Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How Girlfriend Collective Got a Leg-up On Their Competition By Giving Away Free Leggings

The brand Girlfriend Collective may not sound familiar to you – unless you know anything about womens athleisure wear.

But in the world of women’s athletic wear, Girlfriend Collective has quite a following, and are famous for two things:

  1. Using ethical materials & sustainable manufacturing, and
  2. Giving away free leggings before their official launch.

The result? They received 10,000 orders on the day of their official launch.

What were the secrets to Girlfriend.com’s successful brand launch?

1. Girlfriend Collective found ethical manufacturing processes that resonated with customers and gave them a good reason to buy

Girlfriend Collective Free leggings material
Via Girlfriend Collective

The inspiration for Girlfriend Collective struck when founder Ellie Dinh was having trouble finding women’s leggings that were made ethically. Seeing a market opportunity for more eco-friendly active wear, she and her husband, Quang Dinh, decided to create such a brand. One that was direct-to-consumer and with an environmentally-friendly twist.

“We’re hitting a lot of different demographics—there’s the girl who just wants a deal and there are the girls who are ethical, thoughtful shoppers, and then the girl who understands our aesthetic.

“We’re definitely a brand for millennials, but then we have grandmas in our leggings—it’s really for anybody, and it’s so exciting to see that.”

Ellie, in a 2016 interview with Instyle

They managed to find a factory in Taiwan that re-purposed post-consumer plastic drinking bottles into fabrics, and a SA8000-certified fair trade garment factory in Hanoi, Vietnam. It seems to be working; by December 2016, half a year after they launched, Ellie revealed they had already recycled more than 1,500,000 water bottles.

(Ed: At about 25 bottles per pair, that’s at least 60,000 pairs of leggings!) 

They also let people know where exactly in Vietnam their products are made, in case anybody’s interested.

Read Also: At the core of a great brand is strong vision, the ‘Start With Why’. Here are 10 other startups with a mission that resonated with customers.

2. Girlfriend.com gave away $80 leggings for free to anyone who shared their post on social media (and paid for shipping).

girlfriend collective facebook free leggings
You cannot say no to that. Via Girlfriend Collective Facebook

Rather than doing what everyone else was doing by engaging an ad agency to market their launch. Girlfriend Collective decided to go with word-of-mouth marketing instead. They directed their entire marketing budget for the launch into giving away their gear for free.

All customers had to do was to share on Facebook or through email, and pay for the shipping costs (which came to about $20). The retail price of each pair was $68-78.

The result?

Girlfriend Collective received 10,000 orders on their first day, and their website crashed within the first 2 days from heavy visitor load.

“It was so nuts. We were just freaking out, and then the sharing feature on Facebook crashed, which helped us catch our breath for a minute.”

Ellie Dinh, Co-founder

The marketing strategy was such a success that they had to delay shipment for a while and extended their campaign for another month.

How did Girlfriend Collective manage to generate so much word-of-mouth?

A) Customers fell in love with Girlfriend Collective’s brand story, not just the free products.

girlfriend collective marketing sustainable ethical
Via Girlfriend Collective

Customers who wanted to redeem their free pair of leggings had to go through their FAQ page, which explained how each pair of leggings were made using plastic bottles. It also explained they ensure that their products are fair-trade-certified.

According to Quang,

We know for us, if we can get a few users to click through and fall in love with the brand, they’ll share. You see the content, you see what we’re doing, you see the campaign and you read our ‘about’ page — that’s what we want consumers to do, not just redeem a free pair of leggings. We want them to be fans and fanatics, and show their friends.

Everyone loves a good deal, but showing the efforts made by the company to make a positive impact meant that each customer who bought from them would be supporting their cause too.

Being able to get a free pair of leggings and also feel good about supporting social causes was a deal too good not to share with people around them.

B) Girlfriend Collective sent you their product for you to try (and tell others about) instead of using an ad to tell you how good it was.

girlfriend collective marketing leggings
Via Girlfriend Collective

Why did they decide to take such a big risk by giving away their products for free?

Because Ellie and Quang believed their product would speak for itself and people would love it once they tried them on.

In Ellie’s own words,

Instead of going the status quo and giving more money over to the advertising companies, we decided to spend that money giving leggings to our customers and asking them to spread the word for us.

They didn’t make any money from the marketing, so their intention was just to get their product straight into their customers’ hands. And that gamble paid off; after the promotion, the majority of orders came from word-of-mouth referrals.

Read more: Referrals and word-of-mouth tactics are a powerful channel to grow your business.

It may have been a bold move to give away products for free, but if you consider the cost of hiring an ad agency, it actually makes sense. An ad may get you viewers on your site and people to be interested in you, but the barrier of paying for a brand they have never heard of is still present.

Giving the leggings for free ensured that that barrier would not only be lifted, but customers would rave about the brand once they fell in love with the fabric.

C) Girlfriend’s awesome free legging deal was only available for a limited time.

girlfriend collective marketing campaign
Via Girlfriend Collective

The limited-time offer leveraged on social psychologist, Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Scarcity principle – that people attach more value to things that are limited in quantity.

Scarcity is really effective because we subconsciously attach more value to things that are difficult to obtain.

How can you apply this to your business?

You may not be selling a physical product, but there are several insights that can be applied to your business as well:

  1. Show your audience how you can really solve a problem that they have. Girlfriend Collective made sure their customers had to go through their FAQ page before redeeming their free leggings. Build your user experience around educating your potential customer about your brand and allowing it to resonate with them.
  2. Try to find the simplest way to allow your customers to have a taste of your product/services. Consider the cost of acquiring customers (CAC) and how you can allow your potential customer to try out your products/services without traditional advertising platforms.
  3. Incentivize sharing with referral rewards. Your customers are always your best marketers. Give them more reasons to share the love with their friends and family.

Keen to use word-of-mouth for yourself? You can set up a referral program just like Girlfriend.com using ReferralCandy today and see how we can take your business to the next level with social sharing. P.S. – ReferralCandy on the Shopify App Store is a one-click install to get your word of mouth marketing started.

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion ecommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior and social psychology.