Business of Fashion–the media darling of fashion insiders and wannabe insiders–began as the side project of Imran Amed, a fashion outsider and analyst at McKinsey & Company in London.
Noticing that fashion industry coverage and fashion designer hopefuls were both ripe for a business-smarts boost, Amed began writing his Business of Fashion Basics for starting a fashion business in early 2007. BoF began to grow, and Amed went on to write eight more editions of Basics.
Eight years and $2.1 million in funding later, those early Basics blog posts are still the most popular stories on the website, BoF editor in chief Amed tells Fast Company. Last year, BoF launched a subscription-based recruiting platform for creative talent. And last month, it launched another new platform: BoF Education, with fashion school rankings and BoF’s own online education courses.
But the foray into education wasn’t really new at all. From when he began writing those business how-to blog posts in 2007, Amed says education was meant to play into his version of the fashion business.
“Almost from the get-go, when I wrote the first installment, the feedback was instantaneous. People really felt like they were getting something that they didn’t have elsewhere,” Amed says. “The people are chomping at the bit to learn as much as they possibly can about how the business of fashion works.”
Here’s how he stuck to his guns and launched when the time was right:
Amed divides BoF readers and users into three groups. There are the insiders, who are working in the fashion industry and see BoF as a trade publication. There are the aspirants, who are breaking into the industry. This group of 30-and-under digitally native users includes people interested in fashion school and young professionals in other industries dying to work in the fashion business. Then there’s the prosumer: a highly educated and affluent woman who is avidly interested in fashion.
The launch of BoF Education was directed toward the aspirant group. In thinking about their habits, Amed and his team considered where they spend their time and what their methods of consumption are. Since they’re digitally savvy and online video is an ever-growing piece of the web-based content pie, Amed decided the logical next step for the Basics series was video. He had also been inspired by a speaker from the Khan Academy–an online education platform that specializes in tutorial videos.
The fashion program rankings were also directed at the aspirants, whose age range and professional level put them in a key demographic for potentially pursuing full-time fashion education.
“There seems to be such a huge appetite for this,” Amed says of the program rankings. “There’s a flood of response that we’ve received on social media and via email and from the schools. There was clearly some kind of pent-up demand for something like this.”
While the demand for fashion education resources is apparently vast, Amed had to keep BoF’s focus narrow when deciding what to roll out in this iteration of Education.
“We have a whole list of courses that we’d like to offer over the year, but the question is, where do we start?” he says.
BoF started with what it already knew: The education platform is a mix of new content and existing content that has been repackaged and made easy to find. And what they came up with was a four-course program of videos and bite-sized reading that appeals mainly to the aspirant but is also interesting to the prosumer and insider factions.
Amed, who is a lecturer on the fashion business at Central Saint Martins in London, created a video version of one of his lessons on some of the Basics–a course that clocks in at an hour and a half and is sponsored by River Island. Colin McDowell, an eminent fashion historian who’s authored 20 books on fashion history, wrote a series of essays for an original hour-long lesson plan on renowned designers and their contributions to sartorial history.
“Like, what was Dior’s New Look, why was it so important? What was Yves Saint Laurent’s contribution to fashion?” Amed says.
The BoF courses on fashion entrepreneurship and fashion marketing (sponsored by The Communications Store) are both made of existing BoF content resorted into two-hour lessons. Partially sponsoring the BoF courses allowed the website to keep its online courses free, which is a model that will continue as it pursues future courses.
“This has been brewing for a while,” Amed says. “It’s an extension of something that we’ve already done in the past, really taking time to think about how to further expand into that space.”
And BoF took the same lean approach with its rankings of fashion education programs. Amed’s team worked closely with each school to gather detailed data, and ranked only those schools that participated in its information requests.
Central Saint Martins tops the undergraduate list of 21 programs. Royal College of Art is No. 1 on the list of 10 best graduate programs. But in addition to the editorial ranking, Amed says BoF allows fashion schools to host their own promotional pages, where they can advertise the programs and post jobs as part of the subscription-based BoF Careers platform.
News of the rankings and BoF Education has found its way into the top newspapers in more than 10 countries, Amed says.
“All the schools want a presence in our education ecosystem now,” Amed says. “That was a purely editorial exercise, but it’s really brought us into contact with all of the top fashion schools around the world, who are now looking for ways to get their schools and their courses in front of prospective students.”
It’s only been a month since the launch of BoF Education, and Amed plans to keep growing deliberately, listening to feedback from the fashion community.
“This is really just the first step. As with everything in a startup, we do lots of experiments to see what works and what engagement is. Then going forward, we’ll see the results,” he says.
BoF is going to continue to work with fashion education institutions and to look at the metrics of this year’s rankings in deciding whether the rankings will be annual. Future BoF courses will likely include the rest of the Basics columns, but first Amed plans to gauge feedback from BoF data, user emails, social media, the press, even everyday conversations.
“BoF has, from the beginning, been a series of little digital experiments. This is only the most recent digital experiment, and there’s still so much we can do,” Amed says. “It’s grown into this great global platform today. From little experiments, great things can grow.”
Until February 2013, there was no revenue model, team, or investment for BoF, Amed says. So with his staff of 30, Amed is comfortable growing the BoF Education platform organically.
“That could mean courses, that could mean schools, that could mean peer-to-peer interaction, it could mean any number of things,” Amed says. “It’s very much the first step.”