As CEO and founder of PrettyLittleThing, Umar Kamani has created one of the fastest-growing retail brands in the industry. He explains how his price-conscious, influencer-driven approach has led to blockbuster success.
What’s your professional background and how did you get involved in fashion?
I came from a fashion family. My dad and grandfather were in the business from a young age — my father owns a fashion business called Boohoo. I went to university, worked there for a couple years, and then I started PrettyLittleThing as an accessories business. Then it just evolved. This is actually my first career move.
Was there any pressure to start your own line?
Definitely. Boohoo was a success story and when I started, I wasn’t. There was pressure to live up to expectations. But I think that pressure was used in a constructive way to drive me forward and to also look at new ways of evolving these businesses.
When you started your business, what was your initial vision and launch strategy?
I’ve never ever had a strategy. I react to the climate; I react to the customer. All we did was listen to the customer and learn, and we kept tweaking until we built a beautiful business that we think is the solution to what the customer needs.
Who were some of PrettyLittleThing’s earliest adopters?
We started in England and used a lot of U.K. celebrities you may not be familiar with. We launched in the U.S. in 2016, and early on, we collaborated with Sofia Richie and Olivia Culpo. We also worked with the Kardashians from an early point. We had some great, high-profile influencers joining us from an early stage.
What would you consider to be the first big success for the brand?
There have been so many. Becoming a market leader in the U.K. was amazing. Before we launched over here, everyone thought I was crazy, because it’s a much bigger job than it was in the U.K. Our success here has been amazing for me. Integrating into the culture here was key to the success story.
How would you describe the shopping habits of millennials?
Everyone is way more confident in online shopping now. A couple of years ago, when the business first started out, you had to build confidence with the customer. We’ve always been a celebrity-focused world; celebrities and influencers are such a huge part of inspiring how to dress and what to wear.
In 2016, you did a collaboration with Kourtney Kardashian. What is she like to work with?
Working with the Kardashians is always great. I find them very professional and easy to work with. They’re such a huge part of our target audience’s culture, and they’re such a big part of social media. Can you really get much bigger than the Kardashians when it comes to social media? It was amazing to position ourselves with them.
You also collaborated with Ashley Graham on a collection for sizes 6 to 28. Why was she a great partner?
Ashley was amazing, because everything she represents is everything we believe in as a brand. She’s so fun. She’s a big character with a fantastic personality. She shows plus-size girls how to be confident, how to be sexy. She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. I’m confident our collaborations with Ashley will be a long-term partnership.
What kind of feedback did you get when that collection dropped?
It was great. It actually brought in a lot of new customers. People who couldn’t buy from us before [due to limited sizes] now could buy from us. It was a new business to a lot of people. It was super important.
Hailey Bieber is having a moment right now. What drew you to working with her?
We have a good reputation, and we can work with a lot of amazing talent. She’s the girl of the moment, right? We were working with her before [she married] Justin Bieber, and when that all came about, it was just amazing. Hailey Bieber is very much how we started out as a business. Girly and pretty — that’s how we started the business before we started evolving.
How are you approaching growth? How are you trying to scale your business?
There are thousands of orders that come in hourly, and making sure that you can get all of them out is important. We’ve been working a lot on our new warehouse. We’re a business with strong systems and controls we can scale. We can ship to America in a quick time now. We’re ahead of the curve, and we’ve put things in place that will help the next spurt of growth.
How many countries is PLT now found in?
You can buy from PrettyLittleThing anywhere in the world, but we’ve set up the platform and made sure we’ve catered to the culture and different audiences, including the U.S., Australia, Ireland, Canada, France, and the U.A.E.
Where is the company headquartered, and how many employees do you have now?
The company headquarters are in Manchester, England, and in the headquarters, we have about 400 employees. Our warehouse, which is also in the U.K., has close to 4,000 employees. We just opened our U.S. showroom on Melrose Avenue, in Los Angeles, which will be starting with about 20 people. We have an office in London on the iconic Carnaby Street that has another 20 people. We’re looking at opening an office in France as well.
What are your best-selling categories and products?
Dresses. We’re very sexy, we’re very much a brand that’s known for being where you can buy your outfit for the weekend. Kylie [Jenner] wore an orange dress that was about $20 when we first launched in the U.S., and we sold quite a lot of that — it was a popular dress. We have 18,000 products on the site, so there’s a lot of amazing styles in there, and as the business grows, we sell more and more.
What’s your approach to social media?
As social media has developed, PrettyLittleThing has grown up. Influencers are huge for brands. I want to make sure everything stays authentic and real, and that customers really believe in what we do. We want to have genuine influencer relationships — everything isn’t a business deal — and I strongly believe in personal relationships. We believe in building a family culture in the business. PLT is a lifestyle brand; it’s not just an online shop.
Who are your most trusted sounding boards?
I actually use social media. From day one, my key ingredient has always been Twitter. I go on Twitter every single day, a couple of times a day, and I always read what customers are saying. What’s good about Twitter is that it gives you a real-time opinion, so if something’s going on, you get to know about it quickly, and that’s always kept me on the pulse quickly. In the old days, if the website went down because there was too much load on the site, or there was a payment issue, or if people couldn’t get student discounts because their code wasn’t working, you see it all quickly on Twitter because people go to Twitter to vent. So I always use it to give me an up-to-date idea of what’s going on and if everything’s working on the website.
Who do you follow on Twitter?
I watch influencers, but realistically I like to watch my friends and family, and the influencers I work with.
What’s next for the brand in 2019?
It’s going to be our biggest and best year — we’ll be working a lot with different cultures as well. We’re evolving as a brand, and continuing to be meaningful to the customer. We’re in discussions with lots of new talent. We’re developing our PLT podcast, and our official single, “#Pretty,” with India Love and Will.I.Am, was just released. I’m incredibly excited to be exploring more music opportunities in the near future.