For London's fashion start-ups, it's being social that counts

Wed May 27, 2015 12:50pm EDT
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By Li-mei Hoang and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - When Chris Morton was setting up a fashion e-commerce company five years ago, he spent a lot of time listening to online music service Spotify.

He realized the web player was doing something fashion sites were not; it was curating playlists of tracks, from obscure and mainstream labels, tailored to his tastes.

This idea led to the creation of Lyst, a website that enables its community to shop from an inventory of millions of items, follow designers and create personalized lists of brands to buy from. It already has 3 million users a month, and Morton aims to grow to around 20 million in the next five years.

"These are a little bit like fashion mix tapes," he said. "They are collections of items curated by our brands or partners that are great ways to discover."

While Spotify was an inspiration for Morton, other London-based online retail entrepreneurs, like Farfetch founder and CEO José Neves, are using tricks learned from social media to create fashion communities that together discover, share and, most importantly, buy.

The web-based fashion and footwear market in Britain was worth $13.2 billion in 2014, according to business research firm Euromonitor International. It predicts that the sector will grow to $16.7 billion by 2019, while sales at traditional stores are forecast to slip slightly over the same period.

Established high street names like Next are already strong in online, as are e-commerce specialists like ASOS, but venture capital funding is backing newer models.

"The UK has produced some of the most successful fashion tech companies," said Camilla Dolan, Investment Manager at MMC Ventures, which has more than 125 million pounds ($192 million) under management, including at sustainable fashion company Wool and the Gang.   Continued...

Chris Morton, CEO and cofounder of Lyst poses for a photograph at his office in London, Britain May 14, 2015. Picture taken May 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth