The stigma has long gone from outlet shopping – thanks not only to the global recession, but also to intelligent initiatives such as The Outnet. In the three years since it launched in April 2009, the sister website of luxury e-tail phenomenon Net-a-Porter has amassed a huge following by trading on the name – and the chic hand-me-downs – of its older sibling. And it's a formula that works. Instead of scouring the rails at an out-of-town outlet village on a Sunday afternoon, shoppers can scroll through pages of past-season designer clothes, shoes and accessories by names such as Alexander Wang, Rick Owens and Vivienne Westwood.
"We edit our content to show customers how to style an outfit," says Mo White, the site's creative director. "This is rare in the discount world and adopts the same approach as our sister site when it comes to selecting products and presenting them."
Now the Outnet is taking a step out of the long shadow cast by its stablemate by launching its own label of wardrobe staples, called Iris & Ink. "Increasingly we are being asked for advice about how to wear designer pieces, our customers want to know how to work an amazing jacket into their wardrobes," says White. "Our creative team styles about 300 outfits for the website each week and we realised that every season there are a few key essentials that always sell out immediately. We created Iris & Ink in response to those questions, to create an essential pairing for every exceptional designer piece."
It may not be the most original idea, but the 35-piece collection, which launches tomorrow, boils down to those fill-the-gap pieces that are on the Outnet customer's most-wanted list. "Our core customer is a busy, fashion-savvy professional," explains White. "The sheer convenience factor will lead them to choose Iris & Ink over established ones. The fact that she can now shop designer pieces and trend-led wardrobe essentials in one destination will have a huge impact on her shopping decisions."
A silk T-shirt, trench coat, pea coat, skinny jeans, cocktail dress, biker jacket and Breton jacket are the pieces that fashion followers are exhorted to invest in time after time, in order to be timelessly stylish. "I love fashion," White says with passion. "I always start with a couple of big-ticket items – a pair of shoes, a bag, a coat and a pair of pants. I'll try them on with everything in my wardrobe from last season and work out what I still like and how to update it for the new season."
White's shopping habits have played a large part in understanding what the Outnet customer wants, but also in what they can't find.
"My most enduring pieces are those you can find in the new collection – a pea coat, anything with a Breton stripe, cropped pants and a pussy-bow blouse. I used to buy a lot of vintage and mix-and-match from the high street, but as a working mother of two I shop mostly online and get it delivered to my office. I buy less and prioritise quality, colour, cut and items from designer labels."
"We wanted to create a collection that exudes femininity and cool but also has a wearable quality," explains White. Keeping in mind the Outnet customer philosophy that spending less needn't mean settling for lower quality, the prices are sure to attract new shoppers from the higher end of the high street, as are the fabrics used – cashmere, leather and silk. And once they're through the virtual doors, there's plenty to keep them scrolling in the aisles.