Natalie Kingham is largely credited for the success of e-commerce platform MatchesFashion. As fashion and buying director of the online boutique, she’s been able to strike a balance between established brands and up-and-coming designers, transforming MatchesFashion into one of the world’s most diverse and dynamic shopping sites.
“We have always worked with a diverse range of designers and have attended fashion weeks outside of the traditional calendar, including Seoul and Lagos,” says Kingham. “We’ve hosted special projects with [fashion designers] such as Grace Wales Bonner, Priya Ahluwalia and Ludovic de Saint Sernin, all of whom have a unique point of view.”
The emphasis on diversity is evident in MatchesFashion’s ongoing partnership with Fashion Trust Arabia. Back in June 2020, the online store started carrying the collections of five FTA Prize winners, expanding its reach to encompass some of the best fashion offerings from the Middle East and North Africa. “Our partnership with FTA has opened a new opportunity to shine a light on new and innovative designers from the MENA region,” says Kingham. “The partnership is part of MatchesFashion’s commitment to championing emerging designers on a global level.”
While the collections by MENA designers hit the market in June, the partnership with MatchesFashion was a year-long affair, an extensive mentorship that identified the best manner in which to help each individual brand. “The buying team and I looked at each of their designs to see how it could work on a commercial and global scale,” says Kingham. “Some of the brands wanted to learn more about how to amplify their social channels, whereas others wanted to learn about our customers through private shopping. All the teams loved working with each of the designers because we learned so much about their point of difference, which is what we are always looking for.”
Salim Azzam and Roni Helou both won the FTA Prize in 2019 in the Ready-to-Wear category, and both credit the MatchesFashion mentorship with having introduced savvy marketing aspects into their sales strategies. “I learned so many things about expanding my brand online and the different possible ways of going about it,” says Azzam. “I learned that there is no one rule to do so. In fact, you have to learn what is best for you and your brand.”
“MatchesFashion’s mentoring has provided me with a set of tools that help better frame decisions and anticipate possible outcomes, whether they are good or bad,” says Helou. “One of the most important things I learned is to always have proper marketing strategies when launching an online shop and to constantly evolve by introducing new facets to the brand.”
For Kingham, mentoring the FTA Prize winners was a highly enriching experience. “The designers were mentored throughout the year by key stakeholders within the various departments of the business – social, communications, e-commerce, buying, private shopping – and they were able to have honest conversations to learn ways in which they can develop their business model in a way that stays true to their DNA,” she says.
Mukhi Sisters, who won the FTA Prize in the Jewelry category in 2019, say that the MatchesFashion mentorship provided invaluable brand exposure. The three sisters also believe that working with the e-retailer charted a new course for their label. “It inspired us to follow new directions, communication and operation wise.”
The five collections by the FTA Prize winners launched in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet still sold well, in spite of the global economic downturn caused by the spread of the virus. “Although we have seen our customer buying differently since the lockdown, all brands have performed well, with strong sell-through throughout,” says Kingham.
At their core, many brands based in the MENA region possess the ethical values that MatchesFashion seeks to promote, including authenticity, raw talent and diversity. “I always look for authenticity in a brand – even a small concept can be developed into something amazing,” says Kingham. “It’s about talent, as raw as you like, and this is a key strength of the MENA region.”