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Missguided: The fascinating rise and fall of the online fast fashion brand

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Missguided’s collapse into administration and subsequent rescue by the owner of Sports Direct and House of Fraser made headlines across the world.

The Manchester-headquartered company had only recently announced its founder’s resignation as chief executive as well as the shedding of more than 60 jobs.

But the company’s fall from grace is just the latest chapter in a fascinating story that goes back to a humble factory in Prestwich, a little over a decade ago, as the Manchester Evening News reports.

READ MORE: The top team leading Missguided

Founded by maverick entrepreneur Nitin Passi, in just a few years it grew into one of Britain’s biggest online fashion retailers, tackling established names like ASOS and Boohoo head-on as it eventually turned over more than £200m a year.

Production practices came under scrutiny, and it courted controversy with some of its stunts, such as the £1 bikini. Yet the brand was championed by celebs from Nicole Scherzinger to Sofia Richie and most recently Sean John, a strategy its founder said was the key to his brainchild’s success.

However, a fortnight ago it emerged Missguided faced ruin as a result of debts said to run to millions of pounds.

Police were reportedly called in as suppliers arrived at its Trafford HQ demanding payments, before it was announced the company had entered administration.

However, the brand will live on after it was snapped up by Mike Ashley’s high-street shopping empire in a cut-price deal. It is the latest twist in the company’s fascinating history.

Nitin Passi, now 39, was just 26 when founded the business back in 2008, with its first products made and dispatched from its then Prestwich base.



Nitin Passi, founder of Trafford Park-based online fashion business Missguided
Nitin Passi, founder of Trafford Park-based online fashion business Missguided

The Cheshire-born businessman grew up in Hong Kong and lived briefly in New York before moving to Surrey where is said to have attended the 41,000 a year Cranleigh public school. A love of fashion ran in the family with Nitin’s grandfather having come to the UK from India in the 1960s to set up a knitwear factory.

His father also ran a fashion wholesaler business, which Nitin briefly worked in, after studying business at Newcastle University. Indeed it was a £50,000 loan from his dad which allowed him to venture out on his own.

Despite the CEO claiming he initially “didn’t have a clue about anything online” the website was turning over £100,000 within six months, during which time he repaid his father’s loan. Within six years sales topped £86m.

A women’s only brand, it said female empowerment was key to its ethos. “Our mission is to empower females globally to be confident in themselves and be who they want to be”, was how the firm put it.

Mr Passi was once asked what “women wearing underwear has got to do with empowerment.” “Good question,” he said. “It’s women doing what they want to be doing. That’s the message of empowerment we’re trying to push. It’s OK to do whatever you want to do.”

In 2014 former Pussycat Dolls star Nicole Scherzinger teamed up with the firm and launched a clothing range bearing her name, something Mr Passi described as a “pinch-me moment.”

The company’s offices were originally in Salford until 2015, when they moved to Trafford Park, where the company claimed to have the ‘coolest office in the world’ with swings for seats, sleeping booths, a selfie tunnel, champagne and pizza rooms, palm trees, a real Chinese blossom tree, tunnel-like passages and arcade games.

Mr Passi and his team wanted it to be the “most Instagramable office ever.” Situated opposite Old Trafford, the headquarters boasted a disco lights and themed meeting spots including the Entitled Rapper Room, Boom Boom Boardroom (with glitter wallpaper), the Miami Room, Ballers Room, the Peace Room, Love Room and a Unicorn Room.



Nisin said he wanted the firm’s office to be the coolest and most Instagrammable in the world

The CEO, who often used a segway to get around the Missguided HQ, said he was “massively proud of it” and that it was “100% working for the staff and for me in terms of motivation and creativity.”

Also in 2015 the brand made its first move into the UK high street, opening a concession in Selfridges store in the Trafford Centre, following on from its launch in US department store Nordstrom, which Mr Passi said was the result of demand from customers.

Concessions in the Selfridges in Exchange Square and the department store’s Birmingham branch followed later that year. Then, in 2016, Missguided opened its first-ever ‘flagship store’ in Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London.

In 2017 the company launched a brother label Mennace, just for men, which also had both online and pop-up physical stores.

Mr Passi , who drove a pink Lamborghini worth £300,000, said he had ambitions to eventually turn over £1bn.

However, also in 2017, the company was rocked by allegations in a programme by Channel 4’s Dispatches, which claimed a factory in Leicester which supplied Missguided, along with a number of other high-street fashion brands, was paying staff as little as £3.25 an hour, an allegation the supplier denied.



A slogan emblazoned on the wall of Missguided’s offices

At the time Missguided said it took the allegations “very seriously” as it opened an internal investigation. The company insisted that it “demand the highest standards of safety, working conditions and pay from all of our suppliers and subcontractors.”

