A Personal Stylist for Every Shopper
BY VIKRAM ALEXEI KANSARA 1 DECEMBER, 2013
London-based start-up Thread, which has attracted a number of influential investors, advisors and retail partners, is building a scalable personal styling service with an ingenious blend of human stylists and intelligent algorithms.
Thread.com | Source: Thread
LONDON, United Kingdom — A personal stylist for every shopper. In today’s increasingly style-conscious but time-pressed world, where even shopping online can be fragmented and frictionful, it’s a compelling vision.
But a service that can curate fashion just for you, sourcing and recommending products that fit personal parameters like taste, style, size, brand preferences and price isn’t easy to deliver. Basing such a service on human stylists alone makes it expensive and impossible to scale. Meanwhile, the kind of algorithms that power sites like Netflix (a movie subscription service with over 29 million users that is known for having one of the world’s most effective personal recommendation engines) often fail to capture the nuances of fashion, with its subjective tastes, trend cycles and gatekeepers.
Now, a London-based start-up called Thread is tackling the problem with a blend of man and machine, using intelligent algorithms to help professional, human stylists be more efficient and deliver personalised fashion recommendations at scale.
“There is a wave of new technology where you have humans and machines working together to do things far better than either could do alone,” said co-founder and CEO Kieran O’Neill, a serial entrepreneur who launched one of the web’s first videosharing sites (pre-YouTube) when he was only 15 years old and, later, dropped out of university to found Playfire, a successful social service for console gamers, which was backed by the founders of Skype and acquired last year.
“It would be impossible to deliver a truly personalised experience at scale with just stylists and no technology, as it would simply take too long to pull the outfits together each week by hand. At the same time, if it was purely algorithmic then the quality would simply not be there. By man and machine working together you get a superior result than either working alone,” continued O’Neill.
When Thread first launched, its ratio of stylists to users was about one to one hundred. But the company — which currently employs two full-time stylists and 40 freelancers (working part-time) — aims to radically improve this. “We’re working on changes that will let us get to one stylist per 10,000 clients and far beyond,” said O’Neill, who founded Thread, in June 2012, with Ben Phillips, an ex-Google engineer, and Ben Kucsan, a product designer who has worked for Twitter and Google. Shaunie
Brett, a stylist who previously worked with Joe McKenna and has held positions at Burberry and a personal styling site called
The Chapar, has come on board as style director and manages Thread’s team of professional stylists.
A Personal Stylist for Every Shopper - The Business of Fashion
“Thread gives people their own personal shopper for free to help them find the clothes they love,” said O’Neill. “It solves a problem I had personally for many years: I wanted to dress well, but I was busy and didn’t have time to shop regularly. Beyond my own experience, I have many friends who want to dress well, but don’t enjoy the current shopping experience. They feel overwhelmed by Westfield [shopping mall] or the 50,000 items on ASOS, and often aren’t sure exactly what to pair with what.
They all want to look good, but right now there’s so much friction to buying clothes, it’s crazy.”
Thus far, the company, which currently targets the fast-growing menswear