In the battle to build a dominant position in fashion’s booming online luxury market, Ssense has flown somewhat under the radar. That changed this week, when the Montreal-based multi-brand e-tailer that pioneered the sale of luxury streetwear to millennials announced Sequoia Capital China had taken a minority stake in the company. The deal valued Ssense at more than $4 billion.
That’s a bigger valuation than MyTheresa, the Munich-based luxury e-commerce site that went public earlier this year. And though Ssense is still small compared to multi-brand e-tail leaders like Yoox Net-a-Porter and Farfetch, the company’s move to take on outside investment for the first time in the 18 years since it was founded signals big ambitions.
Ssense declined to disclose revenue (chief executive officer Rami Atallah told BoF in 2018 it was on track to hit 1 billion Canadian dollars or about $823 million in sales by 2020). Still, simply reaching the scale implied by such a sizeable valuation in e-commerce’s hotly competitive and crowded space is an achievement.
Fashion e-commerce comes with several inherent challenges. First, there’s the cost of shipping and returns. On top of that, it’s harder to differentiate shopping experiences when you don’t have a physical store and competitors with the same products at the same price points are just a click away. Then, there’s the relatively poor return on high customer acquisition costs.
As a result, most players have struggled to turn a profit. And yet Ssense says it has enjoyed profitable high double-digit growth since it was founded in 2003. How did the company do it?
One key is focus. While rivals like Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion diluted their point of view as they sought aggressive growth with the help of outside funding and big spending on customer acquisition, Ssense has stayed true to its target niche while nonetheless managing to grow sales.
“Ssense has operated as a kind of secret weapon in the fashion world,” said retail consultant Robert Burke. “The real secret is that they have been laser focused on their customer and they’ve not tried to be everything to everyone.”
It’s certainly helped that the streetwear segment that Ssense grew up with has exploded to become one of the biggest driving forces in fashion of the last decade. The space has become an increasingly mainstream investment play: in the last year alone, Supreme, Stone Island and End. have all changed hands at billion-dollar-plus valuations.
This means that, rather than having to broaden its offer in search of growth, Ssense has been able to maintain the focus of its curated edit as its customer base grew. It’s also given the company a powerful following among fashion-savvy Generation-Z and Millennials that account for a greater and greater portion of luxury sales.
Ssense’s success is a “sign of a larger sea change towards a new generation of shoppers,” said Highsnobiety editor-in-chief Thom Bettridge, who previously consulted for Ssense. “A lot of other retailers in the category try to split the difference … but Ssense from day one was very focused on that new generation.”
The company has invested in an ambitious content strategy spearheaded by 032c’s Joerg Koch that has deepened its credibility in the youth culture space. It places emerging designers on an equal footing with established luxury players and, in a bold bet on the power of this strategy, the entire home page is dedicated to content.
Ssense’s focus and cultural cachet is underpinned by its savvy in tech and data. The company originated as part of Atallah’s graduate thesis for his degree in computer engineering, and still describes itself as primarily a tech platform.
But until now, it has focused on quietly growing without taking on outside funds in contrast to peers who have raised eye-popping sums to fuel expansion. Now, Ssense’s tie-up with Sequoia suggests it is looking to take things to the next level. It has already moved into home goods, childrenswear and beauty, opening up new growth avenues, and it has opened an office and distribution centre in Brussels to better serve the European market.
But the new investment is largely geared towards accelerating growth in China, the world’s largest luxury market, where the affluent consumers skew much younger than their western counterparts and with whom Ssense may have an edge. Former Vogue China editor Angelica Cheung, who became a venture partner at Sequoia in February, will join the company’s board.
And yet, Chinese e-commerce is dominated by tech giants Tencent and Alibaba. Will Ssense be able to carve out a meaningful position in China without a tie-up with one of the major tech platforms and maintain its focus along the way? Stay tuned.
THE NEWS IN BRIEF
FASHION, BUSINESS AND THE ECONOMY
Selfridges is said to be on sale for $5.7 billion after an approach from a potential buyer. The billionaire family behind Selfridges & Co. has asked Credit Suisse to advise on the future of the business, though discussions are at an early stage and may not lead to a transaction, Bloomberg reported.
Giorgio Armani’s future is in focus. As speculation swirls, the Italian fashion group has denied any interest in a Ferrari tie-up reportedly pitched by investment banks, but analysts do not rule out a deal with Ferrari owner Exor.
Zara Owner Inditex posts better-than-expected Q1 earnings. Sales during both the first quarter and the first half of the second quarter were up, the Arteixo, Spain-based company said in a statement. Sales in the first part of the second quarter were also up 5 percent compared to 2019, before the pandemic started.
Gap’s first Yeezy product is here. A year after the partnership was first announced, Gap revealed the first product in its collaboration with Kanye West’s Yeezy brand. The bright blue puffer jacket made from recycled nylon is available for US customers to pre-order for $200 on the Gap website and will ship in the autumn.
Valentino reports $154 million loss during pandemic. Sales fell 27 percent to €882 million ($1.1 billion) last year as Valentino was “strongly penalised” by the coronavirus crisis, the company said. Earnings swung to a net loss of €127 million, compared to a €33 million profit in 2019.
