Silicon Valley and the tech world have done a lot over the last couple decades to destroy the notion of dressing for success. Over that time, we’ve managed to normalize everything from freebie t-shirts for the office to fleece vests and flip flops in the boardroom.
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While startup subculture may be known for sloppiness, it has its fashionable side too. Fashion-related ventures have raised billions in venture financing over the past few years to scale businesses designing, crafting and selling clothing and accessories. They’ve produced some big outcomes too.
Last week ended with a blockbuster offering by one of the more heavily funded players in the space. The RealReal, an online retailer of second hand designer goods, saw its public valuation rise to around $2.5 billion after shares soared nearly 50 percent in first-day trading.
Below, we look at where the venture dollars overall has been going, including funding totals, large rounds, and big exits.
Fashion Venture Totals Over Five Years
First, it should be noted that fashion has typically not been an especially fashionable sector for venture capital financing. It doesn’t get term sheet writers as excited as, say, enterprise security or analytics.
That said, VCs do care about fashion to some extent. They’ve historically been open to dressing up their portfolios with the next potential breakout retail model, playing with new materials, or betting on the occasional emerging designer.
In the chart below, we look at annual global investment in fashion-related companies, encompassing seed through later stage rounds, for the past five years. It shows a relatively steady investment pace, by VC standards, with total investment slowing bit in the past couple years from prior year levels.
In the U.S. meanwhile, fashion-related investment has been trending up more. And so far, 2019 is off to a promising start, with $720 million invested in roughly the first half of the year, compared to $927 million in 2018. The chart below has more details:
Over the past year, we’ve seen a number of mid- and later-stage fashion startups secure large rounds. They’re a varied bunch, but common themes include online direct-to-consumer models, secondhand marketplaces, and customization.
Below, we look at some of the largest funding recipients among companies that have closed venture rounds in the past year:
Exiting In Style
Fashion startups aren’t just securing big rounds — they’re getting some big returns too.
Over the past couple of years, a raft of companies in the space have gone public, including several with multi-billion-dollar valuations. We look at some of the larger ones below.
Yet while some offerings are generating premium prices, others have had to move to the discount rack. Global Fashion Group, an emerging markets online retailer, planned to raise as much as $450 million in a Frankfurt offering. The deal, however, reportedly got cut in half after the offering encountered weaker-than-expected demand.
Back To Basics
By traditional metrics (earnings, revenues, etc.) today’s recently public fashion startups, like the rest of the venture-backed IPO crowd, are trading at pricey levels. To sustain and boost their valuations, they’ll need to keep posting rapid growth, and those that are losing money (a majority) will need to move closer to profitability.
Yet if recent offerings teach us anything, it may be that there is a cap on valuations for even high-revenue, profitable fashion providers.Take Levi Strauss, the pioneering company that brought us blue jeans, which went public a few months ago. With $5.6 billion in annual revenues, plus profits to boot, it’s valued around $8.5 billion. And it only took 165 years to get to that level.
Photo by Lauren Fleischmann, via Unsplash.