Faster Than Zara? Boohoo’s Online Fashion Fuels 260% Return

  • U.K. retailer Europe’s best-performing consumer stock of 2015
  • Boohoo betters Zara’s fabled fast-fashion model, analyst says

Many investors in retail stocks will be happy to see the back of 2016. But not those who bet on Boohoo.com Plc.

The online fashion merchant’s shares have soared about 260 percent in 2016 as fashion-conscious youngsters snapped up garments such as bomber jackets and shoulder dresses for 15 pounds ($18.42) apiece. The stock’s rise is the biggest of any western European consumer-related company with a market capitalization of more than $500 million, in a year when shares of many retailers are underperforming the broader market.

Boohoo, based in Manchester, England, draws inspiration from Zara’s industry-leading speed of design -- then makes it even faster. After ordering a broad range of products in small quantities, over half of which are made in the U.K., the retailer puts them on sale and orders more of the ones that sell and stops buying those that don’t.

“Youngsters now will decide on Thursday what they want to wear on their Friday night out,” company Chairman Peter Williams said. “Our test-and-repeat model means we can put what they want in front of them very quickly and get it shipped out for the next day.”

Boohoo’s clothes and prices are targeted squarely at 16-to-24-year-olds. By only selling online rather than having to ship goods to stores, Boohoo can more quickly collect data on what products are hot and which are not. Lead times are between one and two weeks, more than twice as fast as Zara, according to Simon Bowler, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas.

“This is taking the world-leading clothing model, and not only replicating it but improving it,” Bowler said by email. “In a week, they launch the number of ranges that other retailers would launch in a season.”

Struggling Industry

The model is the brainchild of co-founders and Chief Executive Officers Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane. The fashion industry veterans have spent their respective careers supplying the likes of fast-fashion pioneer Primark and Sir Philip Green’s TopShop.

Boohoo’s stock price gain is all the more startling given it operates in a struggling industry. Typically stellar performers such as Next Plc have suffered sales declines, while internationally Hennes & Mauritz AB’s profits are down and American Apparel has filed for bankruptcy.

In addition to the success of its sourcing model, Boohoo’s stellar year hasn’t been derailed by the sharp fall in sterling since Britain voted to leave the European Union. As well as purchasing much of its garments in pounds, the company makes about a third of its total revenue overseas. On Wednesday, it announced plans to acquire the brand and customer databases of Nasty Gal Inc., the Los Angeles-based women’s fashion retailer that filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

60 Times

Still, much of the good news might be priced in to the stock, which sells for 60 times estimated earnings for the next 12 months. That’s more than double the valuation of a year ago, and is the highest among the 35 publicly traded companies in Bloomberg Intelligence’s Europe Specialty Apparel Stores Competitive Peer Group.

Boohoo rose 2.3 percent to 135.25 pence at 9 a.m. in London, giving the company a market value of about 1.5 billion pounds.

With the memory of a 2015 profit warning still fresh in his mind, Williams is refusing to get carried away.

“It’s difficult to predict what will happen next year," the chairman said. “But it’s an exciting time.”

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