Fosun Fashion Group acquires Sergio Rossi. The deal, worth an undisclosed sum, is the latest signal of Fosun’s international fashion ambitions. The company’s portfolio already includes Lanvin, St Johns, Tom Tailor and Wolford.
Benetton family injects €300 million into clothing chain as loss grows. Benetton Srl, the holding company which controls Italian clothing retailer Benetton Group and its production assets, saw its net loss quadruple last year to €361 million ($440 million), pushing its founding family to inject fresh cash.
Mytheresa partners with Vestiaire Collective. The Munich-based e-tailer is the latest luxury player to tap into the fast-growing resale market, with a new service to help its top clients sell pre-loved items on Vestiaire in exchange for store credit launching Wednesday.
Emilio Pucci bets on Supreme collaboration. The spring drop comes as LVMH-owned Pucci tries to relaunch with a new creative direction and a clearer focus on resort wear and selling in vacation destinations.
Paris Couture Week releases updated schedule with in-person events. Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga and Jean Paul Gaultier are among the houses planning to stage shows with in-person audiences, while Fendi, Margiela and guest member Pyer Moss are slated for digital-only events, according to organising body FHCM.
Victoria’s Secret billionaire pushes L Brands stock sales to $500 Million. Leslie Wexner sold $327 million worth of shares of L Brands Inc. last week, according to a Monday filing. The moves come weeks after Wexner, 85, and his wife, Abigail, announced plans to step down from the retailer’s board following Wexner’s retirement as chief executive officer last year.
German e-commerce retailer About You, holders seek $1.1 billion in IPO. Shares are being marketed at between €21 and €26 ($25 and $31) each. The stock is due to begin trading June 16.
China’s streetwear brands continue to attract investors. SoulSense secured more than $10 million in Series A Plus funding from Skywalker Capital, while retailer, 919 Simple Life, raised ten million yuan ($1.56 million) from individual investors and Qingsong Fund, according to tech and investment media platform, 36Kr.
THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY
Estée Lauder boosts Black hiring, plans global training roll-out. The cosmetic giant will be rolling out a racial bias training worldwide over the next fiscal year, similar to the one it’s done in the US, according to an internal memo reviewed by Bloomberg. It has also boosted diverse hiring, with 9.2 percent of new US roles filled by Black candidates in the year through June 2021, an increase of 3 percentage points year on year.
Li Jiaqi, Doudou Babe top Chinese beauty KOL ranking. The report by Launchmetrics highlights the dominance and profitability of influencers over China’s $38.6 billion beauty industry. Li Jiaqi, also known as Austin Li, the Lipstick King, topped the chart with a media impact value of $2.6 million following collaborations with the likes of Dior Beauty and Estée Lauder.
Matty Bovan wins International Woolmark Prize. The York-based knitwear designer was also awarded Woolmark’s Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, the second time one designer has received both prizes in their current iteration.
Former Tapestry CEO Victor Luis invests in Moose Knuckles. Luis will become executive chairman after making a “significant investment,” the Canadian luxury outerwear and sportswear brand said Wednesday. The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.
Glossier names Ali Weiss chief marketing officer. Weiss, who originally joined the company in 2015, has been promoted from the position of senior vice president of marketing. In her role, she will oversee brand, creative, product and consumer insights.
Snap names new head of fashion and beauty. Rajni Jacques joins Snap from Condé Nast, where she held the role of fashion director at Teen Vogue and Allure, and will report to John Imah, Snap’s head of brand and games partnerships, in New York.
MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY
Stella Bugbee named editor of New York Times Styles section. The former editor-in-chief of New York Magazine’s The Cut will start at the paper on June 21. Her predecessor, Choire Sicha, announced he would step down from leading Styles in April after three years, and was hired earlier this week by New York Magazine.
Lightspeed acquires Nuorder and Ecwid in e-commerce tie-up. The online payments provider said it will buy Ecwid, an e-commerce platform for small businesses, for about $500 million, and digital wholesale platform Nuorder for about $425 million. Lightspeed said it plans to integrate Ecwid and Nuorder’s services to broaden its offering for customers.
Biden drops Trump attempt to ban Tiktok, Wechat; orders new review. A separate US national security review of TikTok, launched in late 2019, remains active and ongoing, a White House official said, declining to offer any details. The White House remains very concerned about the data risks of TikTok users, another administration official told reporters.
British watchdog plans investigation into Amazon’s use of data. The Competition and Markets Authority has been analysing Amazon’s business for months, the Financial Times said, adding the regulator was focusing on how the online retailer uses the data it collects on its platform.
South Korea’s e-commerce giants bid for eBay Korea. Shinsegae and Lotte Shopping have submitted their bids to buy the country’s third largest e-tailer, sources told Yonhap. Other players named in the lead-up to the mega deal, mobile carrier SK Telecom and private equity firm MBK Partners, have dropped out, the sources said.
Netflix launches online store to offer limited-edition merchandise. Netflix.shop will be available in the United States starting on Thursday and expand to other countries in the coming months, Netflix said in a blog post. The video streaming pioneer is facing a growing list of competitors offering their own streaming services with new movies and TV shows.
Compiled by Darcey Sergison.