A year later, Mr Passi was criticised by MPs for failing to appear at a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into sustainability and sending the company’s head of sourcing and product technology, Paul M Smith instead.

In a later statement on the firm’s website, after the Covid lockdown saw the issue of conditions in textile factories in Leicester in the headlines again, Mr Smith described the “expose” as a “a wake-up call.”

“Yes, we were a young business, growing rapidly and trying to meet the needs of young women wanting to buy the latest trends online, at a low cost, but that window behind the scenes prompted us to be a better business,” he said. “We knew that the secret to a better reputation was, as Socrates said, to be a better business.”

He added they had worked “very hard – to address the issues that surround manufacturing in Leicester” and that they had “taken ownership and accountability of the kind of issues that are currently in the news.”

This included “significantly” reducing their supply base in Leicester from around 80 locations to 12 and bringing in a new auditing programme and other protocols to that they “sourced from the right factories with the right standards.”



Missguided staff including Nitin Passi appearing on reality TV show Inside Missguided

In 2020, the brand featured in a show of a very different kind on the same channel. The four-part mini-series Inside Missguided: Made in Manchester shed a light on the inner workings of the company.

In 2018, after years of success, Missguided lost £26m. And the show followed the fashion house as it worked at trying to bring the business back to its former glory, sealing multi-million-pound collaboration deals with A-list celebrities and continuing to do battle with its fashion house rivals.

Alongside Mr Passi, it focussed on a group of female employees from designers to campaign managers -with viewers getting an insight into what it was like to work in fast-paced fashion business. As one staff member put it they “live and breathe and eat and s***t Instagram and all that”.

The brand’s love of social media peaked with a lucrative deal with hit ITV show Love Island signed in 2018, which lasted until this year, and saw contestants wear the latest looks from their collections. Men were also kitted in Mennace wear.

However the advertisement of a one-pound bikini, during 2019’s edition of the show, drew ire. It was billed as the bikini that “won’t break your bank balance but might break the internet.” Indeed, it led both fashion experts and environmentalists to question the impact of fast, one-wear fashion on the planet.



A phone browsing Missguided website
Missguided is one of the UK’s most popular online fashion retailers

In late 2021 a 50% stake in the business was sold to Alteri Investors. In April this year, the firm then cut 63 jobs as founder Mr Passi announced he was stepping down as chief executive.

Announcing his departure on LinkedIn he said: “When I set up Missguided back in 2009 with a small loan from my family, I had no idea about how impactful the brand would become. In a little over 13 years, working alongside some of the most talented people in fashion, we’ve created a business that has had real traction.

“We serve almost 4 million customers in over 120 countries worldwide. We’ve been a social media pioneer, creating a loyal following of over 10 million fans worldwide, and our marketing at times has been nothing short of legendary.

“And while the numbers are remarkable, more importantly, we’ve used the platform we’ve created to champion women, inspiring them through the fashion we provide, to be themselves and achieve whatever they want.”

He said it was a “wrench” to step away from the day-to-day running of the business he founded but that he wanted to “create space in my life for new challenges.”

“Building Missguided to be the brand it is today has been the joy of my life, but I also know I haven’t done it alone” he said. “I want to say thank you to all of you all the team members, past and present, all our suppliers, and all the customers who have been part of this amazing entrepreneurial journey.”

Management consultants were appointed to “explore strategic options for the business”. Boohoo, JD Sports and Asos were all said to be in talks over a takeover but none materialised.

On May 31 it was announced the company had collapsed into administration after a winding-up petition was issued by suppliers who claimed to be owed millions. Over 300 jobs were put at risk as a result.



Missguided’s HQ in Salford, pictured in 2015

Teneo Financial Advisory were appointed to sell its business and assets with supply chain costs, rising inflation and ‘softening’ consumer confidence said to be the leading causes behind the company’s collapse.

It is understood dozens of staff have now lost their jobs. Some staff have now claimed they were given less than half an hour’s notice to join a conference call about their fate, with colleagues who were on holiday reportedly finding out via social media.

One told the Manchester Evening News: “The call was an emotionless automated message saying that we had been made redundant and our services were no longer required. Many colleagues found out they had lost their jobs through social media, everyone is devastated.”

According to Manchester-based solicitors Aticus Law, some employees are now set to launch legal action over claims they were not properly consulted over the redundancy process. Administrators Teneo have declined to comment on this.

The Missguided and Mennace names, will however continue despite the collapse. Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which also owns Sports Direct and House of Fraser, last week confirmed it has bought the intellectual property of both retailers for around £20m.

Missguided would continue to be operated by administrators for a transition period of around eight weeks they said. Following that Frasers has said it intends to continue to run it as a ‘standalone’ brand within its group.

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