Kylie Jenner: the reality-TV star making a billion

Kylie Jenner © Getty images
Kylie Jenner: a billionaire at 20?

A self-made businesswoman, or just famous for being famous? Either way, Kylie Jenner is on track to become the youngest billionaire on record. Jane Lewis reports.

“Welcome to the era of extreme fame leverage,” says Forbes. At 20, the most junior member of the “Kardashian-Jenner industrial complex”, Kylie Jenner, is on course to become “the youngest self-made billionaire ever” – trumping Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who became one at the age of 23.

A meteoric rise Jenner launched Kylie Cosmetics “from her mom’s kitchen table” just two years ago with a $29 “lip kit” consisting of a matching set of lipstick and lipliner. She is now the sole proprietor of a business valued at $800m.

Forbes reckons that once additional earnings from TV programmes and endorsements are factored in, she is worth $900m – just a whisker away from the billionaire mark.Given its “perpetually young” consumer base, the $532bn beauty industry has always been “inordinately driven by influencers and role models”. But Jenner’s ascent has been especially meteoric, particularly as “all she does” to make her money is leverage her social media following.

But what a following. With over 110 million followers on Instagram and millions more on Snapchat – many of them young women and girls – Jenner can harness an “audience at once massive and targeted”, says Forbes. She may belong to a family often dismissed as being “famous for being famous”, but the Kardashian clan is more than adept at “monetising that to the extreme”.

They also have an uncanny ability to move other markets, says Time. “Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?” Kylie asked her followers back in February. Bang went $1.3bn from Snapchat’s market value. And this month’s hot news that Kylie has ditched her trademark pouty lip fillers for “a more natural aesthetic”, as The Daily Telegraph notes, is already causing ructions in the cosmetics treatments market.

With such huge fortunes being so casually made from Kardashian assets such as Kylie’s lips or her half-sister Kim’s “booty”, no wonder the air in America has been “crackling with financial resentment”, says The New Yorker. “The greatest irritant” to many is the word “self-made”. Kylie, after all, first came to prominence as a ten-year-old appearing on the family reality TV show Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Does someone born into such a well-connected dynasty really qualify as “self-made”? asks Ben Chu in The Independent. The Kardashian siblings reckon so. “We are all ‘self-made’,” observed Kim in a recent interview on the entertainment website Refinery29. “Not one [of us] has ever depended on our parents for anything other than financial advice.”

The power behind the throne

Nonetheless, it is often said that the real mastermind behind the dynasty’s meteoric financial success is the family’s self-styled “Momager”, Kris Jenner (pictured below) – a former airline stewardess who found her calling managing the finances of her second husband, the former Olympic athlete Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner.

“Kris Jenner tends to drive the big moves,” notes Forbes. Steered by their mother, each member of the family created their own moneymaking scheme: “from mobile gaming (Kim), to modelling (Kendall) and even socks (Rob)”. Like most of the family, Kylie is “an intuitive marketer”.

However, it was her “shrewd mother” – who takes a 10% management cut from all her children’s ventures – who sensed that the make-up kits “could be an ongoing business” and who brought in the e-commerce platform, Shopify, to handle the logistics of Kylie’s “ultra-light start-up”. Still, only time will tell whether Kylie Cosmetics, which Jenner intends to pass on to her daughter Stormi eventually, has staying power. Revenue growth is reportedly already beginning to taper.

Whether truly “self-made” or not, “Kylie Jenner really is an economic phenomenon”, concludes Chu. The “explosive growth” of her company “is confirmation of the awesome financial power of modern internet-powered celebrity… The economics make sense. What such trends say about the state of our society is, of course, another matter.”