Meet Alison Loehnis, the woman steering Net-a-Porter through Covid and Brexit

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Speaking of which, just as the pandemic – maybe – recedes, ta-da, there are worldwide shortages, and Brexit. What the hell are they doing about those, one friend, a keen but disgruntled Net customer wants me to ask. ‘The complexity of doing business has undoubtedly increased,’ responds Loehnis with presidential diplomacy. ‘But as a global business shipping to 180 countries around the world, we’re well experienced in managing challenges.’

Privately, I think this issue must drive her crazy – no, not that exactly, she doesn’t do crazy, but it must vex her. Upping Net’s service game is what makes her tick. That’s why Net recently embarked on a joint venture with Reflaunt, a resale site. The e-tailer that made it ever easier to buy new clothes is making the business of buying and selling second-hand ones a cinch. ‘We’ve been looking at resale for a long time,’ she says. She tried a bunch of secondary retail sites to see how they worked. ‘The question for me was: how painless can you make it?’

The Net/Reflaunt venture certainly makes getting rid of old designer clothes simpler – it takes care of the photography, the collection, the shipping, and ensures your products get in front of the maximum amount of eyeballs. Customers who access the service via Net- a-Porter’s site can choose to have their takings paid directly into their accounts, or receive them in the form of Net-a-Porter vouchers, with an additional 10 per cent added. So if your old Gucci horsebit bag sold for £600, you’ll bank £660 worth of vouchers.

This is Net’s second big step into more conscious retail. Two years ago it launched Net Sustain, an edit of exclusive eco-friendly designs from around 40 designers, including Stella McCartney, Ninety Percent and Mother of Pearl. Now it’s at 150.

But the bottom line is that Net-a-Porter is a business predicated on selling more. And that’s a conflict, surely? Loehnis, who could be described as a one- woman circularity loop, giving her love of selling and shopping (she bought one Alessandra Rich dress during lockdown ‘with absolutely no idea where I’d ever wear it, but I knew I’d wear it one day, and for me that was an optimistic gesture’), believes it’s possible to run a profitable fashion empire that doesn’t trash the planet, though ‘I’m not suggesting we’re there yet.’

ThredUp, an online ‘consignment store’ (ie, selling second-hand items on behalf of the owner) listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, predicts that the global resale market will be worth $64 billion by 2025. But Loehnis doesn’t do things cynically. ‘On a personal level the whole notion of circularity really resonates with me. And demand is also coming from customers. Maybe it’s low double digits at the moment, but it’s growing. We started Net Sustain because customers wanted a sustainability filter. Now we’re at the stage where if you have two identical navy cardigans like the one you’re wearing [pointing to mine, which as it happens is sustainably made by &Daughter] at a similar price, customers increasingly opt for the sustainable one.’

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