Just over a decade ago, Imran Amed was a fashion blogger with a novel idea for keeping readers up to date: an email newsletter. Today, his website, Business of Fashion, receives more than 1.5m unique visitors a month, and Mr Amed’s daily newsletter now has more than 570,000 subscribers.
That following has made Mr Amed, a former McKinsey consultant with no formal training in fashion or journalism, one of the most influential figures in the fashion industry.
BoF’s events in the UK, US and China have attracted speakers ranging from designers and influencers like Stella McCartney and Kim Kardashian to Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, who discussed how data, fashion and politics mix.
“We are a catalyst for change in this industry,” Mr Amed said in a recent interview at BoF’s headquarters in Fitzrovia, central London. “We have an ability to raise awareness of critical issues that this industry must address.”
Amid the glamour, BoF is also showing stellar growth. Annual sales increased by more than 50 per cent each year between 2013 and 2018. That speaks to the London-based company’s success in building a sustainable media business at a time when many far better-funded digital news outlets have suffered from changes to the Facebook news feed and other algorithmic disruptions that have come to dominate distribution since BoF was founded and set up its website in 2007.
The daily digest newsletter launched in 2008, initially as an aggregation of fashion stories from around the web as well as Mr Amed’s own posts. It is still at the core of the BoF offering.
“I know people think that email is an archaic tool in the age of Slack and instant messaging but it is a really democratic platform that everybody uses,” Mr Amed said. “If you become one of those emails that people come to trust and open every single day, that’s an incredibly powerful platform for building a direct relationship. It can’t be disintermediated by changes in an algorithm.”
It is an approach that several media start-ups, from Axios to The Skimm, have also followed.
But because BoF, despite its sometimes glitzy subject matter, is serving a specific industry, it has been able to find a paying audience, too. After raising $2.5m in seed financing in 2013, BoF Professional launched in August 2016, offering access to exclusive content and events. It now has more than 35,000 paying members in 125 countries, with renewal rates above 80 per cent. Annual subscriptions cost $240 in the US, £216 in the UK and €259.60 in the EU.
“Our approach has been slow . . . not slow, measured,” Mr Amed said. “The company is growing at a very healthy but manageable pace. I think that is critical to growing something of high quality.”
While BoF competes with traditional industry publications such as WWD and Drapers, as well as more recent entrants such as Vogue Business, being a digital native has its advantages. More than half of BoF’s readers are under 34, allowing it to capitalise on the growing influence and purchasing power of millennials in fashion.
That, and the opportunity to expand into adjacent industries such as beauty and jewellery, or create new services such as an education platform, is what attracted investors such as LVMH, Index Ventures, Felix Capital and LocalGlobe in a Series A funding round in 2015. While the amount raised is undisclosed, the funds have allowed BoF to keep investing in expansion; it is not yet profitable.
The London-based investors at Index, LocalGlobe and Felix are more typically found backing tech companies.
“I call us the fashion nerds,” said Mr Amed. “A big part of what we are building here is digital products . . . We are competing with Instagram and Uber for real estate [on a smartphone’s home screen] so our standards have to be as high as those companies.”
Some digital media groups such as BuzzFeed or Vice have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years — even if they were forced to refocus and cut staff in certain areas to adapt to changes such as Facebook’s decision last year to prioritise friends and family over articles in the news feed. But Mr Amed is insistent that BoF’s expansion should remain steady rather than stratospheric.
“We have specifically not taken the approach to raise hundreds of millions of dollars of funding,” he said. “You could raise a lot of money and acquire a lot of traffic in a very short period of time but if it’s the wrong traffic . . . it’s not the right model for us.”
This article has been amended to reflect that annual subscriptions for BoF Professional cost $240 in the US, £216 in the UK and €259.60 in the EU.
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