Gymshark’s Ben Francis Built A Billion-Dollar Activewear Brand By Leveraging The Power Of Influencers.  – Jarastyle Teen’s

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In May 2023, Ben Francis, the founder of activewear brand Gymshark, was invited to Windsor Castle to receive an MBE, a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Standing across from Prince William in an elegant morning coat, Francis was honored for his charity work and contributions to the British economy through Gymshark’s success. 

Gymshark’s Ben Francis Built A Billion-Dollar Activewear Brand By Leveraging The Power Of Influencers.  - Jarastyle Teen'sGymshark’s Ben Francis Built A Billion-Dollar Activewear Brand By Leveraging The Power Of Influencers.  - Jarastyle Teen's

Gymshark Logos | Shark logo, Gymshark, Shark art

Gymshark Logos | Shark logo, Gymshark, Shark art

At that point, 31-year-old Francis had already been named one of the world’s youngest billionaires, with a company valued at $1.45 billion. How’d he done it? In part, by leaning into influencer marketing. 

Billionaire status is a far cry from where the West Midlands native began. In 2012, Francis, then 19, was studying international business at Aston University and working part-time as a Pizza Hut delivery guy. Francis was something of a serial entrepreneur. He’d run a personalized license plate business in high school and created two apps offering fitness advice and workout plans while in college. 

And then came Gymshark.

He began developing Gymshark in his parent’s garage with a friend, initially envisioning it as a supplements company, but quickly saw an opportunity for a direct-to-consumer activewear brand. The activewear market, he felt, was dominated by ill-fitting and uncomfortable clothing, so he designed the collection with bodybuilders and gym rats in mind. For the first couple of years, Francis and his friends did all the sewing and shipping themselves. They looked to the bodybuilders and fitness influencers they admired on social media to help the company grow.

Gymshark’s Ben Francis Built A Billion-Dollar Activewear Brand By Leveraging The Power Of Influencers. 

Gymshark approached influencers early on. 

Where sports behemoths like Nike and Adidas often use celebrity endorsements to push products, Francis focused on social media stars. Early on, he developed partnerships with YouTubers Nikki Blackketter, a fitness influencer with nearly 700,000 followers, and Lex Griffin, a bodybuilder with more than 1.2 million followers. He also inked sponsorship deals with other high-profile gym-fluencers like Whitney Simmons and David Laid. Francis aimed to flood Instagram and YouTube feeds with his product. 

“I was absolutely obsessed with YouTube,” he said in a 2017 video. Francis followed dozens of bodybuilding influencers. Collaborating with them seemed like a no-brainer.  “As massive fans, we decided to send them the product.”

“At the time, no one else was doing this,” he continued. “Now it’s called influencer marketing. It came totally naturally to us as we were just fans of the guys.” 

Francis also used those early influencer connections as a type of test market. “They told us what they liked, what they didn’t like, and it just sort of really organically happened from there,” he said in 2018. 

The brand cultivated a sense of community among customers, and took advantage of user-generated content, encouraging followers to share their fitness journeys with specific hashtags. Mainstream success followed. Between 2015 and 2022, the company’s profits grew from £6.5 million ($8.2 million) to £315.1 million ($398.8 million).  

In 2023, Gymshark’s earned media value (EMV) reached $557 million, surpassing established activewear giants like Adidas, Lululemon, and New Balance in terms of social media presence and engagement according to CreatorIQ. Creator IQ’s EMV quantifies a brand’s social media performance by analyzing post engagement, clicks, and overall influencer reach, and then translates this data into a monetary value. This metric is often used as a predictor of a company’s future revenue growth. Among activewear brands, only Nike, with its extensive roster of celebrity endorsers, outperformed Gymshark with an EMV of $931 million.

According to Creator IQ, established creators with 300,000 to 1 million followers comprised around 60% of their community, and microinfluencers with less than 100,000 followers comprised 21% of the community. When it comes to EMV, established creators drove around 62% of EMV, while creators with less than 300,000 followers accounted for 36% of EMV. Only 7% of the company’s EMV came from sponsored content last year — and that’s by design. 

Gymshark handpicks its collaborators.

The company’s creator community of “Gymshark Athletes” is invite-only; Gymshark’s partnerships team handpicks possible team members, often scrolling through promotional hashtags (like #bevisionary) to find candidates. The exclusiveness of the program helps drive engagement on promotional hashtags, with creators clamoring to be noticed. 

Francis said there are no hard and fast rules regarding who the company decides to collaborate with.

“What we’ve learned is that the most important thing is that the personality fits and that person genuinely believes in the Gymshark vision,” he said in a 2018 video before stressing that the company values creators who show up authentically as themselves. 

“Branding their creators as Gymshark athletes is a badge of pride for creators and lends legitimacy to their profiles,” said Creator IQ communications director Leah Spector. “It says, ‘this athlete is sponsored by Gymshark, they must be worth a follow.’” 

The company uses frequent product drops and community events — like its Lift event series — to give creators a reason to post “often and with passion,” The brand, which has an Instagram following of 6.8 million, has a reciprocal relationship with its creators, and often features Gymshark Athletes on its channels.

Today, Francis has a personal estimated net worth of $1.3 billion and could easily fade into the background, like so many other successful founders. Instead, he’s fashioned himself into something of a Gymshark influencer himself, with more than 262,000 YouTube subscribers and 470,000 Instagram followers. He continues to put the influencer community front and center. 

As proof, in 2023, they hired one of their early influencer creators, David Laid, as the brand’s creative director. Spector sees this as another sign that the brand truly understands its customers. “Content creators are often more in tune with consumers than typical marketers,” she said. 

“It’s all about being authentic,” Gymshark’s Head of PR, Stephanie O’Neill, told the Fashion Monitor. “The vast majority of Gymshark ambassadors were once fans and consumers of the brand. Who better to represent the brand than those who actually love Gymshark?”


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