In nearly every industry, a small number of powerful individuals tend to have their hands in an array of different inter-industry ventures, thereby dictating both the micro and macro course and narrative. In fashion, Bernard Arnault, François-Henri Pinault, and Johann Rupert, the respective chairmen of LVMH, Kering, and Richemont, come to mind immediately, as do the various publishing giants and venture capital notables. One name that surprisingly often goes unmentioned: Carmen Busquets.
A Venezuelan investor and e-commerce visionary, Ms. Busquets, 52, has been coined “fashion e-commerce’s fairy godmother” due to her expansive portfolio of investments, most of which have come about in the past five years. Busquets, who “was born to a family of wealthy industrialists,” according to the New York Times, “has personally invested more than $50 million to date in a raft of start-ups based in Britain and the United States, from Business of Fashion to Farfetch, Moda Operandi and Lyst.”
But Busquets’ most significant foray into the fashion industry – on a truly global scale – came in 2000, when she invested in Net-a-Porter; she was one of the co-founders and one of the earliest and most principal investors for the e-commerce site founded by Natalie Massenet. Her initial investment? £250,000.
“Everyone told me I was crazy,” she recalls. “But I always knew you could sell fashion online. It was so logical to me. When I first met Natalie Massenet and saw her business plan, I knew it would be successful. I started to invest heavily while the company was losing money, and then the dotcom bubble burst.”
Busquets – who says she is “proud” to be half deaf and dyslexic; “Nobody’s perfect.” – served as a Net-a-Porter board member and controlling shareholder until 2010. At that point, she sold the majority of her shares to the Richemont Group, ahead of the $3.6 billion merger with Yoox. Neither Busquets nor Massenet are presently involved with Yoox Net-a-Porter, although Busquets retains a 2.3 percent stake. Instead, they have shifted their energies to FarFetch, the rival e-commerce site founded in 2007 by José Neves, which is said to be on the verge of an initial public offering.
A Lengthy List
Busquets’ investments are not limited to Business of Fashion, Farfetch, Moda Operandi and Lyst. Over the past several years, alone, she has helped to fund and is still is an active investor (“going to board meetings, getting so excited about projects that she can’t sleep,” according to the Evening Standard) in a portfolio of approximately 30 companies.
These include Armarium, an online members’ platform that provides access to the rentable runway garments and accessories; Byronesque, the New York-based e-commerce site and personal shopping app dedicated to vintage fashion; UNMADE, a London-based knitwear company; and Wishi, a San Francisco-based platform that provides personal styling in real-time.
There is Styla, a Berlin-based AI powered Content Commerce technology company; Glamsquad, the New York-based on-demand beauty service provider; Merchantry, a New York-based Product Information Management supplier; and Ordre, an international online wholesale marketplace for the ready-to-wear industry.
There are few venture capital firms in the mix: Susa Ventures, a San Francisco-based seed and early stage venture fund that specializes in data focused start-ups; Kindred, an early stage venture capital fund “practicing equitable venture” in London; and Felix Capital, a London-based venture capital firm; and Figue, a New York-based women’s luxury lifestyle brand.
And some of her most recent investments include those in VillageLuxe, a New York-based peer-to-peer fashion rental site; FLOWERBX, a London-based online floristry service; Tagwalk, the “first fashion search engine created to minimize research time yet maximize research results;” Flont, a New York-based fine jewelry company; and MYSWEAR, a London-based customizable sneaker brand.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Busquets is said to be involved in an array of additional ventures, such as Elbi, the app spearheaded by supermodel Natalia Vodianova, which combines liking photos with donating to charity; Vinaya, a wearable tech brand; and ASAP54, an online search tool for garments and accessories; among others.
Nor is it one without web-like properties. For instance, following in Busquets' lead, Felix Capital – the British venture capital firm in which Busquets has held a stake since 2015 – has invested in Farfetch, Business of Fashion, and knitwear brand Unmade, companies in which Busquets also maintains ownership.
Ever Heard of Her?
Interestingly (or better yet, remarkably), despite her truly expansive investment portfolio and what the New York Times has called her ability to "change the way we see fashion in the 21st century,” relatively little has been made of Busquets in the press outside of a few articles in the New York Times and coverage in BoF, a publication she backs financially.
As Eric Wilson and Cathy Horyn so aptly put it in 2012 for an article outlining Fashion’s New Order, “‘Don’t you know Carmen Busquets?’ people ask sotto voce when discussing the success of online retailers like Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi. Actually, no. Ms. Busquets has kept a very low profile in the industry, despite a spitfire personality. Few insiders knew that the Venezuelan native was a founding investor in Net-a-Porter.”
As Wilson and Horyn noted, Busquets has said she prefers small investments in fashion and social media sites, something the digital scion has confirmed. Speaking to the Evening Standard last year of her investment style, Busquets says it consists of an array of smaller donations over a period of time. “Why give a million to someone who has never made that?” she asks. “I start with £100,000 and drip-feed as they grow.”
She was initially drawn to the fashion tech space after identifying the desire of consumers to partake in customized pre-sales. For years, Busquets ran Cabus, a boutique in Caracas, which she closed in December 2001. During that time, Busquets says she would attend the bi-annual runway shows in Europe and snap pictures of the runway looks – via mail – to her best clients. “I actually sold 60 percent of my stock that way; it was a very personal service I was doing,” she told W. This ultimately led her to believe in the power of e-commerce for fashion.
In terms of how she selects companies to fund, there is no magic formula. Instead, Busquets says she is guided largely by her “curiosity and intuition.” Quite often, she says, the companies “complement my lifestyle,” and she prefers to “invest in people who are complementary to me, who share the same vision.”
The question is: What companies are next?