London - Adam Frisby founded Manchester based fast fashion e-tailer In The Style in 2013 with just 1000 Pounds investment and no previous experience in starting or running a business, but the firm belief in his idea to build a fashion brand that tapped into the growing celebrity and social media culture. From his first high-profile collaboration with reality TV star Lauren Pope, In the Style has had successful partnerships with the likes of Geordie Shore’s Charlotte Crosby, Made in Chelsea’s Binky Felstead, Towie’s Billy Faiers, and most recently Dani Dyer, winner of this year’s Love Island, all proving a hit and appealing to In The Style’s predominantly 16 to 25-year-old female audience.
Despite its humble beginnings, the site has rapidly grown into one of the UK’s leading e-commerce players with a current annual turnover of 40 million Pounds, a database of over 1m engaged fashionistas and around 20 000 products available from the site at any one time. And what started in Frisby’s bedroom now occupies swanky 25000 sq ft headquarters in Manchester’s fashion district Salford. FashionUnited caught up with Frisby to discover what’s been driving the success of the brand and his plans going forward.
What’s your background and what prompted you to set up In The Style?
My background story is probably something I’m most proud of. My parents moved to Spain when I was 13 and I came back to the UK when I was 16, so I didn’t get the opportunity to get any qualifications and GCSEs at school. I couldn’t go to college or university, I just had to go straight into work. I started doing various jobs in hospitality, banking, recruitment. And then my brother had a serious accident and lost his sight. So I left my job and moved to Cornwall for six months to take care of him. I started working for a company which helped people with disabilities get back into work. That was really rewarding. Unfortunately, eventually the government contract was cut and I was made redundant.
I received 1000 pounds redundancy payment, and it was at that point one day when I was at home in my bedroom that the whole idea just came to my head. It just hit me that there was a really good opportunity with fashion, celebrity, influencers and social media. No one was really doing it at the time. I came up with the name, registered it online and got a friend’s help with the website, using the redundancy money to get started. And it all went from there, literally. I just had the idea and felt like this was going to work. I went to the wholesaler and bought six dresses, then 12 dresses, then went to 18 dresses - it literally was that story. It wasn’t until three months in that I had enough orders to then afford to have a little office and a proper base for the business.
You must have had an eye for fashion and an interest in celebrity?
I was always interested in the influencer / social media culture. And I was always interested in fashion anyway. I used to always look at what girls wear and recognise that they look amazing or on-trend. And it wasn’t until that idea came to my head that I realised, actually, these are all skills that I have. It all just fell into place.
Your business has grown phenomenally. Did you anticipate that it would take off as it did?
Because I have no business background, I started it a bit unknown. I didn’t have a business plan as such, or a set goal. Even family and friends would say to me that I’m crazy. But I always believed it was going to work. But I know it’s indeed crazy to have gone from nothing to £40m turnover, that is amazing, and in that respect it has exceeded my expectations. It’s been a phenomenal journey and it’s not until you sit back and talk about it in interviews like this that you appreciate how far we’ve come.
How would you describe the In The Style USP?
We’re obviously a fast fashion brand. The key thing to me is that we’re empowering females. I know it’s an easy statement to make, but it’s something that I truly believe in, it’s really important to me. One of the reasons I liked Dani Dyer, for example, as someone I wanted to work with, is because she truly supports all girls, she’s all about girls believing in girls, no matter what size etc. and that’s a real standout message for me and what In The Style is all about.
The other unique thing about In the Style is the influencer / celebrity model that we do – there’s no other brand out there that does a from-scratch-design-process. If you look at all the girls, including Dani, they come in, they sit down with the designers and go through everything that they would like, the shapes, fabrics, etc. We get the samples done, they come in, make amends. So when they actually bring out the campaign, it’s real, it’s authentic and not like someone who’s just put their face to a range. I think that’s unique in the market and still stands out to this day.
Collaborations with celebrities are a key part of your business. How did the first partnerships come about?
The first person I brought on was Lauren Pope. That was after about four months. When I look back now, I think it was probably quite gutsy to approach someone like Lauren, who had lots of brands who wanted to work with her. But she told me afterwards that she really bought into me and my vision and the fact that it’s a genuine partnership between us. From that day on I’ve always kept true to that. It’s really important to my brand that it’s authentic, credible and that it’s got longevity, it’s how I’ve built it, and every single collaboration has always been the same.
If you look at somebody like Dani coming out of Love Island as the winner, she had loads of offers of mega money deals. We definitely wouldn’t have been the highest on the list. But she believed in me, the vision and the brand. It was hard and still is to compete with some of the really big money brands, but I think our authenticity shows through.
Back in the day there was a certain snobbery around reality TV stars, a lot of brands weren’t doing it. But I thought to myself, girls want someone who is attainable and relatable, and that’s really important. Where other brands perhaps didn’t want to touch them, we did, and we were the first to do it. Maybe I was naïve, maybe brave, but I had nothing really to lose.
What are your criteria in terms of celebrity fit?
