It’s a simple truth: fast fashion is on its retreat. Out of all industries, the hardest blowback to the old capitalist idea that consumption grows linearly and that consumer goods are to be bought in high quantities and replaced often, is in the fashion industry. The rise of conscious consumption started with the young generation of Gen Z consumers, but is now expanding to other age and style categories, and is becoming a lucrative market for investors, because it's a market where there are more winners than one.
In the Vitosha portfolio, we are learning and appreciating the opportunity of that vertical through our recent investment in Push Marketplace. What started off as a personal hobby by then-university student Ilian Kodzhahristov in 2018, has turned into one of the fastest growing online marketplaces in Bulgaria, showing numerous listings for the most downloads on Google Play and the iOS AppStore, and with a total of over 100,000 downloads and north of 30,000 active users.
It all started in a much smaller way, when Ilian launched an Instagram account where he listed clothing items of his own that he wanted to sell, back in 2018. As a few orders turned into dozens, and then dozens into hundreds, other fashionistas who were also selling items in Bulgaria started contacting him, asking if he could list their items against a commission. Payments were handled offline, in cash and via courier services most of the time, and Ilian thought that this would simply continue to grow linearly until he figured out a way to turn it into a proper business.
But then one day in 2019, Instagram shut down his account due to policy violations, and Ilian set out to rebuild the platform from the ground up the proper way. Enlisting the help of a few software developer friends, he launched the first mobile app, called it Push Marketplace, and started out on the steep learning curve in the fields of marketing, supply management, fulfillment, and payments.
Looking back now, Ilian says he was lucky to sail around several opportunities that looked lucrative at the time, but would’ve probably ruined the business. He was inches away from signing big partnership deals with a courier company and a legacy media house, but today he’s glad those offers didn’t work out. Instead, Ilian’s biggest achievement has been building an in-house marketing machine that flawlessly succeeded in finding the right positioning and tone of voice for the product category and the audience it is targeted at.
As he shows me around the makeshift office and warehouse, “an unbeatable deal” as Ilian calls it, chuckingly, in Sofia’s Student City neighborhood, he explains what the Push Marketplace positioning is all about. “Second-hand fashion, which we call pre-loved nowadays in our industry, is really not at all about saving money. It’s a conscious choice, and a style statement for people of my generation. We have at least a dozen pairs of shoes currently listed at over EUR 500 per pair, those are not exactly cheap items. It’s all about people knowing exactly what they want, and very often where they want it from”.
With Vitosha, we’ve been lucky to join Ilian and his journey earlier this year. Since June, Push Marketplace has shown a whopping 10x increase in gross revenue, and for 2024, Ilian has big plans, which include overhauling payments and commission fees, all the while maintaining the order volume growth curve. “Our success has really been in product and in marketing, and I think that by now, we know how to unpack that, and put it back together in a new market outside Bulgaria. We’re in talks with identified individuals to launch in a few other countries, and we think we can repeat what we’ve done in Bulgaria there. There are several big players that are dominating the large markets in Europe, and we believe we can join their ranks in a few years, if we get the next steps right”.