When Tom and Ruth Chapman founded MatchesFashion in 1987, they had no idea it would turn into the mega retailer it is today. In 2006, the couple began venturing into e-commerce and they can now count themselves among the top luxury e-tailers in the business.
How did you start MatchesFashion?
Tom Chapman: Well, we were first a brick-and-mortar business—we’ve been around for almost 30 years. We have 14 physical stores. We started in a small residential area of London, Wimbledon Village. When you start out that way, it really teaches you to hug your customer and answer them in a personal, individual way. That’s been the DNA of the business since the beginning. We launched online in 2006, and it was the same conversation. From the beginning, we knew that it would be a fully international e-commerce site. I suppose this sounds naive, but we didn’t realize how fast the e-commerce would grow and how important a part of a business it would become.
What were you doing before your retail careers?
Ruth Chapman: I worked at a video company, among other things.
Tom: I was in the catering industry. Opening a retail store now is completely different than it was 30 years ago. You could be a little bit more gung-ho back then—it was much easier to start out.
Any plans for a store in New York?
Tom: Right now, we have a massive opportunity to really talk to our customers and understand their originality through our online business. We deliver to the East Coast within 36 hours of ordering, and we’re aspiring to deliver within 24 hours. We are not a U.K. business—we are a global business. But we walk around the city and point out locations that we like!
How do you stay competitive in a crowded arena?
Ruth: Our edit has always had a strong fashion flavor, and we’ve kept that DNA. An online site can come across looking like a department store, if that’s what you want, but we aim not to do that.
Tom: We’re more than luxury shopping—it’s really about a modern approach to brands.
How do you merchandise your brick-and-mortar store versus the website?
Ruth: We buy inventory for the whole of the business, and then we think about the stores and how they are going to look, and what will resonate there. Our customer comes to us for that discovery and those talking-point pieces.
How do you find new designers?
Ruth: Lots of ways. I worked with NewGen in London with the British Fashion Council, and we also discover them when we travel. We get lots of lookbooks sent to us, and our buying director is very good at seeing new brands as well.
Tom: We’re like sponges, and we have a real willingness to listen to whomever we are talking to, be it the press or others in the fashion industry.
Ruth: Also, we are always looking at Instagram—that’s a powerful way to find new brands.
Which designers have you recently discovered?
Ruth: Marques’Almeida, the denim brand in London. We launched them a couple of years ago, and it’s been a great success. We’ve also picked up Joe Richards, Trager Delaney, and Ellery from Australia. We picked up Wes Gordon in New York, and I recently went to Berlin as well.
You have a new in-house line called Raey, right?
Ruth: We always had our own line called Freda for women. It was always basic, simple, and pared-back pieces that you could wear with more elaborate designer items. It sells well, but we really wanted to launch menswear, and the name Frida didn’t work for men. We also wanted to revamp the women’s, so we got a new creative team behind it. The most important part was that the price architecture had to be really smart—most of the dresses, for example, are less than $400.
Your delivery packaging is beautiful, and the service is incredibly fast. Is that expensive?
Ruth: Yes, but people love it, and it’s become part of our brand. We’ve launched eco-friendly packaging, and now the customer will have that option. But it goes back to conveying the store experience online.
You also produce women’s and men’s magazines. Is that de rigueur for retailers these days?
Ruth: Our magazine was never launched as a fashion magazine; it was launched as a showcase of our edit for the season for our customer.
Tom: It is segmented to the consumer, or it could be ordered online. You can request it online, and this year, we are printing in the U.S. as well. It’s in five-star hotels, private jets…the list is endless.
Given the size of your operation, what’s the toughest part about running your business?
Tom: We have more than doubled the number of people who work for us—we went from around 200 to 400 in a year. When you’re growing and moving so fast, communication is probably one of the most challenging aspects.
Ruth: If we’re not leading people well, they won’t understand our expectations.
What’s your favorite part of the business?
Ruth: First, being able to engage with such amazing product and seeing that develop and change. I also love the fact that we are in such a dynamic business. I’m always thinking about what’s next.
Tom: For me, it’s learning. I’ve got a lot of experience, but every day, I learn something new.
Ruth: We get to hire people who are smarter than us! That’s what makes it work.