Men, conventional wisdom indicates, enjoy shopping for clothing somewhat less than women, and on the whole they care less about what they wear. Men are not shoppers – or so the stereotypes tell us.
As it turns out, the data tells a somewhat different story. According to data from the Boutique @ Ogilvy, a fashion public relations firm, men spend both more money and more time shopping for clothes than women do each week, and they are more than twice as likely to go online to shop. And that data has been echoed time and again over the last 10 years or so: Men either spend approximately as much time and treasure shopping for clothes as women do, or they spend slightly more.
Founded six years ago by Kieran O’Neill and Ben Phillips, Thread wants to be the go-to solution for male shoppers who are perhaps more inclined toward sartorial sophistication than one might assume, but are not enjoying the amount of time they are spending online and in real life.
“I was interested in dressing well, but didn’t particularly like shopping very much. Oxford Street on a Saturday was my idea of hell, and online there was an overwhelming number of things you could look at. And so I kind of had this problem,” noted O'Neill. A serial entrepreneur, he founded his first firm at the age of 15, eventually selling it to Carl Page, brother of Google Founder Larry, for $1.25 million.
Thread was the business he founded to fix his own problem. The site's slogan is “Dress well without trying.” Which admittedly is a bit of a stretch – more accurately, the firm offers its clientele the ability to dress well without shopping.
To use the service, customers do have to expend a small amount of trying: They need to create an account and set their personal details and preferences so that the system’s AI can do its work. Most of the company’s last several years have been spent fine-tuning and perfecting those selection algorithms, according to its founders, so that the customer isn’t falling into the “scrolling hole” where they see stacks of options they don’t really want, trying to unearth that needle in the digital haystack.
But though it relies heavily on its technology, Thread also keeps a human touch on hand. Stylists help the process along by making suggestions, advising consumers on different types of fashions and then helping them curate items around those suggestions.
Both sides are necessary to the business, O'Neill noted, as it is the interplay between them that accounts for Thread’s secret sauce in a complicated digital retail ecosystem, where it is not the only firm offering bespoke menswear options. Using only human stylists would likely be unscalable and unspeakably expensive, he said, and not realistic outside of very niche boutique locations.
“If it’s just algorithms, they don’t understand creativity and taste … by combining the best bits, we create an experience that we think is better than either can [provide] alone," he added.
The goal of the business, according to O’Neill, is not to build “a quirky niche thing.” The goal is to be something that is widely accessible and to solve an actual problem, particularly for young professionals who want to look good without having to invest in shopping as a lifestyle. Look better and spend less time doing it is something that will have broad appeal, he suspects.
And with a recent major infusion of cash, Thread will soon be on track to push its visions on a larger scale. The firm recently picked up £16.7 million (~$21 million) in funding from the H&M group. O’Neill said that the majority of that investment will be poured back into developing data science, AI and engineering design, with the goal of refining the brand's omnichannel offerings.
“This is so we can do a bunch of things that customers want and that aren’t possible in eCommerce places," O'Neill noted.
Eventually, he believes customers will prefer to use Thread and services like it, because they offer a much cleaner, more enjoyable and more personalized retail experience.
“We want every last touchpoint highly tailored, so it is like the shop has been built for you.”