industry profile: josé neves of farfetch

It's rare, in the fashion industry, to come across a veteran who is as intellectually eloquent as they are obsessed with fashion; it is also rare to come across someone who has not been jaded by years in the business, but is, rather, inspired and excited about what is to come next.  José Neves, the CEO and Founder of, however, is one of these rare people.  Born in an area of Portugal that is full of shoe and clothing factories, designers and fashion agents, fashion is, quite literally, in his blood.  In 1996, he decided to launch his first footwear company, SWEAR; with no formal training other than the guidance and reassurance of his grandfather (José studied economics and was a self-confessed 'computer nerd' while at university), who was a shoe designer, José began designing shoes himself and was immediately successful.  He still runs SWEAR today, along with FarFetch and B Store, which is both a clothing label in itself and a fashion boutique too.  José visited Hong Kong in late April to host an event for FarFetch, his most ambitious project - you may have heard of it; FarFetch is a genius e-Commerce site which allows you to shop from 120 unique fashion boutiques from all over the world, all in one place.  We had an exclusive opportunity to chat with him while he was here, and we found him to be both a charming and thoroughly engaging companion with whom to spend our Saturday afternoon.

José Neves (dressed in his label, B Store), speaking to the press about FarFetch.

What was your major goal in coming to HK this time?  What did you hope to achieve?
Well, first of all, we noticed we were growing organically in Hong Kong; we had more and more customers that were finding us and shopping from us, and the customers were very loyal, they’re repeat buyers, so they are our most valuable customers in terms of average dollar value.  And we thought, “What can we do to, firstly, say, 'Thank you, we care about the market, we care about developing the website further,'" and also, "How can we raise awareness and increase our business here?”  So instead of doing more online advertising, we thought the best thing would be to do a kind of a trunk show, but in the FarFetch way.  Bring seven boutiques from all around the world and bring the customer on a tour of the world of fashion, the FarFetch way.

You might have heard that the London Show Rooms came to Hong Kong recently.  Shopbop was also just here; they did a party a few days ago.  Net-a-Porter is opening up an office here too.  What is it about Hong Kong right now that is interesting to you?
I think that in terms of luxury markets, China is clearly a major player and will be a major player with the growth of their economy; and I think that Hong Kong is the easy entry point for China.  You can test the waters.  It’s very easy to start the logistics; they deliver from Europe to here and it only takes three days.  The Hong Kong customers also don’t mind browsing the website in English and they’re very used to web-shopping, so it’s a very sophisticated market where you can test the waters before you dig in to China.  China’s another – I always treat it as two different markets.  What’s great about Hong Kong is that you get the best of both worlds; you get the Chinese culture and influence and you get to taste a bit of the Chinese way of life, but in a very easy to digest Western environment.

A rack of unique printed and embellished pieces at the FarFetch trunk show.

Do you find that your Asian customers have different tastes from your other customers from around the world?  Have you done much research in that respect?
Yes, they are very sophisticated.  They buy a mix of big labels, but also new up-and-coming labels; they’re extremely aware of fashion trends and what’s going on.  They’re really our best customers.  When you have a website like FarFetch, we want to sell the cool stuff, you know?  But sometimes it’s not always the cool stuff that sells, sometimes it’s the more commercial pieces, so that’s what’s so great about the Hong Kong customers; it's that you really see that you’re selling the right stuff to the right people.  It’s a very different pattern from other markets; for example, Italy is much more about big names, it’s safer.  Asia is more into what you can’t find.  Today, browsing the shops, I was surprised that we even have such good business in Hong Kong, because you can find everything here!  You don’t need us!

You've travelled the world and must know all the best places to shop by now.  Is there anywhere in particular in Hong Kong that you’ve liked in terms of retail so far?
I liked the I.T store in Causeway Bay and Shine.  Those were the two most interesting ones so far, but I haven't seen everything yet.  What’s really amazing is that it’s a very international selection.  You only find stores like this in, probably, Paris, London and Tokyo.  Even in New York, you don’t have many things like this; take my own collection, they had a full rack of B Store, and they had 10 styles of shoes.  I don’t think there’s such a great selection of my collection anywhere in New York!  The Hong Kong buyers, they make sure there’s a good representation of each brand, where sometimes the American buyers are very opportunistic and they will buy only two or three pieces of a brand.  It doesn’t tell the story of a brand.  So that’s what I really love here; they take risky bets, they support young, small and up-and-coming designers.

