Love Island is back on the telly with millions of viewers tuning in for a daily fix of romance, winter sun – and fast fashion.
The hit dating reality show offers a golden opportunity for brands to get noticed and this year’s fame-hungry wannabes include I Saw It First, the fast-growing Manchester fashion firm going after the teenage and twentysomething audience with cheap, sexy clothes.
While not yet a household name, I Saw It First is one to watch because of its family ties. It was started by Jalal Kamani, a member of the billionaire retail dynasty behind Boohoo, the online retail group now more valuable than Marks & Spencer.
The rags to riches success story (his father Abdullah moved to the north-west in the 1960s to escape war-torn Kenya and founded the textile business that eventually became Boohoo) has thrown the close-knit family into the public eye.
Jalal quit his role as Boohoo’s trading director back in 2015, the year after the company’s successful float on the stock exchange, and launched I Saw It First two years later. The move pits him directly against the original family firm where his younger brother Mahmud Kamani sits in the driving seat as executive chairman, supported by sons Umar and Samir, who run the PrettyLittleThing and BoohooMan brands, respectively.
So can lightning strike twice? The Boohoo group has grown rapidly, with sales set to exceed £1bn for the first time in the current financial year. Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb suggests that if the businessman was allowed to leave and do a startup it was because he “wasn’t seen as a threat”.
On LinkedIn, Jalal, who is 60 next month, describes himself as the brains behind Boohoo’s successful “test and repeat” model, which involves making small quantities of a wide array of styles then ramping up production of the top sellers. Presumably thanks to a network of contacts built up over more than 30 years in the fashion industry, the clothes on I Saw It First are keenly priced, with dresses and tops selling for as little as £4 in the sale.
The green foil crop tops and PVC swimsuits being paraded by the pool in Cape Town might not seem the answer to the wardrobe dilemmas faced in the UK during a rainy January. But the show provides a direct hotline to the shoppers that I Saw It First is trying to reach, leading to huge spikes in traffic on its website while the show is airing. The retailer first sponsored the show last summer and said the deal produced a 67% increase in month-on-month sales. Contestants don’t have to wear the clothes provided but if they do, products can sell out immediately.
On its website, I Saw It First claims a “rapid rise” from small Manchester brand to become “one of the leading forces in the UK’s fast-fashion landscape”. There is little financial information available to back this up yet, but the startup now employs about 100 people and has expanded its range to 5,500 lines, with the recent addition of menswear. The brand is now “recognisable and relatable”, it says, thanks to these high profile tie-ups, which have included Ibiza nightclubs as well as “collabs” with social media influencers.
GlobalData retail analyst Emily Salter says the young fast fashion market is becoming increasingly crowded as established sites such as Asos, Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing battle new names such as Shein and In The Style for supremacy. The cut-throat environment has not been without casualties, with sales at one-time star Missguided falling sharply last year after it cut spending on marketing.
Despite growing criticism of fast fashion from industry bodies and campaigners such as Extinction Rebellion, the model is still thriving. I Saw It First is clear about its pitch, promising that “trend-led customer can always finds something new to be obsessed with”.
“Young shoppers especially still want to keep up with trends and desire newness, and because retailers such as I Saw It First and Boohoo sell clothes at such low prices that will often go out of fashion quickly, it makes it easy for shoppers to purchase frequently,” continues Salter.
However, she says, if these shoppers do start to shun less-sustainable retailers these online brands will find themselves in the firing line.