BFC links with venture capital firm for innovative investment fund
The British Fashion Council (BFC) has taken a big and unusual step and linked up with UK-based venture capital firm Venrex to launch a fund — called Venrex BFC Fashion I — for early-stage/growth-stage fashion businesses that take a non-traditional approach.
It said it’s aiming to “support the growth of the business eco-system in the fashion sector”.
The fund “marries the BFC’s network, unique convening power and ability to engage with leading creative talent with Venrex’s long-standing track record in identifying winning businesses”.
The funding itself comes from Venrex and the BFC said that from its own perspective, “this partnership serves to diversify its revenue streams” as it “will receive fees and a portion of the carry, which as a not-for-profit it will use to reinvest in fashion education and talent programmes”.
So far, Venrex BFC Fashion I has invested in three companies: Intimately, Vollebak and Digital Village. Intimately is an adaptive intimates brand for disabled women. It has redesigned bras, underwear, and sleepwear with the newest fastening technology to make sure disabled women can easily get dressed.
Vollebak is “building the future of clothing, using science and technology to tackle the most important challenges of our time – from climate change and sustainability, to space travel and disease resistance”. A two-time winner of Time Best Inventions, its clothing includes solar charged jackets that store and re-emit sunlight, T-shirts that turn into worm food, hoodies designed to outlive the owner, and the first gear for Mars.
And the Digital Village MMO Metaverse (DV) is “redefining the construct of society and how we interact with the internet as a community”. It aims to “redefine how our time online echoes back into our physical lifestyles and adapt it to the ethical mindset of the connectivity between humans and technology. The purpose of The DV is to become a welcoming ecosystem that allows everyone to create in Web3 and integrate their digital assets and lifestyles seamlessly and ethically into the Metaverse. This comprehensive and diverse ecosystem will enable members to showcase, wear, use, and exchange their digital assets with their communities”.
Mark Esiri, Venrex Partner, said of all this: “Our experience as investors in brands such as Orlebar Brown, ME + EM and Charlotte Tilbury, and technology/marketplace businesses such as Lyst and Knitregen have shown us that the UK creative sectors and their entrepreneurs are world class. While not all fashion start-ups will suit venture capital’s high-growth business models, we feel that this fund will complement the already significant leadership role that the BFC plays in a hugely impactful UK industry. This is an opportunity for investors to shape the brands of the future and leaders of tomorrow.”
BFC Chair Stephanie Phair added: “We recognise that we have the ability to help enable a vibrant ecosystem supporting businesses at the intersection of creativity, innovation and commerce. The fashion industry landscape is drastically changing and as businesses look towards a sustainable future, there is a real opportunity for the BFC to support a pool of talent with different and disruptive business models in partnership with a fund with a unique understanding of this complex industry. This is a fund with a purpose – the intention is to reinvest part of the carry back into the brilliant pipeline of future talent this country is known for.”
The thinking behind this new move has been discussed for several years. It was a key recommendation following an investors roundtable event co-hosted by the BFC and Sian Westerman (BFC Non-Executive Director) back in 2019. This concluded that “multiple funding models exist for different types of businesses and that there are many opportunities to develop businesses. Highly creative businesses should not necessarily be pushed to high growth but can benefit from talent identification schemes and programmes”.
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