Singer Rihanna is now a billionaire. How did she do it?

Ash Jurberg

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When Robyn Rihanna Fenty hit the world music charts in 2007 with her song Umbrella big things were predicted for her in the music industry.

And while she has dominated the music industry with 30 Top 10 singles on the Billboard charts (only behind Madonna and the Beatles) and 9 Grammy Awards, her true skills shine in the business world.

She is currently the richest female musician globally, and when Forbes released their annual list of billionaires today, she made the list with a net worth of $1.7 billion .

In February 2021, her Savage x Fenty business raised $115 million in Series B funding valuing her company at $1 billion. This is on top of Fenty Beauty, Fenty Fashion, and her music.

It all falls under her successful business umbrella, ella ella.

Shine bright like a diamond

Rihanna has had a successful music and acting career over the last decade, but her first big foray into business outside of entertainment was when she signed a $1 million deal to become a creative director for Puma in 2014. She was involved in designing some of the brand’s products — particularly in footwear. A move that led to a 16% increase in sales for Puma.

A major step was taken in September 2017 when Rihanna launched her skincare business Fenty Beauty. The business was a joint venture with French luxury brand Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey (LVMH). To say success came immediately is an understatement. Fenty Beauty had sales of US$100 million in the first few weeks and a total of US$570 million in its first 15 months. Fenty Beauty was named to Time magazine’s list of the 25 best inventions of 2017 alongside the iPhone X and Tesla Model 3.

The key to its success was the message of inclusivity. At launch, the product range had 40 shades of foundation, so it could offer a product to women who had different complexions worldwide. Fenty Beauty addressed a long-criticized gap in the cosmetic industry, the lack of products tailored to black women and other women of color. Immediately Fenty Beauty challenged the industry to be more expansive and diverse, which has since led to changes in the market.

While sales and revenue figures haven't been released since 2018, Forbes estimated that Fenty Beauty generated more than $600 million in sales in 2019 and that Rihanna’s stake in the company is worth an estimated $375 million. This will only grow; according to Grand View Research, the personal care industry could grow to more than $200 billion in sales by 2025, up from $130 billion in 2016.

Say My Name (Fenty, not Rihanna)

Every collaboration I did outside of music, I used Fenty so that you didn’t have to hear the word ‘Rihanna’ every time you saw something that I did. So Rihanna stayed the music, the person. But these other brands are called Fenty.”

With Fenty Beauty a great success, Rihanna wasted no time in launching her next business — in lingerie. Savage x Fenty launched in 2018 as a joint venture with TechStyle Fashion Group with investors including Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners. Again it was a smart market to target; the U.S. women’s underwear sector is worth $13.1 billion a year.

Rihanna used the same strategy that worked with Fenty Beauty — launching a product line that was as inclusive as possible with all women across all sizes. As she said, “I’m looking for unique characteristics in people that aren’t usually highlighted in the world of fashion as it pertains to lingerie and sexy — what society sees sexy.”

Online shoppers waited several hours ‘’in line’ on the day of launch to access Savage x Fenty’s products, and its 40-piece debut collection sold out in under a month. In its first year, it had revenue of $150 million.

Work, work, work, work, work

“I never thought I’d make this much money, so a number is not going to stop me from working. The money means that I can take care of my family. The money means that I can facilitate the businesses that I want to. I can create jobs for other people.” Rihanna

It would be easy for Rihanna to rest on her laurels — or her music royalties — but she continued to work hard. The next addition to the Fenty brand range was Fenty Fashion, launched in 2019. This made Rihanna the first Black woman to head a luxury house with LVMH, and once again, Rihanna was out to disrupt an industry.

And Rihanna was hands-on across all of it — she is known for being very involved with all her businesses and focusing on the most minute details, such as her clothes’ tags. “Everything was thought about down to the detail of the tags. How they feel, and how easy they are to remove, because no one wants to see a big tag when they’re trying to get cute for their special someone,” Rihanna said.

Launching the Fenty Fashion product range at New York Fashion Week in 2019, Vogue proclaimed Rihanna had killed the traditional runway show. Fenty Fashion instead opted for an immersive experience featuring a performance from singer Halsey (again separating Rihanna’s music from her other businesses). The blonde super skinny models were replaced by a diverse range of models of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. All of which were captured by an Amazon Prime documentary.

She dominated the event to such an extent that the New York Times ran an article titled Is It New York Fashion Week? Or Is It Rihanna Inc.?

We Found Love (Even in Failures)

“Never a failure. Always a lesson.”

Rihanna has the above quote as a tattoo, inked backward so she can read it in the mirror. It inspires her for not everything she does is a success. In the same week, Savage X Fenty was raising funds and acquiring a $1 billion valuation, Fenty Fashion was being put on hold pending “better business conditions.”

It was hard to get people to spend money on expensive clothes in a pandemic. While her beauty and lingerie products were at affordable prices, it appeared her fan base couldn't afford to pay up for designer clothes. This problem isn’t limited to just Fenty, with many luxury brands suffering over the last year.

Still, I’m sure the $115 million she raised in funding for Savage X Fenty offset the worries from pausing Fenty Fashion.

“How you gonna learn without making mistakes?” Rihanna

Please Don’t Stop The Music (or the Success)

I’m welcoming everyone’s vision here, because that’s what it’s gonna take. I can’t just think I know everything. I’m very smart with my control freak. A smart control freak. I welcome other people’s expertise. I love new, young talent.” Rihanna

Not only is she making money she is forcing change. Since Savage x Fenty entered the market, US retailers have increased the number of size-inclusive lingerie styles by 34 percent. Competitors have also been forced to introduce more color inclusivity into their products.

Following in the footsteps of philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie, Rihanna is one of the most publicly charitable celebrities. In 2020, she donated more than $8 million to coronavirus relief efforts. In addition, she gave $1 million to New York’s needy, $2.1 million to abuse victims in LA, and $5 million to other charities through her Clara Lionel Foundation.

It is a shame that some may dismiss Rihanna as another scantily-clad singer writhing in front of adoring fans. This is such an underestimation of her talents and business acumen and what she has managed to achieve.

She has become the first billionaire from Barbados, and there appears to be no end in sight.

Her voice may have launched her career. Her brain is sustaining it.

Readers, what do you think of Rihanna - her music and her business success.

Please leave your comments in the section below.

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