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A New Model for Building Independent Fashion Brands — Download the Case Study

Brand accelerators like Tomorrow offer cash, shared services and economies of scale. Can the approach turn high-potential young labels into success stories?
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Brand accelerators like Tomorrow offer a model for scaling high-potential emerging labels. Tomorrow.
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Starting in the 1990s and 2000s, the luxury fashion sector, once largely populated by idiosyncratic firms owned by old European families, was radically reshaped by consolidation and the rise of corporate giants including LVMH, Kering (formerly PPR) and Richemont. These conglomerates, alongside luxury megabrands Hermès and Chanel, used their heft to dominate everything from distribution and marketing to the battle for executive talent, boxing out smaller competitors and making it more difficult than ever for independent fashion labels to operate profitably.

Founded in 2010 by industry veterans Stefano Martinetto and Giancarlo Simiri — in collaboration with the Saturday Group — Tomorrow was in the eye of the storm. For years, the core of its business was a showroom that helped independent labels, traditionally dependent on third parties for distribution, to sell their wares to stores around the world.

With offices in London, Paris and Milan, Tomorrow became one of the industry’s most sought-after showrooms, with a spot on its roster seen as a ticket to broader distribution. But in some ways, Tomorrow was swimming against the tide. Its ascent coincided with the growing power of the “big three” fashion groups and the decline of traditional multi-brand retailers, especially in the US, then the world’s biggest fashion market, where e-tailers and mono-brand boutiques took market share from dusty department stores.

A few years after Tomorrow’s founding, Martinetto and Simiri decided to reinvent its business model. “The idea was [always] to build a platform — not just a sales agency or distribution channel — for those independent talents,” Martinetto said. “We refused then, as we refuse now, to think that only three conglomerates can generate content of quality.”

The ambition was to build a portfolio of brands that, like those that had been vacuumed up by the big groups, would benefit from shared services — from supply chain management to global distribution — and economies of scale. But instead of targeting heritage brands like Celine and Balenciaga, they would target emerging labels generating less than £10 million a year, precisely the kinds of ventures that the conglomerates were struggling to scale.

Martinetto and Simiri believed they could shepherd more of these brands through the difficult early stages of business in the hopes that at least one or two would become breakout successes.

When they launched their “brand accelerator,” the duo bought out the Saturday Group’s share of the business, raised £15.6 million from European private equity firm Three Hills Capital Partners and began to add emerging labels to its platform, including high-potential labels like A-Cold-Wall, Athletics Footwear, Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Colville, Coperni and, most recently, Martine Rose, negotiating bespoke agreements with each.

The accelerator transformed Tomorrow’s business. Martinetto projected the company would generate £71 million in fiscal 2023, with almost half of that revenue coming from the Tomorrow Originals labels in its accelerator.

Tomorrow was not the only firm to build a brand accelerator, however. Luca Benini’s Slam Jam, which worked with labels like Matthew M. Williams’ 1017 ALYX 9SM, was early to the model, offering underground labels a full stack of services. Then, New Guards Group, launched in 2015 and now owned by Farfetch, managed to scale Off-White and Palm Angels with a similar approach. Finally, there was Comme des Garçons’ Dover Street Market Paris, which worked with designers including Vaquera.

Martinetto said he saw competition as opportunity for the industry’s independent brands — but that Tomorrow was uniquely positioned for success. Instead of choosing brands that fit a certain mould and can more easily share the same fabrics, production and marketing strategies, Tomorrow has worked with a wide range of labels, with a broad spectrum of aesthetics and price points, allowing it to target a variety of market niches.

“If this can’t be done the way we’re doing it, then it can’t be done,” he insisted.

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The State of Fashion: Technology