A conversation with Nitin Passi, founder of rapid-fashion brand Missguided
Nitin Passi started his rapid-fashion retail brand, Missguided, with a £50k loan and as the only employee did everything from writing product descriptions to handling customer care. Six years later and he now commutes to work, a $120 million dollar business, via helicopter.
The reason why the value-focused online retailer is so successful is two fold. Missguided has a clear brand image – sexy, cheeky and approachable – and then there’s the fact that Nitin’s family has been selling clothes for half a century now. When his grandfather arrived in the UK from India he set up a knitwear factory and when the textile trade moved to cheaper Asian imports Nitin’s father switched to imports for the UK’s high street. Nitin is a Passi for the digital age.
Hard work and putting the customer first is still the MO, and back when he was selling just three items a week, Nitin would ensure that every customer got a personalized message from him. Today, as managing director and sole shareholder of a business that sells 600 000 garments a month, Nitin can't do that. Still, he's heavily involved in all aspects of his business and was kind enough to have a little chat with us ahead of his brand coming to Superbalist in December.
Usually this sort of interview would be done via some sort of marketing or PR person. Is it important to you to stay as hands on as possible?
Definitely. If you are passionate about what you do you can’t not be hands on. I think it’s important to be able to delegate, however, I still stay involved in the areas that will continue to support our growth.
Considering that the dictionary definition of the word “Misguided” is “based or acting on error, misled.” Why did you choose this as the name for your brand?
It is Missguided not Misguided. When I came across the name I loved it. It embodies what we are as a brand - feminine, fun and tongue in cheek. It is also very memorable, which is important.
Your grandfather set up a knitwear factory and your father does imports. How much did you learn from them, and was it important for you to somehow stay in the family trade?
To be honest I didn’t learn any specifics from them. My father always taught me to think global and to think big and I did get some good work experience within his company. However, setting up a brand and going into retail was all very new to me. In terms of staying in the family trade I was always going to work in an industry I was passionate about. So it was either fashion or music for me and you don’t want to hear me sing!
When you started out you were a one-man show. How did you grow your team over the years?
I was the only employee for the first 12 months or so.
I then started recruiting and by the end of year two there were about seven of us. Our head office team (not operations) is now approximately 350 people. This has grown by over 100 people in the last 12 months and we have been on another big recruitment drive recently.
Do you think that little touches like your hand-written notes resulted in your success?
Haha, they were not hand written I typed them. I did put love hearts (English candy) into all the orders though! Whilst I don’t think the notes specifically helped with our success I do think a customer centric mentality has been a key factor to our growth.
What were some of the biggest mistakes you’ve learned from?
I have made lots of little mistakes but thankfully no major ones. We have a culture where I encourage people to test and learn. We do this across all areas of the business and this helps us reengineer and re think how we do things. So making mistakes is ok as long as we don’t make them twice and that we learn from them.
You’re still the sole shareholder, why haven’t you taken on any investors?
We do not require any investment currently so this is the main reason. To date the business has been completely self sufficient which is a nice position to be in. I also like not having to answer to anyone! It means that I can retain our focus to look at our long-term goals rather than meeting short-term financial objectives.
What’s your secret to knowing what young women want?
Haha I wish I knew what they all wanted! That would be a pretty cool superpower! I think we know what fashion they want and how they want to be communicated to. It’s important to understand your customer and the majority of our workforce is a customer so this really helps.
Your average employee’s age is 28, and you’ve said that you prefer hiring straight from university than experienced buyers. Why do you prefer working with young people?
That was in the early days when I first started. I didn’t want to take people on who had a set way of doing things – especially in the buying roles. I took on a few staff that didn’t have much experience but had a good eye and taught them to buy my way or the way I saw fit for our business. As the business has matured however we now have established the way we work and I have hired lots of experienced people. I think it is really important to surround yourself with people you can learn of.
Your brand is very cheeky and sexy. Would you say that this is an extension of your own personality?
Not sure about the sexy but the cheeky part most definitely!
I don’t really take myself too seriously and we have a lot of fun at work. I think that is really important!
30% of your audience returns to your site on a daily basis. How do you keep them engaged?
Newness is important. Buy dropping new styles every day it means we have customers coming back regularly to check.
You’ve said that you’re not fast-fashion but rapid fashion. Could you explain the difference to us?
Rapid is quicker than fast. Missguided is built on speed – not only in the manufacturing (where we can go from design to on sale in under a week) but across all areas. The landscape we work in changes so quickly that we have to be equipped to react.
Your offices look amazing. Why was it important for you to give your employees things like floating meeting rooms, swings, arcade games, a dance floor, bar and DJ booth?
Having a fun and inspiring work environment is so important. I had lots of fun designing the offices and I wanted to create an environment that embodies our brand values. We spend more time at work then we do at home so having a nice environment that inspires staff and breaks the mold of a normal workplace is very important
Besides having such a great working environment, what else do you do to keep your staff inspired?
There are a number of things including some of the fun social things we do (we are big on parties!), however I think the main thing for employee satisfaction is giving your employees a sense of autonomy so they have some freedom in how they reach the goals they have set for them. As a company we support ideas from all staff and are big on testing – this in turn leads to an inspired and motivated workforce.
When you started the business did you ever imagine that you’d become an £100 million global business?
The goal was to be big and global from the get go, however, I didn’t really have a timeframe in mind. I guess I have been taken a bit by surprise with our growth to date but by no means are we getting comfortable. I want Missguided to be the number one fashion brand for 20 something women around the world, and this means we have a big job to do. My first target was £10m then £100m and the next target is £1bn. And when we hit this I will keep raising the bar.
Are there any other businesses or projects that you’d like to start?
Yes but not at the moment. Missguided is my sole focus. There is so much to do that I don’t want to take my eye of the ball.
Looking at your Instagram account it would seem your feed is only shadowed by Dan Bilzerian’s…
*laughing crying face * No comment!
Do you really commute to work via helicopter?
Only when my car is in the garage!
What’s parked in your garage?
My helicopter of course!