In 2006, boutique owner Sarah Curran launched My-Wardrobe.com, a London-based e-commerce site serving the contemporary-floor customer. Nearly a decade and several rounds of funding later, the company is out of business. Visit My-Wardrobe.com today and you'll find a landing page touting the Net-a-Porter Group, which bought the rights to the URL. As of Monday, December 23, it is still possible to view individual items on the site, although the checkout system has been disabled.
Online retail is a tough business, with very few stores actually turning a profit. Yet My-Wardrobe's failure was not a given.
In the beginning, Curran's goal was not to directly chase Net-a-Porter's customer. Or ASOS's, for that matter. With a focus on basics and easy pieces priced under $500, the entrepreneur wanted to fill out the closets of women who weren't necessary looking for $2,000 ball gowns or $89 leather jackets. The My-Wardrobe customer wanted J.Brand jeans, DVF dresses and Vince sweaters.
For the first few years, the strategy worked. By 2009, My-Wardrobe was generating more than £4.23 million a year in sales. (Not a big number for an online retailer, but the spin was that business had nearly tripled from the previous year.) By 2011, sales reached £13 million. However, the company kept losing money — and kept raising money to keep up with the losses. In 2010, it raised £6 million in a Series A funding round. In 2011, another £2.3 million. And in 2013, it was on the hunt for another £3 million.
At the beginning of 2012, the board installed David Worby, the head of Harrod's online division, as My-Wardrobe's CEO. (Curran's title was changed to chief creative officer.) Worby was charged with accelerating the international business, as well as with building a new team. In November 2012, he brought in Carmen Borgonovo, a well-liked Harper's Bazaar alum, as fashion director, along with a whole new group of buyers, editors, art directors and operations-side execs.
The changes in staff meant changes in product. Loyal Curran-era employees, who spoke with me on the promise of anonymity, said that it became "too directional," too edgy under Borgonovo and Worby's watch. It seemed that My-Wardrobe was suddenly chasing the MatchesFashion and Net-a-Porter luxury customer, not the woman looking for wearable, easy choices. To paraphrase one former employee: lots of retailers want to buy items that will wow the press. But statement pieces don't sell when you're customer base isn't asking for them.
Product stopped moving and the deep discounts started, which cut into My-Wardrobe's profit margins. One former employee also questioned the company's choice to make so many high-profile hires, whose salaries certainly took a chunk out of the balance sheet.
In July 2013, Curran announced that she was leaving My-Wardrobe for good. "I was just becoming more distant, in terms of the day-to-day duties," she told British Vogue. "I was just really the face of the brand." By November of that year, the company entered administration, which the UK calls filing for bankruptcy protection. Worby was out, and the company was bought by Growth Capital Acquisitions, a private equity firm. GCA brought in Andrew Curran, Sarah Curran's ex-husband and co-founder, as its new CEO. The idea was to bring the old My-Wardrobe back: accessibly priced clothes, with a focus on the local market.
By March 2014, Borgonovo departed, and Curran was gone by April. (He only lasted four months.) In September, My-Wardrobe announced that it would not be placing orders for spring 2015. And now it's really over.
It's easy to write My-Wardrobe off as a casualty of Net-a-Porter's dominance. But what these past few years have showed us is that many different sorts of apparel retailers can find an audience online, whether it's a marketplace like Farfetch, an upscale luxury retailer like Luisa Via Roma, or a fast-fashion player like NastyGal. My-Wardrobe failed because it lost its way: both financially and strategically. "It lost the heart when Sarah left," one former employee said. And there was nothing anyone could do to save it.