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Wardrobe builder

After taking the reins at My-Wardrobe, David Worby wants to whip the etailer into shape by sharpening its offer and dropping menswear.

Arriving at My-Wardrobe.com HQ in Camden, the office is bustling with a camera crew preparing sound equipment and lighting for what Drapers is told is a “top secret” Channel 4 TV programme. Very intriguing.

What is clear from this, and the general buzz, is that this business is a hub of activity and during our chat with new chief executive David Worby his phone rarely stops bleeping with emails, calls and reminders. This is a man seriously in demand.

Worby joined the etailer from Harrods in June and is its driving force, with founder Sarah Curran now taking a back-seat role. “Sarah is our founder, she obviously always will be,” says Worby. “But operationally she’s not part of the business, in terms of its day-to-day running. She’s still on the board and therefore she still has an influence.”

First on Worby’s agenda has been plans to grow the business, although he is keen to point out that My-Wardrobe is already successful. “It just needs to become bigger,” he explains. “Changes are more around how we grow faster [rather] than anything more fundamental.”

Just a few months into the role when he meets with Drapers, Worby has already set about making staff changes, drafting in people who, as he says, have a track record of doing what he believes My-Wardrobe needs to do.

The premium etailer has thus bolstered its team with the newly created roles of trading director and editor-in-chief. Joanna Stephenson, former senior online marketing manager at Debenhams, has joined as trading director.

Newly appointed editor-in-chief Nicola Copping, who was previously editor of Harrods.com, will oversee the editorial and creative direction for the business, driving the development of editorial content across My-Wardobe’s ecommerce platforms.

Worby adds: “We are principally a fashion business, but because we are a fashion ecomm business we need to bring in the skills that can manage in an ecomm world, understanding customer journeys, paying points, exit points, bounce rates. All those wonderful things that exist and the data that exists in an ecomm world, and find a way to improve our website and our customers’ experience.”

Worby is a man with a mission and as part of this growth trajectory he wants My-Wardrobe to be ahead of the trends.

Though with Net-A-Porter having cornered the luxury market online and Asos doing the same at the volume end, My-Wardrobe operates in the difficult terrain ‘in between’ the two etail power houses. Worby acknowledges there is work to be done.

“Our brand profile hasn’t kept up with the pace we set in the early years,” he explains.

“So we need to do some work to raise the profile of that brand set, improve the quality and get back to being first for fashion. We need to move that customer cycle towards the front end of the season, where it was originally.

That will give us a better quality of customer who can rely on us to offer the must-haves.”

Although My-Wardrobe has a regular “churn” of brands, Worby says in the next 12 to 18 months there will be a faster turnaround. “I would hope within a year the brand set we have now would have gone through a transformational change,” he adds. The etailer sells between 160 and 180 womenswear collections, which could rise to 250 as it looks to introduce up-and-coming labels.

Stine Bering, wholesale manager at womenswear brand 2nd Day, is “delighted” to see My-Wardrobe catering to “the UK’s most fashion-savvy crowd”, calling the etailer both “innovative and forward thinking”.

Worby says My-Wardrobe will be on the hunt for brands that are “not widely available, cool and edgy”, and will concentrate on looking at local designers in international markets, beginning with the introduction of Scandinavian womenswear brands Dagmar and Bruuns Bazaar for spring 13.

Dagmar chief executive Katarina Roger says: “Mixing up the brand selection and being more fashion-forward shows us that My-Wardrobe is entering a new phase. In today’s market it’s important to be creative and to have your own identity – My-Wardrobe is doing just that.”

In October, My-Wardrobe announced plans to ditch its menswear offer, a decision that might come as a surprise, given that this sector of the market is recording growth. Earlier this month, luxury brand Burberry reported a 5% rise in wholesale revenue in its first-half results, driven by men’s accessories and clothing.

Launched in 2009, menswear makes up about 18% to 20% of My-Wardrobe’s overall sales, which reached £12.7m in the year to June 30, 2011. However, Worby says it is not the brand’s “heartland” and that he wants “to focus on the parts of the business that will really make a difference”.

With its renewed focus, My-Wardrobe’s international expansion strategy will have a fresh lease of life. “We’ve got aspirations to speed up our performance in our international operations,” says Worby. “We have offices in Australia, the Middle East and Scandinavia.

We need to ramp those up and really begin to see a better yield on those [markets]. They are doing fantastically well but we think there is more scope for opportunity.”

My-Wardrobe will look to replicate its model in other parts of the world, with the US and Germany being prime targets. “The evidence suggests that wherever we put our footprint down internationally our customers react very well. Therefore I’m inclined to believe that globally the opportunity is probably greater,” adds Worby.

My-Wardrobe mines local knowledge in each territory it penetrates to tailor its offer to each country. For example, after conducting research the etailer decided in February to open a high street store in Oslo, Norway that its customers can pick up deliveries from.

At present, UK sales make up 72% of overall business, but Worby anticipates this could soon tip the other way. “We are still predominantly a UK business but I do see a model in two to two-and-a-half years from now that our international business could be bigger than our domestic business.”

Worby is not afraid to admit that the UK market is facing a difficult time. “Our business was formed in the UK and that’s where its bedrock is,” he says. “But the growth levels we’ve seen in the past couple of seasons in the UK have been single digit rather than big double-digit growth rates.”

However, Worby does say there is room for growth in the domestic market. He adds: “We don’t really have a business outside of the Southeast and if you look at urban centres in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Bristol there are catchments of consumers that entirely fit our perfect match. We just haven’t yet found the way to reach out to them.”

Worby says there are other challenges facing the market such as fragmentation, slowing growth rates, and adapting to online. He forecasts that tough times are still ahead, warning that there will be further “casualties”.

However, with My-Wardrobe still a young, reasonably small company, Worby believes it is “light-footed, agile and nimble” enough to navigate the choppy waters and seize the chance to prosper.

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