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Regional exclusive: Net-a-Porter’s Lisa Aiken on its new mentorship initiative, The Vanguard

Supporting tomorrow's designers today
Net-a-Porter is launching a new mentorship program and in a regional exclusive Fashion Director Lisa Aiken chats with Buro 24/7 Middle East about what it means...

Net-a-Porter is one of the world’s leading luxury e-commerce platforms, and with good reason. From its unparalleled edit of this (and next) season’s must-haves to express global shipping and a downright pretty site to shop on, there’s no wonder it’s won over the hearts and wallets of women worldwide. Now, the e-comm giant is taking its expertise and investing it in the next generation of designers with the launch of its new mentorship program, The Vanguard. We caught up exclusively with Lisa Aiken, Net-a-Porter‘s Fashion Director, to find out more about the program and who the chosen designers for the inaugural season are…

Why did Net-a-Porter want to establish The Vanguard program?

Net-a-Porter has years of experience in discovering, nurturing and launching new brands. The Vanguard is our way of formalising and extending the support we already offer to emerging talent.

What is its main goal?

Nowadays, launching a young brand successfully and with longevity requires so much more than just good design. Through this mentorship program we hope to give sustained guidance that can be of significant value to these brands. 

How does the mentorship element of the program work and who will the designers be paired up with?

Once a brand has been invited to participate in The Vanguard mentorship program, they will be connected with Net-a-Porter‘s team of experts and industry leaders. They’ll be paired up with an array of teams across the business, whether it’s our General Manager in China who can advise on how to service Chinese customers specifically or our teams in the US, Middle East or Hong Kong — they’ll all be able to provide specific market intel, giving each brand a global perspective on how to launch a business, not to mention access to customers in over 172 countries worldwide.

Our buyers give advice on everything from pricing structure, category mix, delivery times, fabrications and merchandising to working with them on special projects and exclusives. They’ll receive one-to-one sessions with Alison Loehnis, President of   Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter, Matthew Woolsey, our Managing Director on their business strategy; Brand Creative who will show them how to build on their brand image; and Social, Marketing & PR who will guide them on their influencer strategy, content creation, and give them insight into the press and media landscape. In addition, they’ll have access to our London-based Tech Hub and Photo Studios. And it doesn’t just stop in the UK, they’ll be connected to our global teams, whose expertise can be applied to anywhere in the world.

In an industry so focused on the new, we want to introduce novelty to our customer in a responsible way that also lends itself to the longevity and self-sustainability of these brands. 

Why is it important to Net-a-Porter to sponsor the next generation of design talent in this way?

We have so much to offer at Net-a-Porter by way of expertise, so by working closely with these designers on the areas they may not have as much insight into, we are hoping to be able to help them on their journey of building a lasting and successful brand. In an industry so focused on the new, we want to introduce novelty to our customer in a responsible way that also lends itself to the longevity and self-sustainability of these brands. 

How did Net-a-Porter go about selecting the designers that are part of the inaugural program? Was it an application process, were they scouted via fashion week..?

The Vanguard brands were chosen because we believe they each have a unique design aesthetic that will contribute to the fashion landscape. The Net-a-Porter buying team carefully considers all talent and selects brands based on their authenticity of design and directional brand perspective.

Have emerging fashion weeks in countries like Copenhagen, South Korea and in South America changed the way you scout for new designers as a buyer?

Absolutely. We’re still finding hidden gems in the four main cities (NY, London, Milan and Paris) but what’s really exciting is what we’re finding outside of the usual fashion week circuit. There are so many super directional brands from the fringe fashion weeks, whether it’s the likes of PushButton and We11done from Seoul; Stine Goya, Ganni and Cecile Bahensen from Copenhagen; Georgia Alice, Matteau, Double Trouble and St Agni from Australia; and Stand and Deitas from Stockholm. And we’re not just picking up brands from fashion weeks, we’ve seen huge success with Nanushka from Budapest and By Far from Bulgaria, and we’re very excited to launch L’Afshar from Dubai in November.

There are four designers who have received a place in the mentorship program and eight that will feature under The Vanguard custom list — what is the custom list and how does it differ or align with the mentorship program?

The Vanguard is very much a two tiered initiative. The custom list is an area onsite dedicated to new talent, where you’ll find all of our new and emerging designers in one easily accessible place. The mentorship programme is specifically for selected brands who will benefit from really comprehensive mentorship. From the guidance and meetings with our team of experts to guaranteed inclusion in some of the most valuable promotional spots on our home page, email and seasonal campaign.

we’re not just picking up brands from fashion weeks, we’ve seen huge success with Nanushka from Budapest and By Far from Bulgaria, and we’re very excited to launch L’Afshar from Dubai in November.

Tell me a little about why the four designers — Gu_de, RUH, Souliers Martinez and Les Reveries — were chosen for this year’s program?

Ultimately, we believe that these four designers have the potential to grow into meaningful businesses with a global resonance. We felt that the duality of Les Reveries’ floral designs was unlike anything we had previously seen, that Martinez’s use of traditional Spanish craftsmanship and original design would lend itself to a new take on the classic pump altogether. And we loved RUH’s refined silhouettes and their artisanal approach to design while Gu_de is the perfect combination of contemporary price point meets compelling design.

How do the works of these designers fit into the trend forecast for the coming season? Or are they helping to set them, perhaps?

Both — they’re setting the trends and fitting into them. F/W ’18 is all about vintage shapes and Les Reveries’ maxi styles tick all the right boxes. They’re so versatile; you can either wear them in a pretty way with sandals or with a hoodie and chunky ankle boots to make them feel grunge-y. Gu_de is our new go-to for the sensible saddle bag, after seasons of using a mini bag for essentials and then having to carry a larger tote to fit everything else, we’ve finally upscaled to more sensibly proportioned styles. RUH very much speaks to the ‘Back to Reality’ trend, think blazers, shirts, pants and tailoring — they’re not new new but they are our most relevant wardrobe staples. And Souliers Martinez has moved the traditional pump forward with a fashion point of view, making it the perfect piece for the pump revamp trend.  

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As a buyer, what is it that you look for in a brand when scouting them for Net-a-Porter (outside of The Vanguard program)?

We look for newness; for something we haven’t seen anywhere else before and ultimately for pieces that we know our customers globally will love.

What’s in your cart currently?

Good question! Too much is probably the most honest answer. Specifically, Les Reveries’ Maxi Dress, a Stand Faux Fur coat and a pair of Nude sandals by The Row. 

Now, read our interview with Alison Loehnis, the President of Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter.