Heat: Inside the start-up that’s changing men’s fashion
Backed by LVMH, Soho House members Joe Wilkinson and Mario Maher are making this sector of the industry more sustainable, one box at a time
Tuesday 29 November 2022 Interview by George Serventi
Joe Wilkinson and Mario Maher’s ‘mystery box’ fashion venture, Heat, is a win-win for both retailers and consumers. For the 80 (and counting) designers that the Yorkshire pair work with, it’s an opportunity to sell deadstock. For the hundreds of thousands of people signed up to Heat’s mailing list, it’s a chance to get luxury fashion pieces for a fraction of the retail price. The catch? You’ll never know exactly what you’ll get, but you have the comfort of knowing that all designer items are authentic, sourced directly from fashion houses by Wilkinson and Maher.
Having founded the brand in 2019, the duo has secured £4m in investment from LVMH Luxury Ventures, Antler, and Stefano Rosso of the OTB Group (which owns Marni and Jil Sander), making Heat one of the industry’s buzziest start-ups. Earlier this month, we caught up with the Soho House members to discuss the inspiration behind Heat, the challenges they faced when they were starting out, and how they stay motivated.
What was the inspiration behind Heat?
Joe Wilkinson: ‘We’ve both always had an interest in fashion. Before Heat, we were ultimately trying to inspire people to dress a certain way. When we then came up with the concept, it just made sense as something that the fashion industry needed.’
Mario Maher: ‘We both wanted to make a change, as well as disrupt the industry in the right way.’
You’ve juggled a lot of different workstreams. How have you found that kind of unconventional approach to working life?
JW: ‘When I was younger, I would try to juggle too many things at once and ended up spreading myself too thin. Now, my sole focus is Heat. Because it’s just the one vision, I’m much more willing to dedicate my time and energy to it. When you’re not sure what you want to do or where you want to go, you can become lazy. But if you’re working towards something you believe in, it’s easier to feel motivated.’
MM: ‘I agree with Joe. It’s all about having that one goal and that one purpose.’
What was the process of finding backing with such huge investors like?
JW: ‘We were presenting to investors and telling them what problems the fashion industry was facing and how Heat was part of the solution. In the early days, we had to really believe in what we were doing. For those just starting out with their business, I’d recommend getting as much relevant experience and giving it a try before taking it on full time because it’s a lot more stressful than a typical nine to five.’
MM: ‘We did a good amount of planning and research beforehand. Running your own business is romanticised a lot of the time, but it’s probably 10% fun and then admin the rest of the time.’
What was the biggest challenge with starting your own company and were there any times that you felt that you couldn’t do it? How did you find the motivation?
JW: ‘The first thing when starting a business with zero to no capital is that you have to do everything – not just the fun parts. Covering all bases from finances to customer service was difficult, but it ended up being good experience when it came to building a team. At that point, we had a decent working idea of what those roles required.
‘Also, there were a lot of mental challenges. In the beginning, I would get super emotional when even the smallest things went wrong. As the business has grown and we now have more experience behind us, we worry less and try to be intentional about learning from the times when things do go wrong.’
MM: ‘When you start doing everything in the company at the early stages, you become very attached to everything. Now, we believe in the power of hiring the right people, passing the baton, and trusting our employees.
‘From a business perspective, the biggest challenge was explaining the concept and proving that it wasn’t a scam. In the beginning, it was all about social proofing the company. Thankfully, we now work with more than 100 of the world’s leading fashion retailers, and are backed by LVMH and their family.’
JW: ‘Also, there were definitely times when people would question the vision. The challenge there was having the confidence to push against the doubt and the rejection. It’s taken us quite some time to get people believing in the vision, but I guess that comes with starting something that doesn’t exist.’