Why the future of luxury fashion is on WhatsApp and WeChat, this start-up believes

  • Backed by investors including Hong Kong’s Adrian Cheng, millennial-focused Threads Styling allows users to shop what they see on social media - via chat
  • Founder of chat commerce start-up says the two most important things for a millennial are curation and convenience
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 8:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 6:35pm

Many people won’t understand Threads Styling. Is it an app? No. Is it an online store? Not really. The London-based fashion start-up, which sells to 100 countries, is the pioneer of chat commerce in the luxury retail space.

What that means is that, instead of browsing a website, adding your chosen items to a basket, and then going through the process of typing in your card details before checking out, you simply … talk to someone.

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“In Hong Kong, the end transaction could be either in WhatsApp, iMessage or WeChat – within mainland China it's obviously focused around WeChat,” explains founder and CEO Sophie Hill.

“Our mission is ‘inspire, acquire, deliver’. So if you see something on Instagram, you would then swipe up through a Story, start chatting to one of our sales team and then all payment and invoicing would happen within that conversation.”

And it’s not just Instagram. It’s Snapchat. It’s Weibo. It’s Little Red Book.

A quick glance at the brand’s social media profile, with its WeChat and KakaoTalk ID in the bio, and you’ll see that this company doesn’t just pay lip service to the Asian market. It was practically built for it.

Founded in 2009, Threads Styling started its life as a way of servicing the needs of high-net-worth tourists visiting Europe to shop. “But actually, we realised from talking to the customers that they didn't just want to be facilitated in Europe. They wanted to be anywhere and still have somebody who can help them purchase luxury goods at their convenience.

“It really was about having a luxury retailer that was more personalised than e-commerce and logistically easier than bricks-and-mortar,” says Hill.

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Wishing we had a tan right now . . . #ThreadsStyling #ShotByThreads #Hermes #HermesBag #BOTD

A post shared by T H R E A D S (@threadsstyling) on Nov 29, 2018 at 9:54am PST

Clearly, the idea struck a chord. Today, the company has an average transaction value of US$2,500 and partners with leading design houses including Cartier, Céline and Hermès. It’s also just raised US$18 million in series A funding from Highland Europe and C Ventures, the fashion-focused investor fund co-founded by Hong Kong-based Adrian Cheng Chi-kong.

“C Ventures is building an ecosystem of tech-driven companies that predict and answer to the changing needs of millennial and Gen Z shoppers, and their preference for personalised experiences,” says Cheng. “Threads captures these in an online-to-offline luxury retail solution, with immense potential in China and other luxury markets.”

Indeed, Threads cites its three biggest markets as Asia, the Middle East, and the United States. In addition to its trendy headquarters in East London, the company has an office in New York and has just opened one in Hong Kong. This means that, on top of their usual fashion concierge service, local clients can book in-person styling sessions as well.

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Wrapped up in #MaxMara . @vikyandthekid . . #ThreadsStyling #Hermes #OOTD #Pink

A post shared by T H R E A D S (@threadsstyling) on Nov 9, 2018 at 2:40am PST

Sophie Quy, formerly head of jewellery buying at Net-a-Porter, joined Threads in March to champion the company’s growth in fine jewellery and watches. It’s a strong category for the brand, which has already had several designer exclusives.

“We work really closely with the designers we sell,” says Quy, who is also the interim head of brand partnerships. She talks about bringing in-demand jewellery designers such as Maria Tash to clients’ homes.

“Haute couture and haute joaillerie is a big part of [our] business. We have taken Lorraine Schwartz to meet with clients to design or showcase new fine jewellery to them that will work with their gowns. This is a unique service that we can offer to our clients.”

As well as brokering meetings with designers, Threads is adept at sourcing specific pieces. Quy says: “We had a client that purchased a Bulgari necklace and bracelet through Threads. She had heard about us from her friend who shops with Threads. They had been shopping in Hong Kong, and the store had never seen the pieces she wanted. She sent them to her Threads personal shopper who got her both pieces within 24 hours.”

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Wrist, meet #Bvlgari . @willsnotebook . . #ThreadsStyling #WatchesOfInstagram #LuxuryWatches

A post shared by T H R E A D S (@threadsstyling) on Nov 14, 2018 at 2:09am PST

Quite how the company manages such impressive feats is kept well under wraps, but Hill does point out that they position themselves as a brand partner. “Traditional retailers have bought stock from brands and then given them very little insight about the consumer,” says Hill. “The reason why we use the word ‘partnership’ is because we work with them to understand what part of their collection is right for millennials.

“We can give them insight and guidance as to how they can communicate better with a millennial audience, which I think is everybody's priority at the moment.”

Instead of holding inventory, Threads has agreements with brands and stores across the globe so that it can get hold of specific products quickly – sometimes in under 30 minutes. This, after all, is the age of instant gratification.

Hill says the two most important things for a millennial are curation and convenience. “I’m not a fan of long checkouts. I’m not a fan of trawling through long search. Being able to transact as and when I want is something that is really appealing to me. But it's more than just appealing to millennials; we have a lot of older customers as well that have been brought to the service by their children.”

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And what of the famed millennial preference for experiences over goods?

“Yes, millennials would much rather be at lunch with their friends than going out of a Saturday to shop. That doesn't mean while they're sat at lunch they wouldn't like something to be delivered while they were there, or delivered in the morning before they got to lunch. It's more that what people do with their leisure time has changed, but it's not necessarily that people are spending less on luxury goods. I just think it's how they're buying those goods.”

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Wrist candy . . . #ThreadsStyling #AudemarsPiguet #WatchesOfInstagram #DiorFriendshipBracelets #Dior #Cartier

A post shared by T H R E A D S (@threadsstyling) on Nov 10, 2018 at 8:07am PST

Asked if she considers herself part of that much-discussed demographic, Hill laughs and says: “I am millennial, just. ’82.”