MEET THE MEN WHO CHOOSE WHAT YOU WEAR ON A SATURDAY NIGHT
They’re under 35, millionaires and they party with A-listers. But how do they know what YOU want to wear?
What have fashion brands Missguided and In The Style got in common? Well, apart from the fact they’re both online stores we spend our lunch hours trawling through and our fave celebs are obsessed with their clothes, both are run by young guys who knew next to nothing about fashion and business. And are now hugely successful and hugely rich.
The concept behind the brands is simple yet genius – both men realised there was a gap in the market for harnessing the power of social-media stars to sell clothes. And not only do these celebrities wear the clothes, they design their own ranges. Nicole Scherzinger and Pamela Anderson have both fronted campaigns for Missguided, while Billie Faiers, Binky Felstead and Charlotte Crosby all design ranges for In The Style. These brands stretch their influence all the way from Instagram, where Binky will model a new dress from her collection, to actual IRL stores – as well as the first, flagship store in Westfield Stratford, Missguided have just opened their second shop, in Bluewater Kent.
Unsurprisingly, these webbased companies are raking it in, and have their fingers firmly on the pulse of what’s fash. That’s why it’s all the more surprising when heat meets the men behind these mega-brands. They’re not fashion college graduates nor Philip Green-style magnates. They’re young, unassuming guys, who started from nothing and have made a fortune. Nitin Passi, founder of Missguided, admits he “didn’t have a clue about women’s fashion” when he launched his business eight years ago. The 34 year old, whose grandfather owned a knitwear factory, knew he wanted to set up a fast-fashion brand, but didn’t know how. So, with a £50,000 loan from his dad, he did the only thing you can do: fake it until you make it. “I bought some stock from the wholesalers, then off I went,” he says. “My first bit of marketing was putting it on my Facebook wall – I got an order from a cousin’s friend. What put us on the map was when, in 2012, I got to meet Nicole Scherzinger. She loved the brand and we did a deal with her that catapulted us to the next level. We’ve now got a lot of influencers – they’re a key part of our marketing strategy.” And the proof is in the numbers.
“I turned over £1,000 in the first month,” Nitin tells us. “By November, eight months later, it was over £100,000, and we turned over £1million in our first financial year.” And he was just getting started. “This year, we made £206million, and sold in 120 countries,” he adds. A pretty incredible feat for a guy who didn’t know “what the hell a millennial woman wears”.
Adam Frisby set up In The Style three-and-a-half years ago, but his online business is hot on Missguided’s heels. He was 26 when an idea struck him – why not embrace the power of social media to launch a fashion brand?
“I’ve always had an interest in fashion, celebrities and social media, and I thought they could be connected – there’s a gap in the market,” he says.
Adam took his idea and ran with it with proverbial peanuts – £986 to be exact, which he was paid after being made redundant from his job helping disabled people find employment. He started by buying six dresses and using social media to push them
to the public. Then he bought 12, then 18. At the same time, he looked for celebrity influencers.
“I got a meeting with [former TOWIE star] Lauren Pope,” he says. “For me, it was never a case of, ‘Let’s sign this person, put their name to it, earn money and see you later.’ It was a partnership. Often, celebrities put their name to something when really it’s not them, and they have no input. That was never what I wanted.”
Adam credits Lauren for giving him his big break. At the time, he was working from his bedroom, buying and packaging stock himself. But after working with her, Adam signed up three more celebs with huge influence. Charlotte, Billie and Binky each have very distinct personalities and corresponding styles so, with all three designing ranges, Adam can provide for a pretty epic spectrum of consumer.
And now, with blogger Sarah Ashcroft also on board, he’s reaping the benefits from a whole other arena. The fashion boss, who left school at the age of 14 without a single qualification to his name, understands that social media stars are celebrities in their own right, with major influence at their fingertips.
So, guts and initiative were essential in setting up their brands, but how the heck did Nitin and Adam know what to sell us, when we don’t even know how to dress ourselves in the morning? “I wish I knew the answer,” says Adam. “It’s a weird feeling – I’ll sit in design meetings and say, ‘Nope, this isn’t right.’ The truth is that I always follow my gut instinct . I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s worked so far. There have been mistakes down the line, but that’s how you build a business.”
Nitin puts his skills down to experience. “I asked a lot of questions and formed an eye,” he says. “I still sign off every single product. I’m in tune with what works and we’re now in a position to get a reaction from customers and get things in stock quickly.”
But what’s it like being the friend, and boss, of these celebs? “Maintaining my friendships is important – I can’t give away too many stories as I’ll get in trouble,” says Nitin. “I did go to Ibiza with Nicole to celebrate the launch of her second collection, which was fun. But I don’t get star-struck.”
Adam is proud of the close relationships he has with his celeb ambassadors, but in the boardroom, he’s the boss. “Sometimes Charlotte will want something with a ridiculous slogan on, and I’ll put my foot down and say no,” he laughs. “But there are times when I say, ‘OK, you helped build this partnership, let’s try it’. I didn’t know the girls before, but they say our relationship comes naturally because they buy into me as a person.”
The rate of both brands’ success is jaw-dropping. Adam now employs 96 people, and has just moved from Manchester to Salisbury to accommodate its growth, while Nitin now heads a company of 780 employees. Visit the Missguided HQ and you’ll find sleep pods, ping-pong tables and meeting rooms with swings for seats. Even his office has a spiral suitcase and a bar. Both men are looking at epic sales in the next financial year, too.
They might be unlikely fashionistas, but somehow it works: they sell us what to wear.
‘Sometimes I put my foot down with Charlotte Crosby’