H&M's investment arm just took a stake in AI menswear personal shopper service Thread

Amelia Heathman

H&M Group’s venture capital brand, H&M CO:LAB, is investing in London-based e-commerce start-up Thread that combines algorithms and personal stylists to help men shop for clothes online.

Thread has announced today that it has raised $22 million in Series B funding to expand its offering, including from the likes of Balderton Capital.

This is the first time a fashion investor has taken a stake in the company, which launched back in 2012 with a mission to make it easier for men to dress well.

“We have great investors in the tech and start-up world, and lots of individuals from the fashion world, but with H&M we get access to one of the best companies in the world at fashion retail,” CEO and co-founder Kieran O’Neill, tells the Standard.

“H&M were focused on the long-term: where is the industry going, how does Thread change it and how our culture and values aligned.”

If you’ve never tried Thread before, it’s a personal shopping service that learns about your style, before serving up the best recommendations for clothes you should buy, with help from the platform's algorithms and stylists. Thread now has over a million users, shopping from brands such as Ted Baker, Barbour, Selected and Reebok, which are all available on the platform.

As with any AI, personalisation is key to Thread’s work. The more you use it, the better it gets and understanding your personal style and the types of things you will buy.

The Thread team L-R: Ben Phillips, Kieran O'Neill, Shaunie Brett (Thread)

“We've been able to design Thread to be an AI-driven company from the beginning,” explained O’Neill. “For example: as you use the service, it's keeping track of what you look like, which clothes you look at: are you browsing for brown brogues or jeans, and based on how you behave, it's learning to get better and better.

“That's just one example of things we've been able to do for Thread to make things better for customers, and I think that is exciting.

Whilst AI is a major part of Thread, there is still an emphasis on human interaction with its personal stylists. The platform combines its tech which learns and remembers your preferences and your behaviour, using this information to help the human stylists, who have great taste and creativity, make recommendations.

“Humans aren't scaleable and algorithms alone aren't tasteful, creative and stylish. We've designed it so we're able to combine the stylists with the algorithm in a way that uses the best of each,” says O’Neill.

There has been a move in the fashion industry to become more tech-focused. Balmain broadcast its most recent Paris show in virtual reality with the help of Oculus, whilst ASOS has a new chatbot named Enki you can interact with on Facebook Messenger and via the Google Assistant.

“It's good to see the industry experimenting with these new things but it's just before these things become really big, we have to find something, a sweet spot fit for it rather than forcing it,” says O’Neill.

The new funds are going to be focused on growing the company, expanding Thread’s design, engineering and data science teams, as well as focusing on turning it into a household name. There will be a women’s section added to the site, sometime in the future too, though it poses a different set of challenges.

“We picked men because mainly we founded the business to solve the problem we had ourselves and it would have been inauthentic for us to go after a bigger market or something,” explains O’Neill.

“But, we absolutely will do womenswear - especially for women who are busy professionals, who want to dress well, but don't have the time to spend shopping, I think it will work really well.”