The Mail on Sunday
No thanks, I won’t be buying a helicopter – or a football club
Fashion boss who scooped £200million in cash still drives a seven-year-old car (but it IS a Rolls-Royce)
WHEN Mahmud Kamani floated his family fashion firm Boohoo.com for £700 million in March, his phone started ringing. ‘Someone rang to ask if I wanted to buy a jet. Someone even asked if I wanted to buy a football club. I said to him: “Are you on drugs?’”
But so far Kamani, despite being as wealthy as Simon Cowell, has eschewed the trappings of his dotcom millionaire status.
‘Nothing has changed. Since I floated I have not bought a helicopter, no new cars, no new house. I’m not a lottery winner, I can’t just take the money and walk away,’ he says. ‘This is my life and I have to remember I’ve got a big job here. I’ve got people betting on me to succeed.’
So far those people who bet on Kamani may be a little disappointed. As with many dotcom firms, such as rival fashion group Asos, shares have plummeted in the past two months, by 40 per cent for Boohoo.
Kamani cashed in a healthy chunk
I’m not a lottery winner. I can’t just take the money. People are betting on me to succeed
of his share of the firm at the float, raking in more than £200million in cash. But unlike some other flotations, where owners have sold most of their stakes, he still owns 24 per cent and relatives’ holdings boost the family stake to over 40 per cent.
A recent survey estimated the total family wealth to be £300 million. Kamani shakes his head at the comparison with Simon Cowell, but only as a gesture of exasperation at people’s interest in personal fortune.
Before the Boohoo float, Kamani was a name recognised by few outside the rag trade. Now he is one of fashion’s rising stars. But Kamani, whose language can be as colourful as the dresses he sells, insists his feet are still firmly on the ground.
He puts the recent boom and slump in dotcom stock down to stock market traders ‘playing the video game’ at their screens.
‘This is not a bubble. This company is not just an idea or a piece of paper. It is real. We have 1,000 people working hard,’ he says. Kamani is also utilitarian in his dress. He wears a sharp jacket over a black Hugo Boss T-shirt and has made an effort not to get distracted deciding what to wear each day. ‘I have 50 piled up in my bedroom,’ he says of the T-shirts.
‘Some people like golf, others like football. I like work. People need a sense of self worth and work provides that. Work is good for your soul,’ says Kamani, who is married and turns 50 this year.
The firm’s sales were £109million last year and it is setting up infrastructure, including a bigger warehouse, to enable it to hit £1billion.
Kamani walks over to a map of the world which covers an entire wall of his Manchester office. He draws an imaginary circle around the UK.
‘At the moment that is our business. But look at the opportunity,’ he says indicating swathes of Europe, the East and the US where the company is making headway. Last year overseas shoppers accounted for a third of sales. French and Spanish language websites have been launched this year and more are planned. Australia is already a key market and the US base is growing.
Boohoo is now something of an institution among Britain’s youth. With free delivery and price tags of maxi dresses at £15 it is not hard to see why it might appeal to cashstrapped teens, students and recession-struck twentysomethings.
‘Who wants to get the car or bus to the shopping centre when you can buy from us and spend the day doing something else?’ asks Kamani.
His family began their journey in Gujarat, India, where his grandfather went to school with Mahatma Gandhi. They moved to Kenya, but in 1968 his father Abdullah left the wartorn country with his wife, four chil- dren and just a few hundred pounds, and set up in Manchester, selling clothes to locals. By the early 2000s the firm was selling nearly £50million of clothing a year to shops all over Europe including Select, Pilot, Mark One and Bay Trading.
That success brought trappings of wealth, and while he has not bought any new cars with his newfound fortune he does drive a black and silver Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible, which he bought in 2007. But the world has changed from the early days of the family fashion empire and Kamani says he was one of the few to spot the coming revolution.
‘Primark was taking over and no one would recognise that. I could see it was a threat, but most retail- ers had this ostrich attitude and one by one they began to disappear,’ he says. Some years before, Kamani’s brother Nurez had bought the name Boohoo.com for £10,000 and thought it might be worth something.
Kamani was dismissive at first. But in 2006 he revived the idea of setting up online and cutting out the high street all together. Boohoo manages its own manufacturing and design, sourcing clothes from factories from Leicester to Hong Kong.
Today there are 450 staff at the head office in Dale Street, Manchester, double the number of just a year ago. There are 550 more in the warehouse in Burnley, Lancashire.
Joint chief executive Carol Kane, regarded as the one with a finger on the UK’s fashion pulse, is also based at the Manchester HQ, as are trading director Jalal and two of Kamani’s three sons. Boohoo recently secured a 50,000 sq ft office in the next street to cope with expansion.
‘I want this business to stay in Manchester,’ says Kamani. ‘I didn’t want us to move to a sterile industrial park in the middle of nowhere.’
As for opening a bricks and mortar shop he shakes his head again. This time it is a definite no.
‘I can’t imagine having 50 shops. If you look at what is happening out there it would drive you nuts,’ he says. ‘I’d rather sit in the backstreets of Manchester and have a shop in everybody’s home on their computer screen.’