Venezuelan entrepreneur and investor Carmen Busquets was an early champion of the fashion-tech space. She was the founding investor in major digital success story Net-a-Porter and amongst the first professional investors to see the value in luxury e-commerce more than a decade ago. Busquets has gone on to invest a total of £12 million (about $19.5 million at current exchange rates) in a number of fashion-tech companies in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Born to a sociologist mother and an entrepreneurial industrialist father, Busquets was educated in England, Canada, and the United States, and recalls attending a “Hogwarts-like” convent school at Hastings in England. After graduating from the University of Miami, she initially wanted to be an artist, but changed directions after the death of her brother and returned to her native country.
She was expected to work in the family’s various metallurgic businesses, but instead forged her own path, setting up a fashion boutique called Cabus in 1990. “[My father] was very strict and wanted me to work in the family business — for him, the worst thing was having a daughter who worked in fashion,” Busquets told The Telegraph. “But he helped me with a business plan for my first boutique in Venezuela in 1990,” added Busquets, who convinced brands like Chanel, Thierry Mügler and Alaïa to do business with her.
Hugo Chavez’s unsuccessful military coup in 1992 was a formative event for the budding entrepreneur. “If I wanted my high fashion business to survive in a country like Venezuela with so many political and economic instabilities and changes, I needed to expand and sell to my international network of client and friends that I had thanks to the fact that we lived and grew up in five countries other than Venezuela,” Busquets told BoF.
“The idea was that I would pre-sell the fashion looks from the designers I represented to my clients and friends. I would send them pictures with my favorite looks via DHL with small drawings and colours explaining the dresses and the colour choices,” continued Busquets. “In theory, I was doing what Moda Operandi is doing today but in pre-Internet days.”
With returns from selling technology stocks that she shrewdly sold prior to the 2000 “dot-com” crash, she became an early investor in Net-a-Porter after meeting founder Natalie Massenet through an ex-boyfriend.
“I never invested in Net-a-Porter with the thought that I would be one of the major investors. I was quite open to being one of the minor investors. But since nobody believed in Internet companies after 2000, it turned out that I had to be the major investor, because I was the only one to believe in it,” she told the London Evening Standard.
Net-a-Porter’s sale to Compagnie Financière Richemont, in 2010, netted Busquets over 16 times her initial investment.
Today, alongside Net-a-Porter, in which she still has a 2.3 percent stake, Busquets holds positions in companies including Moda Operandi, Astley Clarke and Maiyet through her investment fund, Cabus Ventures.
Busquets founded CoutureLab an e-commerce site which she dubs "a labatory of ideas," focused on supporting heritage and craftsmanship, in 2006. The site works with over 100 designers, 80 % of its stock is handmade and it has an average basket spend of £1,200 and delivers to 128 countries, according to figures supplied by Busquets.
In May 2011, Carmen won the ‘Individual Outstanding Achievement’ at the Luxury Briefing Awards.
In November 2012 Busquets launched GiftLab, another e-commerce site, that stocks gift ideas from designers including Emilio Pucci, Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, Jawbone, Dunhill, Orlebar Brown, Georg Jensen, Missoni Home and Fortnum & Mason.
That same year Busquets founded Cabus Venture, a dedicated investment vehicle to finance entrepreneurs, based upon the potential of their content, community and commerce offerings, within the luxury and fashion verticals only. Thus far Busquets has taken stakes in Moda Operandi, Astley Clarke, Maiyet, Merchantry, ASAP54 and The Business of Fashion. In addition to her role as an investor at Moda Operandi, Busquets acts as an adviser and a consultant to the e-tailer.