Federico Marchetti: The Father Of Luxury E-commerce, On The Future Of Fashion

Kristina Akhrarova

The entrepreneur looks back and ahead on the shape of an industry that’s only moving faster, with a new focus on sustainability.

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Federico Marchetti with King Charles during his visit to the Yoox Net-a-Porter Tech Hub at White City Place in May 2018.Photo byChris Jackson
If I was starting out now, it would be at the intersection of sustainability and technology, and of innovation more broadly. That’s not only because there would be money available from venture capitalists also looking to explore it, but also because this is the magic intersection. It will make a better world.

Marchetti, 54, talks on the terrace of his new Milan home, a Daniel Libeskind building. The interior designed by Luca Guadagnino with a Brazilian theme: a space full of plants, important furniture, and artwork from Marchetti's collection. Marchetti's wife, Kerry Olsen, and their daughter, Margherita are there.

As he reflects, his apartment and its art are tangible reminders of his entrepreneurial journey. In 2000, an ambitious Italian founded Yoox, a trailblazer in luxury e-commerce. This venture played a significant role in advancing the fashion industry. Today, he's a prominent disruptor advocating for sustainability. Does he feel responsible for the industry's harmful environmental impact?

When I started Yoox, its motivation was to give a second life to fashion items. Although I was not primarily motivated by the environment, but by the waste in fashion — this was the problem where I saw an opportunity. Where Net-a-Porter sought to replicate bricks-and-mortar multi-brand wholesale online, Yoox focused on selling overstock.

Yoox sold vintage pieces in 2001. It partnered with Kering Group, Valentino, and Armani to power their monobrand e-commerce sites later.

According to Marchetti, selling monobrand is more profitable and beneficial in terms of margin, customer data, ownership, control, image, and pricing. He suggests that Gucci should prioritize selling on Gucci.com rather than Farfetch. Marchetti believes that as monobrand grows, multi-brand will struggle and require new solutions to be profitable. He mentions that Yoox, primarily an overstock seller, is a separate case.

Marchetti took the business public in 2009, controlled it after the 2015 merger with Net-A-Porter, creating Italy's first "unicorn". In 2018, Richemont acquired Yoox Net-a-Porter group for €5.3 billion, where Marchetti had a 4% stake. He resigned as YNAP CEO in 2021, and in August 2022, Richemont sold 47.5% of the group to Farfetch.

He says that after selling his company, he had the option to work in management, start another business, or be a venture capitalist, but he chose not to pursue these paths. Marchetti no longer wants to be involved in the finance world. His current occupation is giving advice without taking a position. He sits on the board of Giorgio Armani Spa and leads the Fashion Task Force in the Sustainable Markets Initiative. Marchetti values his role in sustainability.

Marchetti was partially recruited by Charles III, then Prince of Wales, to join YNAP. They met in 2017 at YNAP's tech hub in London's White City during the Brexit exodus. Their bond formed over shoes, with Charles wearing a nearly 30-year-old pair and Marchetti's being 15 years old.

Launched by the now-monarch at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, the Sustainable Markets Initiative consists of 20 industry-specific task forces — all chaired by acting CEOs, says Marchetti, except for his — in order to develop innovative sustainable practice and then cross-pollinate it. The Fashion Task Force is working to introduce a Digital Passport scheme among its members, based on an idea first developed for Mr Porter own brand Mr P, and developing in-house regenerative agriculture schemes for materials inducing cotton (Armani, in Puglia) and cashmere (Brunello Cucinelli, in Mongolia). “It’s almost anti-competitive,” says Marchetti, of the ethos in a group that also includes Burberry, Chloe, Selfridges, Stella McCartney and Zalando. He says: “I’ve always been kind of like Switzerland, in fashion: I’ve always treated everybody the same way and I’m neutral.”

One new platform for Marchetti will be his autobiography, Adventure of an Innovator, that will be published in Italy later this year. Its introduction is written by Giorgio Armani. Marchetti says: “My idea is that it can be a tool for people who want to start something… In the end what I did was the American dream, but Made In Italy.”

Marchetti's book will recall numerous "Sliding Doors moments" in his journey. One such moment occurred when Armani was introduced to Marchetti after his niece, Roberta, disrupted a house party Marchetti hosted while at Lehman Brothers in 1995. Armani later wrote a recommendation letter for Marchetti's MBA application at Columbia. Marchetti believes his book offers useful extracts from his life's experiences, which often arose from mistakes, chance, or good timing.

At the core of innovation is to be able to look at things in a different way. At Yoox I did not invent anything, I just created an intersection of things. And because I have a daughter I want her to travel and see the world, because I think boundaries are the worst thing that can happen.

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