On the back of impressive year-on-year sales the My-Wardrobe co-founder has bold plans to push the online possibilities and expand the premium etailer into a lifestyle business
As recently as three years ago, My-Wardrobe co-founder Sarah Curran was running the designer etailer from the rural French town of Saint Émilion, having escaped the hustle and bustle of London life with her husband and co-founder Andrew. But as sales went from strength to strength, Curran was forced to move back to the capital, after finding it impossible to juggle the workload from hundreds of miles away.
My-Wardrobe, which sells edited collections – or “accessible luxury” according to Curran – from bridge level to designer brands such as By Malene Birger, Vivienne Westwood Anglomania and Pringle 1815, notched up sales of £5.1m for the year to June 30, up 160% on the year before. It launched menswear in January, offering brands such as Lyle & Scott and Paul Smith, which helped take its unique visitor numbers to 2.5 million during the same 12-month period, 141% up on the previous year.
Curran attributes the growth to her buying philosophy of offering “attainable price points”, with the aim of encouraging customers to return and buy multiple items, rather than one-off pieces. She says: “It’s not about flash, one-season items. It’s about investing in trend-led pieces that have lifespan.” The average order value is £170 but prices range from between £50 and £800.
The philosophy certainly appears to have paid off. Year-on-year double-digit growth has led to projected sales of £7m for this year and the business made a profit for the first time this month, three years after its launch, something rival Net-a-Porter took four years to do. But Curran admits that her rival’s earlier launch (in 2000) to market paved the way for My-Wardrobe to flourish. “When we launched in 2006, people were already open minded to buying high-end brands online,” says Curran. It wasn’t the same for Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, who had to knock down doors nine years ago to get luxury brands to even consider supplying her.
Still, My-Wardrobe has a long way to go before it can compete with its rivals in terms of sales. Its market positioning is spot on: it sits nicely between designer etailer Net-a-Porter and online fashion giant Asos, but both those businesses turnover the comparatively large sums of £90m and £160m respectively.
More the merrier
Both have launched discount sites within the past year – Asos Red and The Outnet – to fuel further growth. However, Curran says this is not something she is considering at the moment. She says: “I wouldn’t launch a discount site to jump on the bandwagon and I don’t have issues with stock. I don’t feel threatened by new sites; the more that come online the better. It creates a virtual high street – the more shops, the more footfall.”
Curran takes a similar view to the launch of Fashionair.com, media mogul Simon Fuller’s fashion and entertainment website, due to launch this month. The man behind entertainment industry management firm 19 Management has teamed up with former Net-a-Porter employee Sojin Lee to offer an editorial-led site with a focus on video content.
The site will retail via third parties rather than direct to consumers itself, but its editorial content could be a threat to etailers like My-Wardrobe, which rely heavily on additional features to drive traffic. Curran says: “I’m not worried, but it will certainly raise the bar.”
Curran is more concerned about her own strategies for growing My-Wardrobe. As part of the My-Wardrobe online experience, Curran recently introduced My-TV, a live video presentation on a particular trend or collection, which adds a new dimension to the site. Curran says: “Online has moved on a great deal, it is no longer about web 2.0, it is about web 2.5 or 3.0 using video for user-generated content.”
My-Wardrobe has also recently moved from using mannequins to using real models to display product, which Curran says has had a great response. “We found a face that’s really approachable and who our customers can relate to. She’s a size 10.” Curran adds that the next development will be to add video to the product pages, with footage of models wearing the clothes. It will also introduce user-generated video content, so customers can upload videos or images of themselves wearing the products.
Next year, Curran will focus on marketing the site and raising its profile, having secured a second round of funding worth £2m in June (in April 2008 My-Wardrobe secured its first round of funding of £1.5m, after second-year sales broke the £1m barrier). Curran is investing in creating a strong marketing team to take the business to the next level. She says: “We’ve appointed an affiliate manager in-house and a customer relationship manager. We will focus heavily on social media.”
In addition to these appointments, Curran has also bolstered My-Wardrobe’s board, most recently with the appointment of former banking boss Jean-Marc Bouhelier as chairman. It also counts former pop star Louise Redknapp and Carol Duncumb, former chief executive of lingerie firm Intimas Group, as non-executive board members. At the start of last year My-Wardrobe poached Liberty’s fashion director Luisa de Paula to head up buying and merchandising, and more recently Lee Douros, a menswear buyer from Liberty, joined to help launch the menswear offer for spring 09.
The business is spread over two offices, one in Nottingham, which houses customer services, warehouse and accounts, and one in London for PR, marketing, buying and creative. The company employs about 54 people.
Beyond next year, Curran’s ambitions are to grow My-Wardrobe into an international lifestyle brand, having bought the domain names for My-Maternity.com and My-Lifestyle.com. She says: “This is the long-term strategy. I want people to trust the ‘My’ brand and for it to become a household name but the focus for the next 12 months is to bed down menswear and womenswear.”
Who in fashion do you most admire?
Stella McCartney. I admire her for sticking to her no fur and leather principles – as a strict vegetarian, McCartney refuses to use fur or leather in her collections and has even used techniques like writing “suitable for sporty vegetarians” on one of her jackets for Adidas.
Which is your favourite store?
Selfridges. You can do your shopping, get your hair done and buy great shoes all under one roof. The buy is spot on.
Who is your favourite designer?
I have a massive crush on French womenswear label Maje; the collection is very blazer-based for autumn, and blazer and jeans are my staple items. For shoes it would have to be Miu Miu.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Winning the overall Gold Award at the Drapers Etail Awards last year. It was my proudest moment.
What would be your dream job (apart from your current position)?
Working back on a news desk – the buzz was great. I worked at the Times Online about seven years ago as a sub editor and I really enjoyed it.
Would you ever consider going from etail to bricks and mortar again?
I miss the bricks and mortar, and never say never, but online enables you to be a lot more creative.
Where do you like to be when you’re not at work?
At home with my son Jake, my husband Andrew and the two dogs.
2006 Co-founder and chief executive, My-Wardrobe
2003 Founder and owner of London womenswear indie Powder
1996 Online sub editor, News International
1994 Merchandising/space planning, L’Oreal and Laboratoire Garnier