Adam Frisby started In The Style from his bedroom in 2013. Just four years later, turnover at the Manchester-based fast fashion etailer is set to hit £30m and the brand’s celebrity style has won an army of fans.
Take a taxi from Manchester Piccadilly station to In The Style’s Salford headquarters and a huge billboard for the brand heaves into view. Stretching across three lanes of traffic, the advert shows blogger, influencer and all-round social media queen Sarah Ashcroft reclining in a camel-coloured bikini. As a brand statement it perfectly reflects In The Style: ambitious and glamorous, with a sprinkling of star power.
Founder and chief executive Adam Frisby started In The Style from his bedroom in August 2013, when he was 27. He was hit with an idea for a business that combined fast fashion, social media and celebrity while browsing online, and In The Style was born the same afternoon.
“There was never any kind of plan,” he tells Drapers at the brand’s pink-and-white offices. “I got a bit of brainwave and thought, ‘Right, I’m going to register the website and give this a go.’ I always had an interest in fashion, I’m quite good on social media and I’ve got good celebrity knowledge – I know who is likeable and who works.”
My whole second bedroom became rails of clothes. We had a laptop and a portable printer where I’d print off the invoices
In May, private equity firm Livingbridge invested an undisclosed sum in the etailer. Investment director Steve Cordiner praised In The Style’s ability to “deliver exactly what customers want” through its disruptive marketing strategy, sector expertise and celebrity collaborations. The capital injection will be used to help scale up operations, including IT upgrades and senior appointments.
A move to its new 30,000 sq ft Salford base followed in June, after it rapidly outgrew its former home near the Manchester Arena. It now employs 93 people at its head office, including designers and garment technologists. In The Style’s growing workforce is particularly rewarding for Frisby, whose previous job was helping long-term unemployed people back into work.
Turnover reached £15m in 2015 and is on track for £30m by the end of this year, although he will not reveal profits.
And shortly before Drapers’ visit, In The Style celebrated another milestone, reaching 1 million followers on Instagram.
It is all a long way from the early days, when Frisby launched the business with £1,000 in savings, six dresses bought from a local wholesaler and the sure sense he was on to something. He had left school aged 15 without any qualifications and had no experience in fashion, but was determined to build a successful brand. Social media was the starting point. Frisby drummed up interest by launching competitions to win dresses, contacting celebrities on Twitter in the hope of some free promotion. Six dresses became 12, and then more.
“My whole second bedroom became rails of clothes. We had a laptop and a portable printer where I’d print off the invoices, and I’d pack the parcels and take them to Royal Mail myself,” he explains. “I can’t lie – it was horrendously stressful. When it started to pick up and got busier, it got more difficult – I was going to wholesalers and buying the stock, I was dealing with customer service, I was dispatching the orders, I was handling the returns. It got to the point where my nan and grandad were visiting for the weekend and they were packing parcels.”
It got to the point where my nan and grandad were visiting for the weekend and they were packing parcels.”
He admits the early days were tough, but is proud of the grit and determination it took to build the In The Style from nothing: “When you look at the really great [fast fashion] brands who have done fantastically well, they had quite big support mechanisms, sometimes through family, or they had a lot of money invested in them, so they knew what they were doing and went in with great funds.
“That’s brilliant, but I am really proud that we’ve grown so quickly by ourselves. It was a massive challenge.”
The first big break came when Frisby persuaded then The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) star Lauren Pope to create her own collection for the burgeoning brand. Frisby admits In The Style was “no doubt the least established” of a dozen retailers courting Pope. But his determination, coupled with the promise of a genuine collaboration, drew her in. When the collection went live in March 2014, it boosted sales and won In The Style precious press coverage.
Retailers can be squeamish about aligning their brands with reality TV stars, but Frisby recognised the appeal for In The Style’s young, female audience.
