Net-A-Porter’s offshoot, The Outnet, has quickly grown into a luxury destination for savvy shoppers in its own right. And while Natalie Massenet’s visionary entrepreneurial spirit can be credited for its timely launch, longtime president Stephanie Phair was the one who turned the original vision into gold. We caught up with Phair to see just how business is booming with successful private label Iris & Ink and more than 250 brands under The Outnet umbrella.
BY PAIGE REDDINGER
Why was 2009 the right time to launch The Outnet?
Natalie Massenet and the team at Net-A-Porter had been thinking about launching an outlet for Net-A-Porter for about a year or so prior. It hit with the worst of the recession, which meant that probably the conversation around discounts and smart shopping was more at the forefront.
At what point does the product move over from Net-A-Porter to The Outnet?
There is definitely not an immediate move over. It’s sometimes even a couple of seasons later. Although The Outnet started as the outlet for Net-A-Porter, and it certainly still is, now only 20 percent of the stock comes from Net-A-Porter.
Do you feel a lot of competition in online designer sales?
There will always be competition. In the beginning it really took a lot of conversations, but it’s paid off and now we have more than 250 brands that work directly with us.
How did you get your start in the business?
I was actually interviewing for jobs in finance, but then I got a break because this wonderfully charismatic, young owner of Siren PR said she would sponsor my visa. So I did that, and then I moved onto the brand side to Issey Miyake
and to Vogue. They needed someone to do their marketing and PR on the editorial side. I was there at the time we launched the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund. So it was really an amazing time to get a 360-degree view of fashion.
Then you started working at The Outnet?
I met with Natalie Massenet, and she was really inspiring and driven. I jumped on board, and the job description was to launch and run a new business for Net-A-Porter, an outlet business. I thought it was such an amazing opportunity to be able to do a start-up, but within an established company. I mean how many times does that opportunity come knocking?
What brands do you personally buy from The Outnet?
No one on staff can shop for a week after we put the items up on the site. We want the customers to get first choice all the time. But despite that, I would say Helmut Lang, which has really nice straightforward blazers and clean lines. I think Alexander Wang is a great one, if you want a bit of edge. Then for cashmere, I like Iris & Ink cashmere sweaters from our own private label. The quality is really good. And I love the black skinny jeans. They are magic jeans. Post-baby, they’re the only skintight things I dare to wear!
Good to know! Why did The Outnet decide to start a private label?
Our styling team always said how it would be so great to have these amazing basics to style the pieces with. And then our customers were asking us, “What do I wear with this amazing Oscar de la Renta skirt or this incredible Dolce & Gabbana embellished top?”
Why the name Iris & Ink?
To be fair, finding a name where you own the IP rights is not an easy job! Iris was more feminine and girly and perhaps more romantic, and Ink was slightly edgier and tougher. It meant we could play to both sides.
Were you an online shopper before you started working at The Outnet?
Oh, yeah, because I was already working in e-commerce. I book all business travel online, holidays, I buy all my groceries online, and I’ve bought furniture online. I’m an inveterate online shopper.
Where do your customers come from?
Our customers find us through our social media feeds or through our collaborations. We have just come off a very, very successful partnership with Victoria Beckham to benefit mothers2mothers to raise money for charity, and some of those people wouldn’t have known about The Outnet before.
Will you do more collabs with celebs like that in the future?
We might; you know Victoria came to us for it. She’s been a customer of ours in the past. I think when her idea to sell her clothes came about she wanted to really find a partner that had a global reach, that understood e-commerce, that could really market this project and really get as much awareness to it as possible. And that is exactly what we did.
How do you keep things from seasons past feeling new?
We look at how you can wear a piece for the office or whether it works with trends in leopard for autumn. It’s amazing to remerchandise things. It just gives a new lease on life to a beautiful, high-quality product.