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The Drapers Interview: Nickyl Raithatha on Finery's first whirlwind year

Online womenswear brand Finery is rounding off its first year next month as chief executive and co-founder Nickyl Raithatha turns 33, and it prepares to ship its latest collection to selected John Lewis stores.

Finery's Nickyl Raithatha

Finery’s Nickyl Raithatha

Finery’s Nickyl Raithatha

As he welcomes Drapers into “the chaos that is the Finery office”, on the sixth floor of an office block overlooking the busy eastern end of London’s Oxford Street, Nickyl Raithatha confirms that creating, launching and managing a new brand has been “all consuming” over the past year, but there is plenty to celebrate.

It quickly becomes clear that the 32-year-old Londoner is not one to do things by halves, when he explains that in the middle of Finery’s whirlwind first year he got married in Bordeaux in July.

“My wife is Finery’s biggest customer, much to the dismay of my bank balance,” he quips.

With a background in finance and ecommerce and a CV that includes stints at Goldman Sachs and hedge fund Arrowgrass Capital, Raithatha is the first to admit he is not the most sartorially savvy: “I’ve said before that I’m a latecomer to fashion and I’m not sure I’ve actually arrived as yet,” he laughs. But he believes that in Finery he has found his calling, as it marries his analytical skills with his passion for seeing customers fall in love with products.

“It’s amazing to see people love what you create, so one of the best things for me right now is seeing people in our clothes on the street. I was so excited to see people at the Drapers Awards [in November] in our dresses,” he adds.

Rocket launch

He began to formulate the Finery concept when he was working for Berlin-based start-up incubator Rocket Internet from 2013 to 2014 as global chief executive for its ecommerce ventures, looking after fashion etailers The Iconic in Australia and Dafiti in South America, where his best friend and Harvard Business School classmate, Luca Marini, was a director.

Finery spring 16

Finery spring 16

Finery spring 16

Between them, they decided that establishing a brand with full autonomy over the products and the way they are promoted and sold was a more effective way of creating customer loyalty than as a retailer selling third-party products. They identified a gap in the market for an affordable, design-led British brand and contacted former Asos.com fashion director and Topshop buying director Caren Downie on LinkedIn about the new venture.

Raithatha approached his former employer Rocket Internet-backed Global Fashion Group for an undisclosed sum, and established the management team comprising himself as chief executive, Marini as chief operating officer and Downie as brand director.

He says the trio works “in a sort of left brain, right brain kind of way”, balancing out the creative and design-led side of the business with the data-driven analytical elements of ecommerce.

Downie brought on board former colleagues Emma Farrow, who was previously designer director at Topshop, and Rachel Morgans, former buying director at Asos to create a heavyweight design team and Finery launched in February 2015 with a 150-piece clothing, footwear and accessories collection priced between £19 for a jersey top and £345 for a leather jacket.

New womenswear brands come and go all the time, jostling to find a gap in an ever-crowded market but Finery managed to get the press on side from the launch: Grazia called it “grown-up and covetable, but not a wallet-destroyer” and Vogue described it as “chic, shockingly affordable, and very well designed”.

“Our idea from the start was to bring the culture of a design house with the pricing model of a high street, to create the first high street brand where 100% of the products are designed in house and we’ve done that,” Raithatha says.

Our idea from the start was to bring the culture of a design house with the pricing model of a high street

Quality and provenance were important considerations for Finery in terms of sourcing, so embroidered and embellished products typically come from Indian suppliers, tailoring from Romania, leather from Italy, knitwear from Turkey and jersey from the Far East. Around 30% of the collection is manufactured in the UK, which Raithatha maintains is important as a British brand.

Jenny Holloway, director of north London-based manufacturer Fashion Enter, which produces jersey products for the brand, says Finery’s attention to detail is refreshing: “It is so specific and on-point because they really do care about their end customer, ensuring that every single garment is as good on the outside as it is on the inside.

“Their styling is purposely left to the last possible moment too, to capture the right trends that are ‘of the moment’. They have really managed to identify the absolute niche market which is buoyant and growing.”

As it has been running for less than a year, Raithatha will not provide sales or profit figures but says the business is trading well ahead of expectations.

“It’s probably not hard to guess just from the seniority of the team we had on board – when we launched, we had some pretty ambitious targets for our first season and our first year, so it’s amazing that we’ve beaten all of those.

