Imran Amed: minding the business of fashion

The Globe and Mail

Imran Amed (Handout/Handout)

In early 2007, Imran Amed had only recently launched his fashion consultancy, London-based Imran & Co., when he began a series of online musings about clothes and the business of selling them.

Over time, his blog, with the unpromising URL uberkid.typepad.com, starting attracting more eyeballs and more buzz, mostly through word of mouth. Then Amed, who grew up in Calgary but had relocated to England, where he is currently based, received an e-mail message from the public relations director at Oscar de la Renta, inviting him to a fashion show on behalf of chief executive officer Alex Bolen. Amed and Bolen had never met, but the CEO was clearly impressed with what he had been reading.

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“There’s a depth of content” on the site, Bolen says by phone from New York. Amed, he adds, “was obviously a fan of fashion. And for those of us in this business, that’s such an important thing.”

So began the rise of The Business of Fashion, as the blog is now known, and of 37-year-old Amed, who last year made British GQ’s list of the 100 most influential men in Britain. That title wasn’t an exaggeration. Nor is the site’s self-billing as “an essential daily resource” for fashionistas. Today, The Business of Fashion attracts more than 200,000 unique visitors each month; Amed’s own social-media following, including on Facebook and Twitter, numbers more than 500,000.

Over lunch between fashion shows during the fall, 2012, ready-to-wear presentations in Paris not long ago, Amed was, well, businesslike in his explanation of the site’s popularity, speaking in a clipped yet refreshingly straightforward way about an industry that is anything but straightforward.

“I’d like to think we produce content that’s of high quality, that tells beautiful, interesting stories that people can learn from. That’s ultimately what it’s about.”

He adds: “People say to me one of the reasons they like BoF is because it clears the clutter. They don’t have to deal with a deluge of information.”

To be sure, The Business of Fashion is nothing if not judiciously edited. At the moment, a small team of editors oversees “a network of savvy writers and fashion insiders in style capitals around the world.” The contributors provide a steady stream of “fashion business intelligence,” while the editors wade through fashion-related stories from other publications to come up with five “best reads” per day. All of the site’s articles – more than 1,500 to date – are accessible to users.

At the same time, Amed &Co., Amed’s ostensible day job, advises clients, none of which its founder will identify at lunch. Has there ever been a conflict of interest between a consulting project and the site? On this subject, Amed is firm. “They don’t expect coverage,” he says of his clients. “Nor do I ever indicate that it’s a possibility. When there are topics that [overlap and]need to be covered, I don’t write those pieces. That is a strict policy.”

Indeed, a hallmark of The Business of Fashion is its credibility, unusual among fashion blogs and evident in such evenhanded posts as its May 7 look at the comparative advantages to the fashion industry of Facebook and Pinterest, which it based on exclusive data. As a relative fashion-world outsider – Amed attended McGill University and Harvard Business School after leaving Calgary and worked for McKinsey & Company, the global management-consulting firm – he is perceived as having no axe to grind and no agenda to push. For his part, Amed seems sincerely chuffed by the warm embrace he has received from a notoriously icy business.

“Essentially, we provide a free service to the industry every single day. And I’m beginning to learn as I travel around the world how much people have integrated it into their professional lives. BoF has become a part of the way they work. It has created this goodwill among people in the industry.”

As gratified as he may be, however, Amed may have to work harder in the near future to maintain his detached role. When he isn’t being hosted by fashion weeks worldwide, he is appearing on a panel somewhere. Noting that 60 per cent of his site’s traffic is of the return variety, a big draw for advertisers, Amed also admits he is looking at ways to monetize the site.

He wants, in other words, to turn The Business of Fashion into a bona fide business, even if he is still trying to figure out what exactly that will entail.

“I have met with hundreds of young fashion designers, hundreds of fashion startups, hundreds of CEOs and business leaders,” he says of his reach and access. “All I do is get to ask questions of professionals in the industry. I learn from every conversation. It is the best education I could have.”

Editor's note: Imran Amed's consultancy is Amed &Co. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.

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