The man telling stylish women how to dress
As e-commerce continues to grow in the Middle East, and with global sites such as Mr Porter counting the Middle East within their top markets, we meet the man behind the original e-com underdog that came out on top.
Esquire: So how long have you been at The Outnet?
Andres Sosa: Three and a bit years, it’s gone quick and been busy. It’s been exciting, when I joined the team were doing a fantastic job, in 170 markets so it was a truly global basis but we were treating everyone in the same way. For me it was about really understanding customers, spending time with them and what the differences between the regions were and then tailoring communication, the product we show and drop down menu of the brands that resonate in the market. Seasonality, it’s very easy to be London based but what about the customer in the Middle East, what about the customer in Australia. So that was the thing that kept me busy, being able to go into a market, build a relationship with that market, understand the customer, reward the customer that is shopping with us and then coming up with a strategy around that, which has taken me pretty much three years.
Esq: You talk about The Outnet customer a lot there, who is she?
AS: I will tell you what she isn’t first, because we got it really wrong when we first launched. We thought she would be young and we thought she would be a customer that couldn’t afford to buy luxury brands at full price. We then very quickly realized how wrong we were, she’s not that young, average age is around 39, she’s a customer that is savvy. She buys full price in the current season and also previous seasons. So she’s got a fantastic lifestyle with around six to nine holidays a year, she has a set budget but it’s not a budget because she can’t afford to spend more, it’s about how much she feels comfortable spending on fashion. It’s not a customer that needs educating about brands, she has her own personal style, she knows the brands, she knows what she likes and she’s not afraid to put things together.
Esq: When you first started finding out who that customer was did you work quite collaboratively with the Net-a-Porter team, to see what the points of difference were?
AS: No, there’s an overlap and we started as the sister site for Net-a-Porter so all the stock came from them. Now it’s only around 7% of their stock, if not less. We buy directly and we have a buying team based in New York and London that have the right relationships with the brands. We also have our own insights team and the insights team spends time with our customer to really understand who she is, what she wants and how we can serve her best. It was launched as part of Net-a-Porter but we are a brand in our own right.
Esq: Talk us through a typical day in your role
AS: Busy! I’m always in the office early. I like a structured day, I hate surprise meetings! I like to know what’s happening and what the objectives of the meetings are and that helps the team frame what we are there for. I oversee PR, marketing, sales, creative, which includes fashion and editorial teams. I’m quite hands on, so a day could start in the office with lots of meetings and then at the studio for a look book photo shoot, then off to shoot a campaign, pre-production meetings, choosing photographers, casting, etc. and then going into trade meetings and deciding uploads for the following weeks and marketing activity. So it’s all quite diverse. I travel a lot, so I’m here in Dubai now, next week I’m in New York, one week in London, then I’m off to Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, back to London, then Miami for a bit, then LA, then back to London.
Esq: Sounds tiring. What are your tips for keeping the jet-lag at bay?
AS: Lots of water. I always change my watch as soon as I get on the plane, so try and get into the time-zone where I’m supposed to be.
Esq: Where do you shop personally?
AS: Mr Porter, I find it very difficult not to shop at Mr Porter and they've got a great curation of the brands and products that I love, so very occasionally I will buy something outside of it but it’s mainly Mr Porter.
Esq: Do you get a lot of time to check out the retail landscape in the different places you visit?
AS: That’s part of the job. We never visit a market without spending some time shopping. What’s really interesting is not only looking at the retail space and what the brand offering is but also price points, the customer, what they are wearing, if they are having afternoon tea or lunch or whatever it is how they are socialising within that. Our customer comes to shop by occasion, rarely our customer would come in just because she has free time, there’s always an occasion. Understanding the occasions that our customers have in each market is really important to me.
Esq: So what’s your idea of a perfectly dressed woman?
AS: I think it’s about understanding what works, and then making whatever trend may be out there, yours. That’s the key.
Esq: What women's wear brand moving to menswear would make you excited?
AS: At the moment my go-to brand is Gucci and Saint Laurent. A brand that I’m really excited about at the moment is Roksanda, I don’t know what menswear for Roksanda would look like but I think that’s a really interesting prospect.
