Threads Styling founder Sophie Hill says “any time, any place, anywhere” is the new way for the luxury consumer to shop
Imagine you are a high-net-worth individual, you are interested in the biggest luxury labels – Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga – and while price is not an issue, your time is short, and you want to be sure you have styled your haul in the best possible way. Where do you turn?
Not that long ago, you would have opted for the personal shopping services of a luxury bricks-and-mortar retailer, and you can still do that, but it involves making a trip to a store at a specific time for a potentially time-consuming appointment. Today’s luxury shopper wants, and expects, to be able to make purchases using the most convenient channels.
And that is where Threads Styling found its window of opportunity to “inspire, aquire, deliver”. Launched by entrepreneur Sophie Hill in 2009, it has no website or app of its own, instead operating entirely through social media and mobile chat platforms, emulating the way its customers – often millennials or Generation Z – communicate.
Several times a day, Threads produces editorial content for channels such as Snapchat or the Story function on Instagram, where it has 461,000 followers. Users can swipe on the content to be connected with one of Thread’s 50 personal shoppers on Whatsapp, who provide styling advice and further product inspiration, and then arranges the purchasing and delivery.
“We work with more than 300 brand partners and have access to inventory,” Hill says. “We work with Dior, Fendi: lots of big labels. Our model is that social media content is the inspiration to any purchase. Customers contact us and say, ‘I love that outfit I saw on Instagram. I’d like more details,’ and we partner with the brand to access that product. We’ll personalise the service by saying, ‘If you love that outfit, here are some other things you should see.’ We’ll also send content to clients directly, so it is more personalised.”
The service is free for consumers, but Threads takes a commission from its partner brands, which include Gucci and Chanel. As well as womenswear and accessories, it offers fine jewellery and menswear and is currently expanding into interiors. Hill says there are plans to move into sourcing art in the near future.
Sales rose by almost 75% in 2019 and are on a similar trajectory this year, although Hill will not reveal figures. Threads says it has users in 100 countries, but will not disclose numbers.
It also moved into a new headquarters in the heart of London’s Shoreditch earlier this month, and has two distribution centres, in London and New York, to help fulfil orders. The US and Asia-Pacific have been areas of growth for Threads over the past year and will be a continued area of focus as it grows. The Middle East is another key market for the business.
Hill started her career in retail working across buying and merchandising at high street giant Arcadia Group. Always determined to have her own business, Threads was conceived as a way to combine the luxurious personal shopping experiences of traditional retailers with the convenience offered by etailers such as Net-a-Porter, appealing directly to a younger global audience.
“Technology is making young people shop and think differently and I wanted to break down some of those retail silos,” she says. “At the time there wasn’t anything that bridged the gap between a bricks-and-mortar personal shopping service and shopping online.
Any time, any place, anywhere
“The original principle was to offer a resource that could help shoppers find anything they wanted while in Europe. When we met those first customers they told us, ‘We love the idea of buying anything at any time, but we don’t need to be in Europe, we want to shop anywhere.’ Really listening to the customer and what they wanted helped us build the business.”
There has been a lot of interest, but people have said things to me that I don’t believe would have been said to a man
Technology is key to the business model, making sure Threads’ coterie of personal shoppers have the capabilities to serve customers and manage orders. Recent developments include automating notifications for when orders are packed and shipped, as well as providing shoppers with speedy information on what products are trending and in which regions.
Threads raised $20m (£15.7m) from Highland Europe and C Ventures during a funding drive in 2018. Hill says that although the business has an attractive proposition for investors, accessing funding as a female-led start-up can be a challenge.
“Being a woman has been a challenge. If you look at business founders and venture capitalists who raise money to create businesses, they are predominately male. We have a very strong concept and there has been a lot of interest, but people have said things to me that I don’t believe would have been said to a man. You need to be extremely determined, especially when building something totally new.”