A video Vogue Nippon Fashion Director, Anna Dello Russo, did for FarFetch, on display at the event.

You know a lot about what’s going on online.  Is there anything missing right now that you’d like to see happen in the online space?  Maybe not just in fashion, but in other industries, as well?
It’s a good question.  It’s interesting to see how social media and all this movement will merge with e-Commerce.  It’s one thing that intrigues me, the successes of sites like Instagram and Pinterest – but they’re not e-Commerce enabled yet.  So it’s interesting to see how that will evolve.  I don’t know how people will shop in three years’ time.  Maybe it stays the traditional way or they start being more influenced by their friends through social networks.  It’s going to be an exciting era.

Was there a particular store that you would always go visit that was the source of inspiration for you to start
Probably L’Eclaireur is one of them.  Collette is an amazing store but, to me, they are a PR machine, they are a marketing platform.  It’s full of tourists; it’s not a hardcore fashion store.  The selection upstairs is actually very limited and difficult to browse, to buy from.  It’s by trend; it’s a funny way of putting it.  I’ve never bought anything there.  I think they do very well, because there’s this thing about visiting Paris and going out with a Collette bag.  They are a very strong destination store.  They do an amazing job.  They do a stellar job, but it’s not a fashion retailer.  I go to L’Eclaireur and atually spend there; they service you, they bring you a glass of champagne, they give you advice, and it’s the way you service your customer in a proper fashion boutique, and I think Paris is the only place doing that now.

How does FarFetch compensate, then, for the lack of this stellar in-store service and experience?  One thing I've always loved the most about FarFetch is the unique packaging you get when you buy something.
I’m so happy that you’re saying that. You made my day!  We think about that a lot; how can we provide a boutique experience on something that is online and it’s a lot to do with the unique packaging.  One thing we’ve always said about the difference between the customer service with us and with Net-a-Porter is that Net-a-Porter is coming from a warehouse somewhere, but with FarFetch it’s coming from a boutique, so make sure that that is inside the box.  If you’re from Sienna, make sure you have a postcard from Sienna written in Italian; if you’re from Belgium put some Belgian chocolate inside – do whatever you want, but make sure there’s a personal feeling to it.  Also our follow-up service; we want to improve that and become better and better in terms of service and giving fashion advice.  I feel it’s important for people to know about the store they are buying from, because, mentally, you may be looking for a certain product - say you want the YSL Tribute sandal in electric blue - and then that’s it, that’s fine, but what really makes us different is the fact that there’s a history behind it.  The boutique is unique.  We need to focus on getting that message across.

Just a small example of the incredibly unique finds you can come across on FarFetch!

At the beginning of the year, you got a big capital injection into your company.  What do you plan on doing with that?
It’s supporting the current path; it’s growing very fast, so we need to hire more and more people and strengthen the team in key areas.  There’s a lot to do in terms of brand awareness, because a lot of people – probably like yourself – found, didn’t know what it was, but you found that product that you couldn’t find in Hong Kong so you decided to give it a try; but you didn’t buy from us as a 'fashion destination'.  You just kind of found us – the first time.  So that’s what we need to do; we need to build an online fashion brand that becomes a destination.  We don’t want to be just a place to go when you can’t find something in the stores, we don’t just want to be another fashion resource.  So there’s a lot to do on that.

How do you think you can achieve that?
Doing events like what we’ve done here; guerrilla marketing stuff.  Right now, we have a music project going on where, what we do with fashion, we’ve done with music; it’s called The Playlist.  We also had two secret gigs, one in a London store, one in a Paris store.  Stuff like that.  We did a travel project with a bespoke travel agent; you say, “I want a Moroccan experience,” and they design the experience for you.  We’ve done a Superstar Award, where we had a big panel of fashion influencers and we tried to find the best new retailer worldwide; it was a shop in Berlin that won, Voo.  We had a 6 x 6 Bloggers project, where we got Susie Bubble, Facehunter, Man Repeller, Style Salvage, Cherry Blossom Girl and Caroline’s Mode to each design a shoe.  These activities and events, hopefully done in the right way, it will become viral and people will start talking about us.


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Cool Baby Clothes said...

Really an electric one to watch this blog...

Anonymous said...

could do better with the quality of the photos you post :)

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