‘A fairytale brand’: PrettyLittleThing joins fashion A-list

Umar Kamani

Manchester-based Umar Kamani has rocketed up the UK’s rich list. Photograph: PR

In his pink trilby, matching velour tracksuit and £1,200 Chanel trainers Umar Kamani looks every inch the fashion princeling.

Sitting on a vintage leather couch in his office, his personal photographer snapping away in the background, the 31-year-old is talking about his fast-growing fashion empire PrettyLittleThing and the fame game.

With more than 500,000 Instagram followers and an A-list feed that has featured him posing alongside Jennifer Lopez, Drake and Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero, Kamani is a chief executive for the Kardashian age.

“I’ve got an inbox full of TV offers,” he says, adding that Hello! and OK! magazines are also eager to do photoshoots.

“I get asked all the time: ‘Do you want to be famous?’ because I dress a certain way and I’m [moving] in certain circles. If I wanted to be famous it would be very easy for me to do that … but I want to be respected for what I do.”

Kamani has followed in the footsteps of his fashion entrepreneur father Mahmud Kamani, who co-founded Boohoo, the stock market-listed online fashion group that specialises in selling fast, cheap fashion to teens and twentysomethings. Since 2016 it has also owned a controlling stake in PrettyLittleThing.

Umar Kamani with Jennifer Lopez
FacebookTwitterPinterest
 Kamani with Jennifer Lopez. Photograph: Instagram

The success of Boohoo means the Manchester-based Kamani family have rocketed up the UK’s rich list. They have banked £286m from selling Boohoo shares and still have an almost 30% stake, worth more than £800m. But the jewel in the crown of the Boohoo business is Umar’s PrettyLittleThing.

Kamani started PrettyLittleThing with his elder brother Adam in 2012 when the recent business graduates saw an opportunity to cash in on a trend for shamballa bracelets after celebrities such as Jay-Z were photographed wearing the Buddhist-inspired beads. “There was a massive trend for shamballa bracelets with little diamantes on them,” he explains. “We were just out of university and figuring ourselves out.”

Kamani (right) with his brother Samir.
FacebookTwitterPinterest
 Kamani (right) with his brother Samir. Photograph: Kevork S Djansezian/Getty Images

It would turn out to be one of the few trends PrettyLittleThing missed, because the deal struck with a Groupon-style discount website fell through. But seven years later PrettyLittleThing, famed for its bubblegum pink branding and unicorn mascot, has turned into a goldmine.

Umar Kamani and the company’s finance director, Paul Papworth, are still sitting on a 34% stake, which analysts say is worth at least £400m.

When Boohoo floated in 2014, the prospectus included the option to acquire PrettyLittleThing for £5m within three years. In 2016, Boohoo paid £3.3m for 66%, leaving the management with the rest as part of a performance-related deal. That deal expires in 2022, when Boohoo has the option to acquire it at market value using cash or Boohoo shares.

When Boohoo bought its stake in PrettyLittleThing, three years ago, it had sales of £17m. It has grown staggeringly since then, with sales hitting £374m last year, a rate of growth that puts it on course to overtake the Boohoo brand this year.

Kamani is certain that growth can continue, making the company even more valuable to shareholders “if I do my job right”.

“It’s about the 66% from the group perspective … would that have been worth as much as it is now if I had walked away three years ago?”

At a time when many established high street brands, from Topshop to New Look, are struggling, PrettyLittleThing has captured the zeitgeist among young female shoppers, using social media influencers instead of glossy magazines to reach them.

With its sexy billboard campaigns shot in exotic locations, the “girly” brand aims to sell a dream. “The reason we have pink unicorns is to create a fairytale world for the customer,” he explains. “When you go to Disneyworld and … everyone’s got a smile on their face, there’s nothing real about that. It’s a fairytale brand I’m trying to create. It should be a place where you come to find confidence and inspiration.”

Kamani poses with musicians Lioness  Lady Leshurr, Stefflon Don, and Ms Banks (l-r).
FacebookTwitterPinterest
 Kamani poses with musicians Lioness, Lady Leshurr, Stefflon Don, and Ms Banks (l-r). Photograph: Aaron J Thornton/Getty Images

There is nothing fairytale-like about the location of the company. Its headquarters are in a former mill in the Manchester suburb of Ancoats, which was once home to the Kamani family’s knitting factory. PrettyLittleThing’s warehouse is in Sheffield.

With 350 staff, the Ancoats building is teaming with millennials: in one area a model is preening in front of a mirror in a Helena Christensen-style bustier bodice before a photoshoot in one of four studios. Plastic palm trees and rails of brightly coloured clothes decorate the inside. The exterior is graffitied and protected with barbed wire.

Kamani articulates in the vaguest terms a new strategy that involves inveigling itself into the hearts of its 5 million shoppers and becoming their “best friend”.

With its £5 dresses and £3 tops, PrettyLittleThing is one of the brands accused of fuelling a throwaway fast fashion culture, which has been linked to exploitation of low-paid workers in UK factories. But Kamani argues the brand, which has embraced the diversity and body positivity movement by always including larger models in its adverts, is a force for good and is trying to become more sustainable. It recently linked up with the ReGain app to encourage shoppers to recycle unwanted clothes.

“I love fashion,” says Kamani. “I was always a chubby kid and clothes gave me confidence. People forget what clothes can do for your emotional state. It builds my character and sets the tone for the day. Young girls should be able to turn to clothes for comfort and to make them feel better about themselves.”

Kamani’s grandfather Abdullah, who escaped war-torn Kenya in the 60s to start a new life in the north-west of England with his wife and four children, is a role model within the entrepreneurial family. “We are a very close family … but we don’t get involved in each other’s businesses,” he explains. Brother Adam runs his own property firm, while Samir, who is 23, runs the group’s BoohooMan clothing brand, which uses Spurs and England footballer Dele Alli as its “face”.

Kamani adds: “I have full autonomy to run this business how we want to run it – and that was something they wanted me to do. It’s got to this point because we have run it in a very controlled way with a clear message.”

That evening, Kamani posts pictures on Instagram of two new bespoke Rolls-Royces, complete with personalised number plates. His office is like a teenage boy’s dream bedroom, with a bar and pool table. His social media feed is a stream of images of him in glamorous locations and with celebrity friends. But he insists his feet are firmly on the ground: “I know my life looks glamorous on Instagram but I put up what I choose to put up. I don’t post pictures of my meetings or reading through data and speaking to America until 1am or 2am in the morning.”

In his downtime, Kamani likes to box or play chess. He is also partial to sudoko puzzles – and after spending time in the LA bubble where PrettyLittleThing has opened an office, he likes nothing better than to cruise the aisles of Marks & Spencer.

“It’s very easy to form an ego and get distracted by fame. I’ve nearly fallen into these traps myself but my number one desire is for this brand to blossom. It could become one of the biggest brands of all time, ever.

“I feel the hunger more than ever.”

[“source=theguuardian”]

Author: Ayaan