Esq: How involved were you with the launch of Iris and Ink, The Outnet’s in-house brand?
AS: Well Iris and Ink is now on its ninth season, so when I came in it had already been launched, it was an established brand. I think what we’ve been working really hard with is it started as a brand that was there to fill those gaps in the wardrobe, our team realized that when we were styling we would need a great pair of leather leggings for example or a grey cashmere jumper, so it started as essentials, but those were those days, now it’s more about those essentials but with a twist. There’s a lot of statement pieces and we’ve also launched in party wear pieces. We work Linton Tweeds, who actually worked for Chanel, being able to properly say our cashmeres are one of the best in the market is great.
Esq: How does the brand do on the site? Do you see it getting better and better each year?
AS: Yes. It’s now top 5 worldwide and top 10 in the Middle East. The customer that buys Iris and Ink repeats, so she continues to come back, we thought she would be a customer that would buy and then add an Iris and Ink item but we got it wrong as again. She comes in and shops Iris and Ink and then the next day she’s shopping in Valentino so it’s not an add-to-bag item, it’s actually an item she’s coming in and buying.
Esq: Because you’re relatively new in the e-commerce world, you talk about how you learn a lot from things you've tried that haven't necessarily worked. Are you constantly doing that and looking at how to improve?
AS: We do. I think for us it’s really important to keep that entrepreneurial but also start up mentality. If we don’t test things then were not going to do great things because we will always be copying or waiting for a data point that comes from another business to see if that works or not. That’s not the way the team operates, nor how we want them to operate. It’s ok to trial things. We sent a sausage dog with a GoPro camera to fashion week in London, crazy? Yes, but how many awards have we won? So there’s an element of taking risks as long as it’s measured, it’s really been about being an agile business.
Esq: Do you think it’s hard to still have a relevance to the luxury customer after once being a cheaper sister site to Net-a-Porter?
AS: I would say the challenge for us is the opposite, the customer doesn’t see us as a discounted retailer, it happens to be up to 75% off. The customer sees us as playing in the luxury space, with full price retail, so we constantly need to strive to offer the best service possible. From express shipping worldwide, same day delivery, the way we pack, customer service, which we have 17 languages in which we can offer support through either on the phone, email or a live chat on site, so for us the challenge is the other way around, she sees us competing with full price and we therefore need to ensure that the product, the service and the content we create is seen within that space.
Esq: So the most important question, when are you going to move into menswear?
AS: If I had a pound for every time I get asked that question, I could retire right now. There are no plans yet.
Esq: Could you see it happening in the future? Obviously Mr. Porter was so successful
AS: I never say no unless an idea is crazy so I’m not going to say no, but it’s not part of our plans. At the moment we have a core customer, we’ve still got so much to do within the key regions, the next five years is going to be all about going deeper into regions and really localising content and not only that but the language and making it relevant to her.
Esq: So you’ve got offices in London, New York, when are you going to set up here into a growth market?
AS: I think for the moment there is no plans in the sense that we have a great global team based in London, we do need to spend more time in market and that’s why we come and spend a week but a regional HQ here is not in the plans yet, but you never know.
Esq: How do you decide which brands to partner with for all of your exclusive collaboration lines etc.?
AS: We have the buying teams in New York and London and both of them have these incredible direct relationship with the brands, that’s the only reason why we can do these collaborations. The decision is 2 fold one, the brand has the stock and the stock doesn’t necessarily mean the actual items because then they’re not exclusive but they have the fabric or a desire to work with us, the bit from our side is customer insight. I think the other thing is that it must be a true partnership with brands, so it’s not just about stock, it may be a brand that wants to enter a certain territory which we are strong in. In 5 years we had 17 brands re-issuing iconic items just for us to celebrate our 5th birthday, that’s quite a powerful thing, especially in a discounted previous season retailer.
Esq: As a man heading up this female focused business do you ever encounter any difficulties?
AS: I would say no because a marketer is a marketer. I’ve got a great team, I’ve got great insights into the customer and great insights into the region. I think the commerciality of it is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman who makes a decision. I can’t pull product though, but no I don’t find it challenging at all, as long as you’ve got a great team, its business.