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For Farfetch, Bringing Luxury Fashion into the Digital Age is Just the Beginning

Farfetch has invested heavily to usher a slow-to-change luxury fashion industry into the online era, but according to founder and CEO José Neves, the company has even bigger plans up its sleeve.

If the Lisbon-based luxury marketplace’s $6-billion IPO is any indication, 10 years of building a digital platform to connect boutiques, luxury power players and emerging brands to their always-on customers has proven to be a stunning success. From the start, Farfetch was founded on a mission to help luxury brands keep up with how people shop not just today but also 10 years into the future. The emphasis might focus on helping offline brands go digital but really revolves around optimizing the balance of clicks and bricks. Because, Neves said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City this week, unlike music, “you can’t digitize fashion.”

Neves touted a few of Farfetch’s highlights: It’s never left shoppers at the mercy of subpar, outsourced customer service, nor has it lost a single seller—brand or boutique—over the past two or three years. Those accomplishments reflect the thought Farfetch puts into perfecting the customer experience soup to nuts, which includes exposing its 3,000 designers to a global consumer base hungry for cutting-edge fashion. Neves dismissed the notion of any tension between the brands and boutiques that “coexist” on the Farfetch platform. Customers are unconcerned about whether the product they want is coming to them from the brand directly or from a boutique, he explained. All that matters is which can fulfill that demand most quickly.

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With initiatives underway that strive to modernize the experience of shopping in a physical store, Farfetch has its sights set on redesigning the fashion supply chain and how garments are made. It’s tackling fashion’s overproduction problem with a Made-to-Order program that perfectly matches demand with supply and adds value to the customer proposition.

The company’s also looking at ways to combat counterfeits—the thorn in luxury’s side—and to embrace circularity and sustainability. Solutions to these not-unsubstantial challenges very well could come from Dream Assembly, the tech accelerator it announced in the beginning of the year that yielded 140 applications and 10 finalists focused on areas like blockchain-based authentication and extending the life of second-hand luxury goods. These startups need expertise and exposure to the Farfetch stable of brands more so than money, Neves added.

Off-White’s meteoric success underscores Farfetch’s role facilitating an ecosystem in which brands both large and small stand to benefit, said Neves, who started designing software for the fashion industry at age 19 and later worked as a footwear designer. Helmed by designer-of-the-moment Virgil Abloh, the brand had its start in Chicago but got legs after it was picked up by one of the platform’s Italian boutiques. Fast forward several years and Off-White now is one of Farfetch’s top 10 brands, Neves said. What’s more, he added, that LVMH tapped Abloh as its new creative director proves even the industry’s biggest players have something to gain from the influx of upstart brands and fresh generational talent.

Farfetch, Neves said, strives to be a “positive force” for the major brands and independent boutiques and labels.