“Our second season is significantly bigger than the first, and we are seeing growth month on month, so currently we are 20% ahead of the previous month, which is very exciting.”

Finery spring 16

Finery spring 16

Finery spring 16

For spring 16, Finery expects new bestsellers to include block-colour gowns, lurex T-shirts, various styles of jumpsuits and lots of blown-up graffiti prints.

The business is on track to hit 3 million visits to the site in its first 12 months, which Raithatha says is probably double what he expected.

“It’s really a testament to the way everything has come together: the customer reaction, the press reaction, the way influencers and social media have taken to it – so everything is good and moving in the right direction.”

Loyal following

One thing he is really pleased with is the level of customer loyalty – repeat purchases are higher than for any other business he has worked in, although he declines to give specific figures.

Finery launched wholesale with fellow Rocket International-backed fashion etailers Zalora in Asia, The Iconic in Australia and Namshi in the Middle East, when it debuted last February and has since launched at six Brown Thomas stores in Ireland, following a pop-up trial in summer.

“It was really exciting for us because customers could actually touch and feel the product, sitting next to other brands,” he says. “The fact that the reaction was so good was something we all expected but was a relief nonetheless.”

The latest development is that Finery has signed a wholesale deal to launch around 60% of the range for spring 16 in six John Lewis stores: London’s Oxford Street, Peter Jones on Sloane Street, Birmingham, Liverpool, the Trafford Centre and Cheadle, after a successful pop-up trial within the Loved&Found womenswear concept in Birmingham in December.

Jo Bennett, head of womenswear buying at John Lewis, calls Finery “a unique new and interesting brand” that suits the department store’s wider fashion strategy under fashion buying director Ed Connolly’s leadership.

“It’s a huge partnership for us and a big step,” says Raithatha. “We wanted to make sure we were ready to service them properly and that we had the roots of our brand a little bit in the ground. John Lewis is a partner that we chose very carefully – they stand for trust and quality as their key values, and I think that resonates exactly with what Finery is about.”

There are no plans to extend this to further retailers at the moment, although Raithatha is open to exploring other opportunities as they arise.

John Lewis is a partner that we chose very carefully – they stand for trust and quality as their key values

Similarly, he dismisses the launch of menswear any time soon, as there are plenty of other category or department extensions they would do first, such as petite or plus size for example. Nevertheless, he does not rule out Finery’s own stores as a possibility further down the line.

“We’d always look at opportunities to bring our brand to life for customers – we could potentially look to work with different stores or retailers in new ways,” he says, with a non-committal shrug.

For the moment Raithatha is focused on getting the basics right and doing what they do really well. He credits an agile, youthful team (around 25 of the total headcount of 30 are under the age of 30) who live and breathe the brand and close relationships with suppliers like logistics partners CML and courier firm Freight Brokers, for maintaining the brand’s identity through the customer journey.

Finery spring 16

Finery spring 16

Finery spring 16

“The end-to-end journey is something you have to focus on as an online brand, right from telling the story through marketing, through browsing and making a purchase down all the way to receiving your package,” he says. “We’ve put a huge amount of effort into making sure we had a cohesive brand identity across touchpoints and the fact we’ve seen such high engagement from customers tells us that it’s working but we’re constantly learning.”

He says the company culture feels very nimble, which is something he wants to retain for as long as possible: “I spent last weekend answering customer service emails while Hannah, who does our PR, sometimes writes copy for the newsletters – everyone is mobilised and motivated around that vision and is ready to help and adapt where needed.”

Overall he thinks they got most of the big things right from the launch – for example, the range of styles across dresses , which makes up 30% of the range, was key – but then there were other things that came as more of a surprise, such as the popularity of jumpsuits or that coloured shoes tend to sell better than black ones.

“You have so much data coming to you every day and what we have really learned is to focus on the winning categories. So while we still offer the wide range, we are able to work much tighter in thinking that every single piece has a reason to be in the collection. Every piece has to be unique, exclusive and exciting for the customer rather than just filling gaps.

“If I knew what I know now, I’d have probably started a bit smaller to take a bit of the pressure off,” he muses. “But then we wouldn’t have made so much noise or learnt as much as we did, so actually maybe I would do it all again.”

  • · Finery’s chief operating officer Luca Marini will be speaking at Drapers Digital Forum on April 28 at 155 Bishopsgate in London.

 

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