Athletic wear, fashion and cosmetics have been flying out of e-commerce warehouses since the pandemic began as consumers concentrated on buying for their health and their looks, and from home. This year, several primarily direct-to-consumer online firms featuring these items have launched initial public offerings (IPOs). As both manufacturers and retailers, the brands have surged in popularity and drawn widespread investor interest.
The IPOs have had a largely positive reception from market analysts, although there has been some concern these on-trend companies have jumped too quickly and might have to face the consequences of increased restrictions and shareholder scrutiny.
These six traders are among those that felt the time was right to go big
An Indian beauty start-up founded by former banker Falguni Nayar, who decided to launch the company just months before she turned 50 in 2012, Nykaa made its public debut in November and shot up the Indian stock market charts.
Now India’s top beauty retailer, Nykaa sells a huge range of domestic and international products online – often pushed by well-known Indians in exuberant videos – and in dozens of shops across the nation. From cosmetics, the company has expanded to include fashion, household supplies and pet care.
When Nykaa began selling online, Indian women usually bought cosmetics and hair products from small local outlets. The ranges on offer were small and celebrity endorsements few and far between.\
A high-performance shoemaker founded in 2010 and now backed by tennis legend Roger Federer (the Swiss brand has a Roger collection apparently “co-created” with Federer, the player widely considered the Greatest Of All Time on the court), On’s shoes are made in Vietnam. Its largest market is North America, which accounts for nearly 49 per cent of its total sales, followed closely by Europe.
According to its website, the firm’s products are available at 6,500 retail stores in more than 50 countries, and it markets running clothes as well as sneakers. “On was born in the Swiss Alps with one goal,” its website says, “to revolutionise the sensation of running. It’s all based on one radical idea. Soft landings followed by explosive take-offs.”
On Holding went public in September with an IPO that valued the firm at more than US$6 billion – but analysts have warned that Vietnam’s coronavirus-related factory shutdowns could hold up shoe supply and affect the company’s finances
Another sneaker maker, Allbirds went public early in November, valuing the firm at US$2 billion. The environmentally minded removed the “sustainable” claim from its IPO listing, but Allbirds has continued to push an environmental line, saying on its website: “Climate change and its effects are putting humanity’s survival at risk. And the fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to this fairly dire crisis we’ve got ourselves into. Good news though, it’s not too late to get our act together.”
Founded in 2014 and known primarily for its shoes made from wool, eucalyptus fibre, castor bean oil and recycled bottles, and now offering apparel as well, Allbirds has lost money in recent years. Still, executives have said the firm hopes to soon break even with the introduction of new bricks-and-mortar shops in the US.
Rent the Runway
Founded in 2008, and marketed as the “closet in a cloud”, the Rent the Runway e-commerce platform was slammed by the Covid-19 pandemic’s widespread blight on social events. Offering outfits to rent or buy to clothing-conscious consumers, and a subscription service providing a number of garments within a certain time frame, the US-based company felt the pain when work-from-home policies and lockdowns that began in 2020 turned the focus to comfy rather than glamorous clothing.
Rent the Runway’s IPO in late October valued the company at more than US$1 billion, but some investors asked whether it had fully factored in the cost of garment depreciation and how that might play out over time. Society’s broad turn to casual clothing and continued remote working choices could also have a damaging impact
Another US-based direct-to-consumer platform, the on-trend eyewear company Warby Parker made its public debut in September with a valuation of more than US$6 billion – considered perhaps too high by stock market analysts.
Founded in 2010, the company offers a wide range of glasses, and has a free home testing option for frames, yet it continues to have a small share of the US market.
“We want to demonstrate that a business can scale, be profitable, and do good in the world – without charging a premium for it,” says the company on its website, and notes it has a “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” programme that has distributed millions of pairs of glasses to the needy.
The tumbling share price of Poshmark, an online marketplace for clothes, bags, shoes and decor, sounds a warning for investors and similar companies.
Founded in 2011 and based in the US, the site allows consumers to buy and sell directly from one another (as they do on eBay). This strategy helped the company keep costs down and expand at speed. According to its IPO prospectus, Poshmark had 32 million active users in 2019, who uploaded photos of an item they wanted to sell to a “virtual closet”.
The company charges 20 per cent on sales of US$15 or more, or a flat fee of US$2.95 for smaller sales, but since the Poshmark IPO in January its share price has fallen steeply amid investor concern it wasn’t achieving expected growth. The company blames, in part, “the headwinds of Apple privacy changes”, which it seems will make it more difficult to track users and target advertising.