The Interview: Lewis Hull, Founder and CEO, Marrkt
Lewis Hull has been plying his trade in the more niche premium menswear and speciality Japanese denim market since 2008, as the man behind the now defunct Superdenim website and as the UK distributor – and one time Covent Garden shop owner – of The Real McCoy’s, the Japanese brand that reproduces products using methods and machinery of the past to the finest detail. He was also the distributor of Studio D’Artisan in Europe, another brand that hit a note with denim purists.
These days, however, he is putting all his energy into Marrkt, which he originally founded in 2016, a platform where like-minded people can buy and sell desirable and premium pre-owned products from top tier brands such as Nigel Cabourn, Engineered Garments, Levi’s Vintage Clothing, Post Overalls, Stone Island, Drakes, RRL, Needles, Beams Plus, Universal Works, Orslow, Bryceland’s and Alden. He also sells his own knitwear, made for Marrkt by Highland 2000, and end of the line, deadstock and seasonal samples from the likes of Viberg boots, The Lost Explorer and Red Rabbit jewellery, as well as good quality true vintage garments.
Last year Marrkt saw sales more than double as demand for second hand grows. The company has also reported a 300% increase in sales in the US and is looking to expand operations there in 2022.
Marrkt is described as “a consignment service relieving you of the time and hassle in selling your items privately”. It specialises in quality, authentic men’s clothing, footwear, accessories and lifestyle products “designed and made to last”.
Marrkt retains a commission from the sale price, and fees for selling customers’ items vary from 35% for products valued at up to £199, 30% for items priced between £300-£499, 25% for pieces at £500-£999 and 20% for anything over £1,000.
Committed to creating a circular economy of high quality garments with hundreds of new items added each week, Marrkt currently has 12,000 items in stock from over 1,000 individual sellers as far as the US, Mexico, Australia, Japan and even Kazakhstan. And Hull runs it all from his HQ and 5,500 sq ft warehouse in York. He tells us all about it.
Having ceased trading from the Superdenim website and closed The Real McCoy’s shop in Covent Garden in 2019, what was your thinking behind focusing on Marrkt?
We shifted the focus towards pre-owned as we saw that market developing. Everyone seemed to be chasing the handbags and dresses market, but my background was dealing with product which had genuine quality from Japan, the US, UK and Europe. The kind of brands that certain people have a real passion for. I felt there was a gap in the pre-owned market for those type of products from the likes of Nigel Cabourn, Drakes, RRL and The Real McCoy’s. We’ve also done a fair bit of tailoring due to a partnership with Simon Crompton at Permanent Style.
When did you originally launch Marrkt?
We launched in 2016. Back then it was mainly deadstock from brands such as Nigel Cabourn, to clear their warehouses and sample stock. But then we started to switch focus to the pre-owned market in 2018. Now the business is probably about 85% pre-owned and the rest is surplus stock. We do still work with brands on the deadstock side, with Viberg boots from Canada being a prime example and our most recent partnership, as well as The Lost Explorer from Los Angeles – clearing some their clothing and wellness lines.
How does it work?
We have an upload form on the website, so people can upload images and descriptions of products they want to sell, or they can send us photographs and details via WhatsApp or email. I will then take a look and give an estimated price. If everybody is happy then we will send a shipping label to get the stuff to us, even from the US using DHL. We then photograph and measure all the garments for our size guide, as well as giving detailed descriptions. We take between 20%-35%, depending on the value of the item. If it’s something lower priced we take more, if it’s more expensive we take less. We have found that our sellers really rate the convenience of using Marrkt as it fits easily into their lives, taking away all the hassle of selling privately. In essence we are a managed marketplace. As a result, those who may not have had the time to sell previously now have the opportunity to give their quality product a second life, increasing our product offering and sales opportunities. We have over 1,000 active sellers around the world as well as a massive global reach of customers, and we tend to get better prices than people who are selling things privately. We’ve had about 15,000 customers to date, and we see a lot of the same people coming back so there’s a lot of loyalty there. Once people have sold with us, it becomes automatic for them. Also, if there’s any returns or shipping disputes it’s all handled by us.
How is it different?
Marrkt is completely unique in the marketplace, focusing on products that hold a genuine resale value that are defined by quality rather than marketing budget. We look forward to showcasing and selling well-made men’s clothing, footwear and accessories from authentic brands to conscientious collectors.
Since focusing on Marrkt, how have you seen the business grow?
Turnover has doubled every year. In 2021, our aim was to reach the £1m mark, and we’d already achieved three months earlier than the target. Orders have doubled, and the pandemic actually gave it a massive boost when people were at home – getting fatter or thinner, upsizing or downsizing! They had time to look at all the clothes they don’t really wear, and we helped them realise the value of that by taking them and selling them on to other people.
What else do you put such strong growth down to?
Much of Marrkt’s growth can be credited to our significant and recent investment in technology which will continue throughout 2022, along the theme of continuous improvement. Marrkt has always invested heavily in the technology side of the business to enhance both the seller and consumer experience, with recent changes we made to the site resulting in more customers journeying deeper into the site and stock, which in turn boosted sales. We will be looking to take this up a notch by increasing this spend to continue to ensure our customer experience is the best in the market.
Where are you seeing particular growth?
The UK is our biggest market, but we are seeing big growth in the US which is currently underserved for the type of authentic quality products we sell. We are extremely excited by the opportunity as it’s such a huge market. We intend to invest in operations to serve our US based sellers, with an office and warehouse there, making the selling process as simple as possible. Our sellers thrive on the hassle-free nature of our business in comparison to selling privately, and it’s my goal to facilitate this through technology and operational investment. We now have a team of eight people in place, where as a year ago there was only three of us, so it’s a good infrastructure for the next 12-18 months and we have room to grow as we take in more stock. Business is booming and the growth we’re seeing never stops.
Are you very active on social media?
We’ve upped our spend on Instagram adverts, but up until quite recently the growth was pretty much organic. Now we’re making use of the audience we’ve acquired – reaching out with our Instagram and Facebook adverts to spread the word and get more sellers and buyers.
How much of what you sell is real vintage?
Not a huge amount, maybe between 5%-10% of what we sell, but I guess a lot of what we sell you could class as ‘future vintage’, especially from the likes of Nigel Cabourn, The Real McCoy’s and RRL, which all produce highly sought-after and collectible pieces. RRL is very popular because they have such a deep archive. Drakes is hot at the moment too. Timeless and classic pieces tend to filter down the age groups, and in some instances we also give people the opportunity to buy certain items they couldn’t afford in the first place.
Is it all men’s products you sell?
It’s all men’s at the moment, but we’re going to expand into women’s and also lifestyle products this year. In terms of women’s, we’ll follow a similar vein of genuine quality stuff – not fast fashion, things that are well designed and made to last.
Are there any plans for physical retail?
Not at the minute, though we did take part in a two-day pop-up shop on Savile Row pre-Christmas. It was very well received with a great mix of existing Marrkt customers and sellers, along with new. Those that were discovering Marrkt for the first time were very impressed with the concept and, particularly from a selling point of view, in terms of how it could fit with their busy lives and excess of clothing. More often than not it was wives enquiring on behalf of hoarding husbands! Due to the nature of the event, in collaboration with Simon Crompton of Permanent Style, we had a lot of luxury and well healed customers who were enthusiastic about purchasing pre-owned and the selling service we offer. A whole range of pre-owned products sold, as well as a lot of our made for Marrkt knitwear products by Highland 2000. We’re planning to do a series of more pop-ups in London later this year.