Since the days of Lauren, we’ve had loads of opportunities for collaborations, and there have been quite a few that I have turned down because I didn’t feel they were right for the brand. The important thing for me is that the girls we bring on-board are relatable, and that our girls look at them and think ‘I could dress like that’. They all offer something different. The reason we had, for example, Charlotte, Binky, Billy, they all had different styles, but they are all relatable and very diverse. The key thing for me is: What are they bringing to the table? Are customers going to be excited by them? And are they likeable and are they girls that people are going to want to buy from?
What has been your most successful celebrity collaboration to date?
So far it was Dani. It’s hard to say fully, because back in the day when we brought Charlotte Crosby on almost 4 ½ years ago, we were tiny, but this was huge for us, and we made a massive impact on the market. But in terms of sales, Dani has been a record breaker. We had in the end nearly 100 000 sign-ups for early access. She brought over half a million new people to the site for the launch, and it sold out in no time.
How do you differentiate yourself from other fast fashion players? Who do you see as your competitors?
The key thing for me is to focus on and do our own thing. You’re never going to get ahead by copying someone else, so I don’t really look at other brands and what they are doing. It’s frustrating to me when I see other people copying In the Style, but then I think we’re already looking ahead at the next thing, so it’s not that important in the grand scheme. But in terms of competitors, obviously you’ve got the likes of Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, Missguided etc. who I would look at and say they are doing what they’re doing very well. Technically they are competitors, but I try to think that we’re in our own market, there’s lots to go around, and we don’t have to concentrate on competitors.
What is driving the rapid growth of In the Style?
I think fast fashion clearly has got its place; you see lots of negativity currently surrounding fast fashion, but the truth is, if you’re looking at other brands that sell a dress for £60, £70 and £80, they are using the same fabrics that we use, but our margins are a little less and we are more affordable. I think that that’s really important because people can’t afford to be spending over £100 on a dress for a night. So there is our affordability. And obviously, being online is a key part; it’s convenient for our customers. They are on social media, and it’s definitely helped that we are at the forefront of that.
You received investment last year from private equity firm Livingbridge. What has this enabled you to do with the business?
Yes, last year I decided to take investment. I had a lot of offers on the table when the business started to grow, and I was always a bit hesitant, but the biggest problem with any business is ultimately cashflow, and as the business is growing, it actually gets more difficult because obviously you’ve got a lot more costs. So it was a case of manifesting: What do I want to achieve with the business? And that was international expansion and to continue to grow and develop the brand. I felt that taking on some investment would allow me to do that. I didn’t lose a lot of the business at all, I’m still the majority shareholder, I still have control. But this gave me the opportunity to invest in the business and grow the marketing, the infrastructure and ultimately to scale it. And I’ve learned a lot from this process, it can be a great step. Sometimes you have to recognise when you need some support.
Are there any export markets that are a key focus for you?
The UK is about 85 per cent of our business currently, but 15 per cent is international, and we’re looking to grow that to 20 / 25 per cent over the next year. We’re looking at the US, Australia, and areas of Europe. We’ve already started to see little successes, as we invest more into it. We already ship to 180 countries in the world, we’re definitely accessible to people now, so it’s about growing that awareness in other markets and progressing that. We’re already looking at ambassadors in local markets. We’ve just launched with Laura Jade Stone, who is an influencer in Australia, so that helps with awareness and to roll out our model internationally.
You said you didn’t really have a goal when you started out. Do you have one now?
It’s definitely different now. With the investment, we’ve definitely got targets and plans for the business. For me, my goal post stretches all the time. I’m one of those people who, once I achieve something, I move on to the next thing. I’m always ambitious. The ideal is to grow internationally and get to £100m of turnover over the next three years and expand the international side to 40 per cent of the business. At that point, don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably have another goal, but for now, this is my focus.
What’s next for you in the short term?
We’ve just signed a new influencer, CC Clarke, who’s got 1.5 m followers. She’s actually a beauty blogger who has great styling and a great audience, and we’re about to launch a new range with her. And we’ve got another two influencers signed that I can’t talk about just yet. One will be launched in February, and we’re looking to do a bit of a London fashion take-over, which is something fast fashion brands don’t do. But I’m keen to break some boundaries and show that fast fashion can be in the London Fashion Week arena, why not? And then potentially one around April time as well. So we’re looking to build on the influencer model for sure, and the big focus is, as I said, on international expansion. There’s loads going on.
Who is still on your wishlist in terms of celebrity / influencer collaborations?
It’s probably unrealistic, but at this moment in time the perfect candidates would be Little Mix. Not only are they amazing and beautiful, but I think that they stand for female empowerment and diversity, and that is so important to me. Even someone like Anne-Marie, who is a big music star but has always been about ‘wear what you want to wear and be comfortable in your own skin’. That’s such a key message for young girls and something I feel very strongly about. They would be the perfect people. It’s about fashion, but the message goes beyond fashion.
Photos courtesy of the brand