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Thread Raises $8 Million to Scale Personal Styling Service

London-based start-up Thread has attracted backers from both the tech and fashion worlds with a scalable personal styling service that runs on a sophisticated blend of human stylists and intelligent algorithms.
Kieran O'Neill, co-founder and CEO of Thread | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Hettie Judah

LONDON, United Kingdom — Thread is set to announce an $8 million Series A funding round led by Balderton Capital, with the participation of Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman, the co-founders of Google-owned DeepMind, an artificial intelligence start-up, as well as a number of other investors from the technology and fashion worlds, including Andrew Jennings, former president of S​aks Fifth Avenue. The valuation of the company was not disclosed.

Launched in 2012 with a vision to provide a personal stylist for every shopper, and currently targeted at male consumers, Thread leverages a unique combination of human stylists and intelligent algorithms to deliver personalised product picks at scale.

“Thread works by taking the best elements of human stylists — their taste, ability to look at your photo and know what you'll suit, and answer any questions you may have — and blending them with the best elements of a computer, namely, the ability to remember everything you've ever said, look through millions of items and do that all instantly. We combine these to create an experience better than either could deliver on their own at scale,” said the company’s co-founder and CEO, Kieran O'Neill, a serial entrepreneur who launched one of the web's first video-sharing sites (pre-YouTube) when he was just 15 years old.

Thread began by targeting increasingly style-conscious yet time-pressed and shopping-averse men. “Most guys want to look good, but don't like the hassle involved,” said O'Neill. “Our mission is to simplify the whole experience and make it easy to dress well. If we get this right I believe we can create a new default for how most men in the world buy clothes.”

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Over the last two years, Thread has grown its customer base from 10,000 people to over 200,000.

Specifically, Thread matches men to a human stylist, who studies data gathered via a quick online quiz and suggests silhouettes that may suit them. Thread’s algorithms then select available garments that match the stylist’s guidelines at a price point specified by the customer, who can purchase pieces directly through the site. Customers’ responses to suggested products feed back into the system and help to refine future selections. A fresh batch of personalised product picks is sent out to each user weekly, while human stylists remain available for one-on-one consultations.

"We invested in Thread because we believe they have the right combination of product design, technology and styling expertise to build a game-changing experience for customers,” said Daniel Waterhouse, a partner at Balderton Capital. “Men don't enjoy shopping, despite spending billions of pounds on it every year, and Thread is on a path to make it significantly easier, effective, and perhaps even fun. The team is exceptional, their growth and traction is strong and we're excited about what they have in store to come."

Thread is also set to announce the appointment of Terry Betts as head of business development. Part of the founding team at luxury men’s e-tailer Mr Porter, ​Betts comes to Thread from Selfridges ​where, as buying director, he oversaw the department store’s menswear division.

Instead of holding stock, Thread works with affiliated retailers including Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Urban Outfitters, as well as brands such as Richard James, Sunspel, Folk, Oliver Spencer and Jigsaw (a key part of Terry Betts's role will be forging more industry partnerships). By placing a daily bulk order on behalf of their customers, Thread is able to purchase garments at a discounted rate, allowing the service to sell them at the original retail price.

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