Libby Jane Page: “A signature DNA and a strong brand identity are the keys to success”
Libby Jane Page is the Senior Fashion Market Editor at Net-a-Porter, but before joining the online retailer, she worked as a Fashion Assistant on Marie Claire and InStyle. Her new role is an unusual one, connecting the dots between buying, marketing and editorial. Ultimately, she makes sure the Net-a-Porter team is working as one mind. For designers, this means she influences not only if they’re stocked, but also how they are promoted.
During her time at the online retailer, Net-a-Porter have launched both Net Sustain (an edit dedicated to more sustainable brands) and The Vanguard (an incubator and accelerator programme for emerging talent). As the link between buying and promotion, Libby has been instrumental in finding brands to fill these initiatives and communicating their stories to consumers. Ahead of the London showrooms, we sat down with Libby to hear her thoughts on the buying process, what makes a brand successful long-term, and how to balance consumption with a climate conscience.
Your role is so much more holistic than other buyers. What does that look like in practice?
I attend all the shows and buying appointments with our buying team, so I’m involved in that process and I can give insight into what I’m seeing in the market. Then it’s about bringing that information back to the business, across all departments, so they can feed it in. Editorial will cover the new handbag of the season, how many suits we’ve bought into, the new pant update and so on. It’s all about supporting the buy and driving amazing commercial results.
We have more than 900 brands on the site. I work with the buyers on scouting new talent, making sure there is no showroom or corner of globe unturned. We don’t want to miss out on any new designers. That’s one way I measure success: scouting a new brand, seeing it launch on the site and nurturing it, ultimately seeing really good results in the sell-through. It’s about emotionally feeling success and pride in the work we’re doing.
What is your process for scouting new talent?
The way we scout new brands has changed so much since I started this job. It always starts with going to showrooms, visiting fringe fashion weeks – Tbilisi, Seoul, Copenhagen, Shanghai – and making sure we’re tapping into global markets. Instagram plays a huge part now; we’ve scouted a lot of our direct-to-consumer brands through Instagram. It’s fascinating how a social media platform has become a marketing tool for new brands. If you have a strong visual identity on Instagram, you can capture a buyer’s attention halfway across the world. I get a buzz when I stumble across an account that only has 100-200 followers, maybe they’ve only posted three or four photos, but what they have posted is aesthetically engaging and makes you want to know more.
“Being launched on a global platform completely changes the way your life works and the way the industry perceives you. You have to be ready for that.”
Once you discover a brand, what happens next?
If we want to stock a new brand, we have to make sure that we cannot get that product range anywhere else on our site. As an online retailer, we have the luxury of space, but it’s important that each brand has a different point of view. A signature DNA and a strong brand identity are the keys to success. When we launch a new brand, we don’t want it to be for one season, we want it to be for the foreseeable future.
We have amazing marketing and editorial teams. A new brand needs great talking points and a great story. I scouted Peter Do through Instagram and he was in our Vanguard programme. Now he’s one of the most talked-about brands in the industry. So we definitely have the capacity to project a new brand or a new designer’s career.
If you see a promising designer on Instagram or at a graduate show, what are the additional boxes they need to tick to be successful on Net-a-Porter?
It starts with the products; they need a distinct point of view. But they also need an understanding of what being launched on a global platform will do for them as a brand. It completely changes the way your life works and the way the industry perceives you. You have to be ready for that. We are looking at different ways of working with brands, so that we can provide them with a platform, even if they only have one or two pieces from their graduate collection. Having some form of infrastructure is really important as a new brand. You need to understand deliveries and be able to deliver your product on time. The ability to be reactive if something is performing really well helps secure the longevity of their success.
“Going to a certain school and winning certain awards may look good on paper, but we stock designers who have not been to university at all and we’ve had great success with them.”
For a lot of emerging brands and young designers, they can’t afford that infrastructure from the beginning. Is there support available for those designers?
We’re looking into it, but that’s really why we launched The Vanguard, to try and work with new designers in a more nimble way. We can always give them guidance on small things they can do that would really help to change their business, but we want to do more. It’s important for us to try and provide a platform for brands who aren’t quite there yet.
How do you assess a brand’s commercial viability? What factors affect that?
Going to a certain school and winning certain awards may look good on paper, but we stock designers who have not been to university at all and we’ve had great success with them. Something that’s really important to consider is buy-now, wear-now. The seasons are so blurred now. Spring/Summer, pre-Fall, Autumn/Winter – those names don’t mean as much as they used to. It’s actually just about when the product is delivering and it’s dropping onsite for the customer. You might think the key moments for a knitwear-based were Autumn/Winter, but for us, it’s Cruise. It’s October-January, because they’re the coldest months. So seasons are less important than when the product is reaching the customer.
“When you get feedback from multiple retailers, funnel it into what works for you as a brand. It’s important to take feedback on board for insight, but don’t lose your vision. That’s what leads to long-term success versus a short-term win.”
What are the most common mistakes emerging designers make in relation to buyers and the buying process?
There are so many brands and designers out there, so it’s important to stay true to yourself as a brand. Trends are constantly changing and the way people shop is too. Try and focus on your brand DNA and remember what you set out to do from the beginning. Don’t get swept up in the noise. When you get feedback from multiple retailers, funnel it into what works for you as a brand. It’s important to take feedback on board for insight, but don’t lose your vision. That’s what leads to long-term success versus a short-term win.
Does the fact that Net-a-Porter is solely online influence the sort of items you stock? In terms of visual assets and products having to appeal online as well as in person.
Instagram has become more of a visual marketing tool, but we can shop there too. Instagram Checkout just launched, where you can buy products directly through the app. It’s still being fleshed out, but it’s an interesting proposition. If you produce a photogenic product, it will stand out against the noise. A lot of our brands have been found through Instagram, or they use social media as a platform to create consumers and cult-followings. Look at Ganni girls and what that started. We don’t buy a collection purely because it is Instagram-friendly, but we do see a lot of success with brands that have that visually enticing point of view.
We just launched Area and a brand called Maisy Wilen, both of whom have that Instagram factor. The success we’ve seen with those brands is phenomenal. It might be because they photograph well, or because the fabrics are amazing, or because of the unique designs. That eye-catching, ‘look at me now!’ thing is something brands need to think about.
“It’s important to be very responsible with how we promote brands and how we consume them. That’s really why we launched Net Sustain.”
You studied Fashion Promotion at University for the Creative Arts. How has your view of Fashion Promotion changed in light of the climate crisis?
When I was at university, that term was about learning everything there is to do with fashion, aside from being a designer. The climate crisis is an interesting one. It’s important to be very responsible with how we promote brands and how we consume them. That’s really why we launched Net Sustain. We wanted to provide our customers with the choice to shop sustainably. We still have a long way to go and we’re not naive to that fact. For us, it’s about making progress and offering the consumer a more mindful way of shopping. We want to help lead the change.
Net Sustain has a set of criteria brands have to adhere to, in order to be part of the edit, but that’s only a small portion of the Net-a-Porter offering. Are you hoping that will become part of every buying decision, or will it remain a marginal part of the site?
We’ve just launched it, but we want to make sure that we add more and more brands to the Net Sustain edit each season. Every brand should be thinking responsibly. It’s really difficult for brands who are now putting this at the forefront, to implement this into their business models. We’re trying to work with the brands, learn from them and educate them. We have an extensive vetting process so every single style that is classified as Net Sustain has met certain guidelines. It’s a very lengthy process from our side, so we need the right manpower behind it. We’re starting, but we have a long way to go.