Runway success: The journey of Imran Amed from fashion nobody to front-row fixture

  • Zofeen Maqsood, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 16, 2014 12:48 IST

A former management consultant who quit his job, went on a 10-day Vipassana course, came back and blogged from home without any plan or strategy, isn't exactly the sort of man you would expect to become one of the key figures in international fashion.

Imran Amed, the 39-year-old founder and editor-in-chief of the website Business of Fashion, who started his venture in 2007 with $100, has since managed to gain 1.6 million followers, received an infusion of $2.5 million in funding last year, in a move led by LVMH (Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy, the French multinational luxury goods conglomerate), has been listed amongst the 100 most influential people in Britain by GQ magazine, UK, in 2011 and has found a place on Wired's 100 list of the most influential people in Britain's digital economy.

The British-Canadian of Indian descent, who was in Delhi recently, comes across as someone acutely aware of his rapid leap from fashion nobody to front-row fixture.

Though his website averages 400,000 unique reads a month, Amed says there is no secret master plan behind its success.

"When I began, I had no vision nor even an idea about what I was aiming for," he says. "It was more of an accident. Back then, the fashion industry was not paying attention to blogs. The big brands were in denial about the rise of the informal digital media."

In fact, in 2007, while attending a retail and luxury goods conference at his alma mater, Harvard Business School, Amed's remark that the high-end labels would be "compelled" to join social media was met with fierce disagreement.

"I got publicly humiliated," he says. Half a decade later, most luxury brands were vying for space on social media.

"This may not seem like a very long time, but it did take us a while to get where we are. It was slow and steady progress," Amed says. At first, he couldn't even secure invites to the major fashion shows. "I had to be sneaked in," he says.

Amed's first recognition came in the form of an invite from Alex Bolen, CEO of the Oscar De La Renta fashion house.

The business of fashion
Amed has strategically focused on the business aspect of fashion, realising that while everyone was talking about the hottest red carpet dress, no one was getting into the workings of the trade.

"We are not against breaking news, but that is not our priority," he says.

"After all, in the digital world, the exclusiveness of having a breaking story is only five minutes. News can be copied, but analysis cannot."

Amed's blog turned website still gets about 80% of its readership from the UK and US, but growing markets in developing countries like India are extremely important to him too.

"Unless you live in some secluded naturists' camp in California, everyone has to get dressed," he says. "And fashion is all about how people express their personalities through the medium of clothes. The most interesting sector to watch here is the mass market. There are millions of people hungry to be a part of this global high street fashion movement and that explains the popularity of mid-segment online retail websites, which are increasingly catering to the mass market. India is one of the most important fashion markets. In the past decade it has quite significantly emerged as the next China. You can't ignore it."

Amed says it's also interesting to see how a new generation of tech-savvy, well travelled Indians are buying global brands online and making high fashion a part of having a high-end lifestyle.

"If there is one problem on the Indian fashion scene it is that there are way too many fashion weeks being set up," he says. "And the bar for being selected for a fashion week is very low. The Indian fashion fraternity needs to come together and discuss how they want to present themselves to the world."

The highlight of the young editor's India trip remains the celebration of the second annual BOF 500 list, comprising people who are shaping the fashion world today. The 2014 list includes Indian influencers such as FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) president Sunil Sethi, founder of Myntra. com Mukesh Bansal, Darshan Mehta of Reliance Brands and Bollywood fashionistas Sonam Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut, rubbing shoulders, as it were, on the list with the likes of designer Alexander Wang and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

"Each person on the list has been a game-changer in fashion in some way," says Amed.

Amed says he sees a similarity between his story and that of Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut, who like him came from a sleepy town (he was raised in Calgary, Canada; Kangana is from Bhambla, Himachal Pradesh), were outsiders in the world of fashion and yet managed to carve out a place for themselves in an otherwise uptight world.

Amed met Kangana last year at a Dior launch. "In a sea of Dior models, she wore a pink and green piece, the strongest from the collection, and managed to carry it with élan," he says.

Of Sonam Kapoor, Amed says: "Her name kept popping up at the Cannes Film Festival and global fashion weeks, for her individualistic sense of style."
A fashion week regular, Amed travels approximately 150 days a year to report on trends and trade from fashion destinations such as New York, London, Brazil and Milan.

Of the fashion weeks he has attended in India, Amed says: "It's a big challenge for Indian designers to identify their market. Some are trying to do everything at the same time, which makes it very difficult at the production stage. Also, Indian consumers are very savvy. After all, we have grown up with personal tailors and embellishments, a rarity in West, so it is only natural that Indians will be more clued in to the finer nuances of fashion."

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