In our post-millennial Dragons’ Den culture it seems extraordinary that an entrepreneur as successful as Marc Worth isn’t a household name – he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Yet for 3,500 fashion companies across the world, his contribution to business has been invaluable.
In 1997, Marc and his brother Julian put the family business they joined 20 years earlier on backburners and stepped into the – then unknown – world of the internet with a big idea. The Worth Global Style Network (soon unanimously adopted as WGSN) sought to do away with the expensive trend books apparel firms bought in from Paris and to instead provide a relatively instantaneous, universal resource where fashion companies could source trend-forecasts and international design inspiration.
The dot com wave
Despite initially – and rather cumbersomely – delivering the resource by satellite, WGSN was an instant hit. “Nobody had broadband at that point and we never wanted to compromise the quality of the content. It didn’t really work but people were buying into a promise and they were so excited about it,” Worth says.
As the internet increased in speed and innovation, WGSN scrambled on board the dotcom wave, reaching 1,500 clients by 2005. But it wasn’t all smooth surfing; in 2002 – with everything remortgaged – WGSN was down to its last £700,000, with overheads of £1.2m a month.
After some aggressive streamlining, the business bounced back, to reach revenues of £15m at the end of 2004, with gross assets of £37m. But by 2005 the brothers were ready to sell. Emap – keen to be seen to embrace digital innovation – offered £142m for the 172-person empire and eight weeks later the deal was done.
Life after WGSN
Far from publicly basking in the glory of entrepreneurial success, at 44 Worth slipped into early retirement and spent most of his days on a sun lounger at his house in Herzliya – the affluent Tel Aviv beach resort. By the middle of 2009, he was bored – “I was too young to do nothing,” he says.
Worth had used his leave to invest in a few start-ups – including the Mexican restaurant chain Chilango and virtual reality concept Near London – but never took a high enough stake to hold his attention. He had also, on his daughter’s suggestion, made an ill-advised attempt to re-launch seventies fashion house Ossie Clark – losing £4m in the process. He knew that if he was to take on such an endeavour again he had to be clear: “Is this a product looking for a market or a market looking for a product?”
The tooth and nail of it is that by this time Worth was growing frustrated with where Emap had led WGSN. It had expanded the fashion-forecasting agency to 3,500 clients, but most of that growth had come from the “economy class”. “The product had become dumbed down – almost colour-by-numbers,” Worth says. “It’s very hard for a traditional publisher to move into digital. Traditional revenues suffer as they move into the internet.”