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What YNAP Chief Has to Say About Data, Tech and the Future of Fashion

Yoox Net-a-Porter CEO Federico Marchetti hopes his two-decade tenure at the helm of the premium fashion business will secure a legacy of data-driven advancement in the luxury sector.

The former Bain & Company consultant turned fashion industry insider founded Yoox in the year 2000, just as the idea of the internet was beginning to solidify. And at the the WWD virtual Apparel and Retail Summit on Thursday, Marchetti spoke of his plans to step down from his post this January, handing over the reins to Richemont exec Geoffroy Lefebvre.

“I’ve always been good with timing, let’s put it this way,” he said, noting that the birth of the online luxury fashion marketplace coincided with the birth of the bubble economy 20 years ago. “I think timing is important—not only when you start but also when you exit.”

Marchetti’s departure has been carefully choreographed over many months, he said, and he’s confident leaving the company in new hands because of the programs and priorities he’s worked to put in place.

Chief among them is the creation of a robust cache of data that the company uses to inform its decision-making. YNAP has collected 36 million photos of fashion goods spanning two decades, along with data from 4.3. million customers. With one billion visits per year, Marchetti said YNAP actually owns “the largest data set in the world for artificial intelligence, research, and computer vision for virtual try-on.”

YooxMirror, a tool that has lived within the company’s app since 2018, allows shoppers to take potential purchases for a virtual spin by letting shoppers dress their own avatars, pairing styles as they please to create a full look. The YNAP team re-released the program with new updates two months ago, Marchetti said, with improvements informed by shopper data, and during Cyber Monday, YooxMirror was “the most used feature ever across all platforms.”

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Insights gleaned from features like the YooxMirror, along with a large trove of search and sell-through data, will ultimately help the company behave more responsibly and efficiently when it comes to product planning, according to Marchetti. A strategic partnership with China online retail giant Alibaba that launched in 2018 has only added to the wealth of statistics, while helping the company reach the ever-important Chinese luxury shopper.

“Because we are a tech company, we were born with these [data] archives from the very beginning,” Marchetti said. While e-commerce is now “booming,” especially as brands ramp up their digital presence during the age of Covid, the web was “a market unknown” when he started YNAP. He believes that brands and retailers will soon take the same plunge when it comes to leveraging data.

Not willing to leave that projection to chance, YNAP launched the Modern Artisan Project one year ago—a program designed to train young designers just starting out on bringing their collections to market. The training curriculum focuses on sustainable manufacturing processes and developing advanced technical skills, but it also places a heavy premium on using data to guide design.

“Information, data, knowledge—these are just tools for creative people,” he said. “It doesn’t interfere with their freedom,” as students entering the modern fashion landscape are actually inspired by looking at trends in the market. Of the program, Marchetti said, “I believe it could be a sort of blueprint for the future of fashion, in the sense that it combines data with craftsmanship.”

The idea for the Modern Artisan Project actually stemmed from a meeting last year with an unlikely sartorial influence: the Prince of Wales. In a meeting with the royal at his home in London, Marchetti was asked to “come up with an idea for a project to bring Britain and Italy together.”

“I went home and I started thinking,” he added, settling on an idea to combine “tradition with the future,” just as he did when he sought to blend the worlds of classic luxury and new-school e-commerce when he built YNAP from the ground up. The idea to train artisans in both old and new-school techniques, as well as giving them the gift of data, seemed a natural fit.

Last month, the Modern Artisan Project launched its collection with The Prince’s Foundation, a capsule containing 18 sustainable men’s and women’s garments, like suiting, shirts, sweaters, dresses, and cardigans. A handful of students from Politecnico di Milano’s Fashion in Process research laboratory helmed the design of the collection, while artisans at the headquarters of The Prince’s Foundation in Ayrshire, Scotland were trained in small-batch production skills to execute the line. The pieces are available for purchase via Net-a-Porter, Mr. Porter, Yoox and The Outnet, and proceeds will be donated to the foundation’s efforts to deliver technical textile training to young artisans.

The partnership will continue into next year, and the Modern Artisan Project will live on long after Marchetti’s farewell in the new year. “It’s not just a project but for me, but a kind of a synthesis of my work over 20 years,” he said.