Business of Fashion boss: ‘People on the inside don’t see how exciting it is’


How founder Imran Amed turned a bedroom blog into a must read for a trillion dollar industry

Imran Amed, founder of Business of Fashion Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Imran Amed, founder of Business of Fashion Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Not long ago Imran Amed would sneak, blag or beg his way into fashion shows and stand furtively at the back. After years as a management consultant, he was transfixed by this strange industry – the clothes, the characters, money swishing around and impoverished young designers – and he would blog about it. These days, he’s often to be found on the front row, seated next to the really important people. He has turned a blog which started on his sofa in 2007, Business of Fashion, , into one of the industry’s most influential sites.

These are interesting times to be a nimble, fast-moving fashion site with a focus on business. “We really feel like this is the year there will be a massive shift in the way things work and a ripple effect on the media,” he says. He is referring to Burberry’s recent announcement, followed by other designers including Tom Ford, that its clothes will be available the moment its catwalk show ends. This direct-to-consumer approach could not only reduce the influence of the traditional middleman – glossy magazines, with positively sluggish lead times – but affect them in other ways. “If lots of companies start doing this what is the impact on print advertising? It’s going to be very interesting.”

We meet on the day the sixth edition of the BoF print magazine comes out. It costs £6 for 35 pages, interesting pages full of pieces you don’t get in the glossies, but you may wonder who buys it.

Why would a digital company – a site with 850,000 monthly visitors, with an events arm and a growing fashion careers and recruitment portal – put out a physical magazine? It was mainly a marketing thing, says Amed, to launch the BoF500, a list of the 500 most powerful people in fashion. “Putting it in print added value to it.” A modern media company, he says, needs to exist in multiple spaces. So BoF has run events, including ambitious plans for a huge one – a kind of TED for the fashion industry – towards the end of the year, and “they need to exist in print, in digital, in social, in video”.

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Amed does everything from editing and writing to moderating comments and meeting industry contacts. “My main job is to get involved early deciding what pieces we’re going to concentrate on. We’re not a big company, not a big team, so I want to make sure we’re allocating [our resources] on things that are really fundamental and important to what people are thinking about.”

He wasn’t particularly interested in fashion growing up Calgary, Canada, except for religiously watching a fashion TV show hosted by the fashion writer Tim Blanks (now at BoF). Amed got an MBA from Harvard Business School, and came to London where he worked for consulting firm McKinsey. “My interest in fashion was very much from a consumer’s standpoint,” he says. After a few years, approaching his late 20s and feeling burnt out, he realised corporate consultancy wasn’t for him. He decided he loved the analytical side of his job, but wanted to apply it to something more creative. In 2005 a friend working for the British Fashion Council took him to fashion shows. “I started meeting these young designers. They would typically show up with piles of press and they had no idea how to take that attention and turn it into a business.”

Amed set up a company providing capital and expertise to designers but it folded within a year. Around the same time, he met star fashion bloggers including Scott Schuman, Diane Pernet and Susie Lau. “I didn’t really know what a blogger was,” he says with a laugh. “But I noticed they were all interpreting fashion through their own personal lens.” His personal lens, he realised, was business analysis.

He began to blog in January 2007 and continued to work as a fashion consultant. By 2013, BoF had, he says, “taken over my life. It was a project of passion but it wasn’t sustainable to continue in that form – I was doing it from my apartment and it became too much. I guess when the market started approaching me and said ‘what are you going to do with this thing? Can we buy it?’ I started wondering if maybe there is something of value here.”

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He decided to focus on the site full time, raised more than £1.25m from well-connected people in the industry including Carmen Busquets (one of the original Net-a-Porter funders) and luxury giant LVMH. Was he nervous about having investors with a vested interest? “They were necessary because I would never have been able to hire the quality of people I needed without being able to pay them.” Whether they would compromise the site’s independence “was something I thought about very carefully. Managing that is as much about making it clear with people up front about how you work. We inserted clauses guaranteeing our editorial independence.”

For all the industry’s breathless excitement about BoF, there are similar and bigger offerings. Woman’s Wear Daily is the closest example, but BoF is catching up – its 850,000 monthly visitors are not far off WWD’s 1.1m; it has 1.5m Twitter followers to the US site’s 2.4m. If it lags behind WWD’s ability to regularly break news, it makes up for it in analysis. Amed’s 10,000-word piece on the fall-out from Net-a-Porter’s merger with YOOX last month, delivered in four parts to suit its smartphone-using audience, was a gripping read and may quieten the dissenters who say BoF is little more than an aggregator. More than half of its content is original, says Amed (the rest is financial reporting syndicated from places such as Bloomberg and Reuters, and a “daily digest” of articles from around the web).

Revenue comes from sponsorship and advertising, and from the BoF careers site – fashion companies including Victoria Beckham and Paul Smith pay a subscription to post vacancies. Is BoF profitable? “Not yet,” says Amed. “We’re still growing. Our new focus is on building education courses. I don’t have a timeline or a ticking clock, my investors don’t either – we’re all thinking about this as a long-term proposition, building something that’s going to last.”

Would he introduce a paywall? “Potentially. I think if you create good content then people should be willing to pay for it. People are down on media companies now and I understand why. I think it’s because there are these archaic models which don’t necessarily work any more. But … we live in an era where content drives the conversation.”

There will be more long reads, an idea that came from Vanity Fair’s editor Graydon Carter. “He said to me that every few months or so, you should do a piece that the whole fashion industry wants to read.” And for all his name-dropping, and the impressive way he has networked, Amed still retains an outsider’s eye for a trillion-dollar business many people still don’t take seriously. “Fashion is always seen as somewhat frivolous and self-indulgent,” he says. “And I think people on the inside maybe don’t see or understand how exciting and diverse a business it is. So I think perhaps it took someone like me to be an observer.”

[By Emine Saner] [From The Gaurdian] [Read More]

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