By Thomas Shambler
Toby Bateman, the managing director of online retail powerhouse Mr Porter, on the secret to selling men's style
What brought you into the world of fashion?
I always wanted to make sure I did a job that I was passionate about, and one that wouldn’t simply be a 9-5 office job, which fashion allowed me to do. I began my career on the UK High Street where I started off working on own-label brands and really learnt my trade. Following that I moved on to larger department stores before joining Mr Porter as Buying Director.
Mr Porter properly spearheaded putting retail alongside content. Now it seems to be commonplace, large retailers have their own magazines and editorial teams. And big publishing houses have started online stores. Does Mr Porter still have an edge?
Yes Mr Porter does still have an edge – because we were born as both content and commerce it still feels much more of a natural combination I think than the ones who have tried to morph into something they were not originally. Our weekly content in The Journal is created entirely by us using only our own commissioned imagery which is unique.
We also added to our editorial arm in April when we launched The Daily, making it now easier to respond to current affairs, style news feeds, food and travel stories, three times a day. Regarding our product offering, we very much look at collaborating with designers we stock on a series of exclusive capsule collections, approximately 40 a year which we’re very proud of. We are also the Global online exclusive retailer for several brands who we’ve recently launched, Prada and Ermenegildo Zegna most recently who now add to over 400 designers we stock on the site, a long way from the 80 we originally launched with.
What's next for Mr Porter? Where can we expect the brand to be in the next five years?
We announced in July this year that we will be launching our own label in 2017 and are also focusing on our fine watch category too, so expect to see some developments in both of these areas.
Why do you think there are still so few premium online menswear retailers? Have you noticed this change over the past five years?
I think that there are certainly more than there were five years ago for sure. However, the women’s sites still tend to be more prevalent and greater in number which simply reflects the different sizes of the market – especially in the West.
What makes an item of clothing worthy of Mr Porter. You're quite particular - it seems – of the brands you stock?
Each brand stocked on Mr Porter must have a clearly identifiable and unique DNA – that's the most important thing. Men cannot digest too many brands which are too similar to each other in the way that women’s might be able to. Our brands must also have an interesting story to tell, (as we are of course a content site as well) and represent a good value to quality ratio.
Do you think that men find shopping a tad stressful?
I think some men find the shopping experience in general a totally confusing and unenjoyable experience – and this is a large part of our mission, to remove the stress and to offer advice – and by doing so in an anonymous online environment there is no embarrassing moment for the man as there could be in a physical store.
Our most popular features in The Journal tend to be the “Five ways to wear” or “this week I’m wearing” because these show a variety of difference styles and product, but usually focused around an essential wardrobe item.
What's one item of clothing that every man should own?
There are many in my opinion but for the sake of picking only one, I would say a decent pair of bench made leather shoes such as a derby or a brogue. As they say, “judge a man by his shoes” it is important to invest in this area – not only to finish off a suit but also to wear with jeans and a washed oxford shirt.
Mr Porter is available in a dazzling number of regions. Do you find trends are somewhat local – certain countries will shop or purchase in a certain way? Or does good taste not have international borders?
Our general principle is that the Mr Porter man is a man of the world, so we assume good taste does not have borders. Indeed, I would venture to say that there is nothing of dubious taste available on Mr Porter at all. What we do see however, is slight variations on items that sell faster in some regions that to others, and these are usually the more trend led pieces.
Is there an up-and-coming designer that you feel more people should be aware of?
Someone that is new to us this AW16 is Helbers. Paul Helbers used to be the Men’s Style Director at Louis Vuitton and this is his first season going solo. The collection is very chic and contemporary luxury.
You travel quite a bit. What's the biggest mistake people tend make when packing for a trip?
Packing something to wear in your downtime – often people just think about their meeting outfits, or dinner and party outfits but the reality is that when you’ve got a couple of hours spare in your hotel you like to put jeans and sneakers and t-shirt on, and just chill for a bit whilst feeling comfortable.
Are there any items – clothing or otherwise – that you can't be without?
A watch – despite always having a phone, if I forget to put my watch on in the morning I feel oddly bear.
What do you enjoy the most about working at Mr Porter?
Although it sounds predictable, I would say the people. We are a really tight team here at Mr Porter and lots of us have been here since the start, so we feel like a bit of a work family.
What would you say to a new employee about the culture at Mr Porter?
We strive for excellence, but we all really work together as a global team and that makes it all the more enjoyable.
What do you do in your free time?
I have two young children, which means weekends are spent unwinding with the family and I like to play tennis when I can.