BoF: how a one-man blog became a fashion powerhouse
Fresh from launching a Chinese-language site, Imran Amed tells how his blog became an industry player
You can't have been in the industry long if you haven't heard of Canadian-British Imran Amed, the savvy founder and editor-in-chief of Business of Fashion (BoF), a small self-explanatory titled blog turned international fashion media powerhouse.
In the past eight years, BoF has become a widely popular site offering insightful takes on the workings of the industry. And while the proliferation of visual blogs and street-style Instagram stars spurred on the digital revolution, Amed's online portal provided intellectual rigour to the widening discourse in fashion.
Now attention has turned to the US$300 billion Chinese fashion and apparel industry, where BoF unveiled a Chinese-language site in November, complete with a Shanghai launch event at The Peninsula that gathered the country's influential industry bigwigs.
"China is at a unique crossroads as market growth slows and consumer discernment and sophistication about fashion and luxury has increased with the backdrop of ongoing digital disruption, emergence of a new Chinese creative class, and the rise of second- and third-tier cities," says Amed.
"This presents a unique opportunity for BoF to do what we always aim to do: provide insight and analysis on the fashion business."
BoF partnered with Modern Media in Shanghai for a portion of their local content, but Chinese-language editors and writers in London lead the team with some local support in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Built for easy delivery on mobile phones and offering an email daily digest, BoF China hopes to overcome hurdles around the mainland's bandwidth issues and user habits.
Taking on China's native fashion industry is no small feat. Characteristically insular and opaque, going in deep can be mind-boggling at first. But with so much capital flowing, the industry rapidly evolving and redefining itself every few months, a native language source such as BoF could become a game changer as people demand more transparency and critique.
"As the industry becomes more integrated and global, there is a need for China's fashion industry to better understand the global fashion system, and for the global industry to better understand the Chinese market," says Amed.
This China expansion is just one major milestone in what has been an exciting year for the website. Chatting over a coffee at last season's Paris Fashion Week, Amed said site traffic had tripled in the past 18 months. BoF personnel has increased and "we have more than two million people following us on social media. That's almost tripled as well in that same time period.
"And we're starting to earn money," he added.
BoF has CEOs and designers vying for its attention. Karl Lagerfeld even appeared on the cover of a special print last year. It's hard to imagine it all started as Amed's personal one-man blog in January 2007, while doing consulting for fashion brands and smaller designers during the day.
"I literally was a blogger on my sofa," he says. "That DNA of being a digital-first platform is always going to be there … BoF is like my digital baby. It's this thing that was born out of passion. And to a point where now it's really become my core professional focus. It's been a journey that I never imagined when I started it. At the time nobody was talking about fashion blogs and no one cared about digital media and no one was talking about Facebook or Twitter."
Amed did not train as a journalist, but he does have a rigorous business and problem-solving background; he graduated from Harvard Business School and went to work for management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in London.
"I didn't even know anything about technology [when BoF started], but what I did know was that metrics and data and feedback would help me understand what people were interested in."
The immediacy of social media, website comments and simple tools such as Google Analytics helped him to see what worked and what didn't on the blog. From his time at McKinsey and traditional newspapers, Amed applied metrics and rigorous analysis to his content. And from fashion magazines, he took the idea "that it needs to look beautiful".
"It needs to have rich imagery, this is a visual industry. I learned very early on that creative people are just as interested in the business of fashion as anyone else, but so much of the business content out there was not really palatable … and quite ugly."
By mashing up elements "from the world of blogs, from the world of newspapers, from the world of magazines", Amed created something he believed to be genuinely different.
This combined "right brain, left brain" way of thinking, which is now "a mantra at the BoF office", can be traced back to school where Amed was an overachieving "nerdy academic kid" who would be analytical, disciplined during the day and at night would unleash a creative side as "a child performing artist" who studied theatre, public speaking and drama.
Although McKinsey indulged his analytical, problem-solving side, he lost engagement with his creative side. And the fashion industry provided a unique opportunity for Amed, who says ge "really didn't know anything about fashion" at the start. Learning as he went, Amed amassed fashion knowledge and, later, a dedicated team based in London.
Today, the business is growing. BoF has two revenue streams: one being advertising and sponsorship, the other a more interesting development - BoF Careers, a website launched nearly a year ago, starting with seven global partners, including Hong Kong's Lane Crawford.
The global careers site allows companies who pay an annual fee to get a presence, post jobs and profiles as well as premium positioning in the BoF community. Jobs span every facet of the industry, running the gamut from retail training manager, office manager, real estate merchandising, digital design, HR, media, and creative direction, to logistics.
BoF says that, so far, more than 100 companies have signed on, leading to more than 20,000 applications for over 1,600 jobs in 20 countries.
"And people are hiring people," he says.
By using technology and layering that on top of its community and content, BoF Careers has started to foster global connections between fashion companies and potential employees and addressing "pain point in the talent market". With this added functionality it has not only cleverly supplemented revenue but further stimulated community and industry engagement through its portal.
It's a constant race in fashion to keep up with world socioeconomic shifts. Power structures are changing.
In 2014, for example, Amed says that his BoF 500 (an annual list compiled by the company of the 500 most powerful industry figures) featured people from 55 nationalities.
"The power structures in fashion used to be limited to western Europe and the States," he adds. "That's changing. If you add up all the people, the UK, US, France and Italy represented about 50 to 60 per cent of the BoF 500. The rest of it? This year we added people from Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Kuwait, Nigeria, and South Africa."
With the Chinese expansion already implemented, might BoF also look at other major BRIC nations such as Brazil and India, where audiences also prefer to engage in their native languages? "We see our role as opening, informing and connecting the world of the fashion industry," says Amed. "And we have a unique position, we reach people all around the world, we reach people in all functions, we reach students, we reach executives, we reach creatives, we reach consumers."