“It needed to be something our 16-to-25-year-old female audience was going to go for, something they were watching and fashion they were inspired by,” he says, claiming, “There wasn’t anyone at the time who was having celebrities design collections for them in this way, and we were touching that reality market. A lot of brands were thinking, ‘We’re not going to touch reality,’ whereas I saw a gap in the market there. I thought: ‘Actually, this is what our customer is into and what they are looking at.’”
In The Style has continued to harness the power of celebrity. Collections with Geordie Shore’s Charlotte Crosby and Made in Chelsea’s Binky Felstead have followed, as well as with Billie Faiers, another TOWIE regular.
Crosby says: “I wore a pair of [In The Style] shorts on Instagram back in 2013 and my fans went crazy for the brand, so I knew really quickly that we could create something amazing. We’ve been working together for three years now and I love that I have creative control on the styles – each range gets stronger and stronger. We launched my first activewear range earlier this year and it sold out.”
Frisby stresses that the collaborations are more than a quick publicity boost, arguing each one has brought a new customer to the In The Style fold: “I’ve turned down a lot of collaborations – I’ve always identified who I think is the right girl. It’s really important to me that they add something to the brand. Lauren, Charlotte and Binky are all very different girls. If you are a Binky fan and you love her clothing, you’re not going to like Lauren or Charlotte, so we were bringing new customers to the brand. There’s no point having someone on board who is very similar to our existing girls, because you’re just sharing their audience.”
But he was determined to build a credible fashion brand, rather than a brand known mostly for its celebrity connections. After the collection with Faiers in December 2015, he knew it was time to widen In The Style’s scope.
“I was quite comfortable with who we had, I thought, ‘We’ve nailed reality TV, now it’s about building In The Style as a brand.’ And that was my focus for a good year. The collaborations were working really well, but it was about how we could establish our own brand and grow both our product range and our audience.
“We focused our marketing on In The Style and expanded our product range, going from just dresses to playsuits, denim, tops, jackets, even sleepwear. People were coming to the site to buy Binky, but also buying own brand.”
In The Style campaign
Prices are kept keen across all of In The Style’s products, ranging from £4.99 for basic jersey camisoles to £54.99 for an embroidered denim jacket. The brand now sources from both the UK and China, staying at home for casual items and going east for dressier pieces.
The collaboration with Ashcroft, which launched in May this year, provided another opportunity to bring a more fashion-focused customer to the brand. Ashcroft has 743,000 Instagram followers and has an extremely engaged following, making her catnip for brands.
“Working with Sarah was about what was next for In The Style and widening our net – making a more fashion credible range. If you love reality TV and you like the girls, that’s fantastic. But if you’re not someone who does, it might put you off.”
The next big focus is international expansion, helped by the investment from Livingbridge. In The Style already ships to 140 countries but has a stronger presence in key markets such as the US and Australia in its sights. Improving charges for US customers has been the first step: next-day delivery now costs £12 and standard £6.
“It has all the ingredients necessary for a fashion capital,” says Dale Hicks, CEO of the Manchester Fashion Network. “It’s no accident there are so many businesses in the area: you’ve got the infrastructure and the talent.”
The city pulled together following May’s terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 people. Within 48 hours of the incident, In the Style had created a charity T-shirt emblazoned with Manchester’s symbolic bee. It went on to raise £100,000 for the “We Love Manchester” emergency fund – a particular point of pride for Frisby.
“The bee T-shirts were the proudest moment I’ve had in the business. To be able to make a decision to do something to help and give that amount of money was incredible and we’re looking to do more for charity going forward. We’ve realised we can, so why wouldn’t we?”
It’s all a long way from six dresses in Frisby’s spare room – not that the brand’s founder is standing still.
“A lot of people might think where we are now is enough but for me there’s so much more to go at. To me, it still feels like the same little business I built. I never sit back and say: ‘Wow, I’ve achieved everything I set out to do’ – because I haven’t. There’s still so much we can do.”