In her new weekly column, Emily Ramshaw, Assistant Fashion News Editor, starts a conversation inspired by the insiders and newsmakers shaping the fashion world now. Check back every Tuesday for her latest report.
Last week, The Business of Fashion released an announcement detailing a seed investment of $2.1 million. Founded by Imran Amed, who continues to act as Editor in Chief and CEO, BoF is a blog that serves as a news source for people in the industry and otherwise. It also is a rare online platform that provides long form, intelligent commentary on an often-fickle industry written by Amed and a number of other freelance fashion and business writers. In short, the blog is part of my daily-required reading as a fashion news editor.
As one would assume, combing the web for fashion news takes up a significant amount of my time, but I heard of BoF’s new investment from my tech-obsessed boyfriend, whose mind space, let alone occupation, is far outside the fashion industry. “Have you heard of Business of Fashion?” he asked me. Uh, yeah. “They just completed a $2.1 million round.” Right. He read about it on Pando Daily, a blog that I don’t typically scour for style-related alerts. But it’s notable that Pando Daily covered the news – actually, it’s a big deal. And the investment is a really big deal.
During what is a pivotal time for the future of print, especially in an industry like fashion where blogs have become so ubiquitous and powerful, one such blog – BoF – is being treated as a start up. Venture capitalists, investors, and incubators are giving mountains of money to start ups – Kickstarter means that everyone can get in on the action. One question from my boyfriend when I insist there’s no advertising on the site: “How are they making money?” How indeed? BoF has some big time investors in their pocket too: Index Ventures, a major investor in Net-A-Porter, Asis, Etsy, and Nasty Gal along with the all powerful French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton, which counts Dior, Céline, and Givenchy among its expansive stable of brands.
As I’ve learned from BoF itself, (their Business of Blogging series is fantastic), most blogs make a profit from banner ads, sponsored content, product placement, and diverting traffic to particular e-commerce sites and brands (click those links and you’ll make them a buck or two, or more). Business of Fashion isn’t a typical blog from the very first, however, because the content is overseen of an editor, it’s not a personal style blog and therefore isn’t selling brands, and, for now at least, it’s without any advertising. It’s the closest I’ve seen to an online publication with the same accountability as print, without having to account for advertisers.
Even with their powerful investing partners (and LVMH has been known to throw their weight around), Amed insists that BoF will maintain its autonomy, writing in a letter to readers:
All of our investors have re-affirmed our strong belief that BoF’s complete editorial independence is of crucial importance to the strength of the business and our position as a trusted fashion industry resource. So important are these values that we insisted that they be enshrined in our company documents, which all investors were required to sign.
The most interesting thing about the investment, and the reason that BoF is rightly being treated as a startup, is their business plan. Amed and his (now expanded) team have lofty visions of themselves as not only quality reading for the general style-minded public, but also as a tool for the industry itself. “Our mission,” so stated the press release, delivered to the very same industry, “is to inform, stimulate and arm these individuals with a forward thinking, globally-minded resource for everything they need to perform in today’s fast-paced, high-stakes fashion world.” This rests, of course, on their independence – from advertisers and investors – which, thus far, they’ve been able to maintain despite the $2.1 million purse. And, as Amed lovingly notes in his letter, “a global community of fashion nerds now numbering over one million people,” now read BoF for news and commentary. I would go as far to say that BoF is one of the few reliable voices in the midst of our ongoing discussion – count me as one of those nerds. Writes Amed regarding the investment’s why:
Many of you will wonder what our specific business plans are. We are aiming to create a next generation B2B media company, designed to inform, stimulate and inspire today’s highly connected, globally-minded, fashion industry professionals.
B2B is tech lingo for “business to business,” meaning that while we may enjoy the site’s content for free, they’ll also be producing reports and literature that other fashion companies will have to pay for. That this seemingly simple plan is worthy of $2.1 million from big-time investors means a lot. It means that there is value in independence and that ideas (read: print, because really, that’s what BoF is, it’s all written word, not pretty pictures) can command a large audience (one million participating visitors and counting). Put simply, it means that knowledge is still power. I, for one, am excited to see where this model can lead us.