Wonderland candles, was already carried at Urban Outfitters before it sold out.

Not that the creator economy’s growth won’t affect retailers. In the long term, “partnerships may become more expensive, and brands will need to make more compelling cases to attract creators to work with them,” Enberg said. “That’s going to lead to an acceleration in the shift toward longer-term partnerships from one-off campaigns.”

For now, Pietra will at the very least bring hundreds of new creator-built products online. And increased production access, Scanlan told us, “will weed out the creators and influencers who deserve to have a brand from the ones that don't.”

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