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The Interview: Nina Briance, Founder of Cult Mia

Sophie Smith
10 January 2023

Nina Briance is the Founder of Cult Mia, a values-driven marketplace for independent brands. The e-commerce platform brings limited-edition, global fashion to consumers, while championing sustainability and high quality.

Briance grew up between Mexico, the US and Switzerland. After graduating from Stanford University, she spent one year in Geneva working for the United Nations' Women and Trade team, helping to support female entrepreneurs in less developed countries.

Having spent the majority of her career working in finance, Nina first transitioned to fashion with Moda Operandi. At the womenswear retailer, she worked on its e-commerce experience and then shifted to business development in London, structuring the brand's first customer loyalty program.

Briance completed an MBA at the London Business School whilst working at Moda Operandi. In October 2019, she then launched Cult Mia, offering consumers a platform to discover sustainable and conscious independent designers from around the world.

In this interview with, Briance speaks about Cult Mia, its progression since launching, how the retailer decides which brands to stock and why it introduced made-to-measure.

What inspired you to launch Cult Mia?

There were really three key lightbulb moments that sparked Cult Mia. First, when I was working at Moda Operandi, it became clear to me that the model for online luxury fashion that had been so successful in the 2000s and 2010s was starting to lose steam. Growth was stagnating and customers didn’t seem as satisfied with the traditional curation. Simultaneously, the more I spoke with designers, the more I realised that many brands that were on the cusp of rapid growth were looking for space on a platform that could really tell their story, with proper global visibility, but were unable to access existing platforms for a wide range of reasons.

Secondly, at the UN, when we were vetting the unique products that our independent fashion designers offer, we noticed that often incumbent luxury brands either purchase or replicate these original designs. The opportunity to lift up independent fashion designers was glaringly important and obvious to me. Through Cult Mia, I wanted to build on this and provide a platform to shop independent brands locally, directly, and online with ease.

Third, whenever anyone asked me about what I was wearing, it was never about my high street boots. It was always about my handmade enamel earrings from Mexico. I used to have to disappoint and say that you needed to travel to Oaxaca to get them. Now, I can point you to Cult Mia.

Cult Mia

What was it like launching during the pandemic? How did this impact the business?

The key to our model is our agile curation: Cult Mia picks up on trends quickly. We don’t follow the fashion calendar, we follow customer appetite. If there is demand, in less than three days a brand can be onboarded and live on site. We list what customers want, when they want.

With the dramatic change in customer appetite and needs, we pivoted from a ‘Wedding Guest’ edit to introducing four new categories (nightwear, home, face masks and activewear) to adapt to COVID-19 customer demand within one week. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to really prove our agile business model could succeed despite the toughest macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges a young business could face.

How did you first get the brand 'out there' when launching?

From the start, Cult Mia has been all about building a community. We had Cult Mia shoppers and supporters around the world - from influencers to friends - who shared and backed our vision. Word of mouth was so valuable to us at the time of launch. We covered our bases across organic and paid marketing channels, where we saw great initial traction due to the focus our business has on standout fashion and statement pieces that effectively cut through the marketing noise across social channels.

What is the most effective form of marketing for Cult Mia? Has this changed since launching?

During our first two years of business, paid social marketing was the most effective for boosting brand awareness and customer acquisition. However, our marketing focus has evolved to growing acquisition and retention via non-paid marketing channels. Our most successful strategy to increase the current conversion rate for non-paid channels is via strategic partnerships outside of traditional fashion relationships, with businesses whose existing customer base aligns with ours but does not compete in any way (e.g. restaurant curation platform OneZone or second hand luxury platform LoopGeneration).

Social media still remains an integral part of our marketing, but it is focused on our community building objectives more so than sales and conversion objectives given the change in paid marketing economics in particular in 2022.

What are some of the highlight brands on Cult Mia?

  • Sarah's Bag - bespoke hand-beaded clutches by a Lebanese social enterprise.
  • Lalo Cardigans - hand-knitted electric mohair and embroidered knitwear.
  • Miscreants - London-based party dresses with statement silhouettes and high gloves.
  • Nue Studios - Hollywood glamour Ukrainian partywear.
  • Liya - unique tailoring and elevated cuts with exceptional craftsmanship.
  • Natia x Lako - handcrafted, expressive, bold animal-led jewellery.

How do you decide which brands to stock? Is there a criteria?

When the business launched, we were focused on identifying the brands that deserve to be known from around the world. We knew that there was a growing appetite for independent fashion.

We handpick our assortment in two steps. The first is by passing the brand vetting process. We care about operational excellence and finding the perfect product for our community in terms of price, quality and exclusivity. We look for opportunities for customers to shop exclusively, whether that's bringing brands online for the first time or introducing them to the UK market for the first time.

The second is meeting our sustainable sourcing strategy, which we developed with Positive Luxury. We want to support values that both we and our community care about, but more importantly, values that we could properly assess, monitor and reward. We developed a rewards system to incentivise our brand partners to make improvements in their scores across four value pillars that are established at the time of onboarding.

Can you tell me about made-to-measure? Why has Cult Mia introduced this?

Returns for an online platform is one of the biggest pain points and margin killers. When we think about Cult Mia specifically, we work with independent and emerging designers who face scaling and localisation challenges as small businesses. Size charts vary across brands and countries. Cashflow limitations also inhibit brands from being able to invest in producing full size ranges. We were looking for more sustainable initiatives (less waste, fewer returns, no dead stock), but that guaranteed equal and available sizing for all.

It’s a new way to shop on Cult Mia that enables shoppers to submit their measurements and receive bespoke tailor-made pieces. The made-to-measure initiative builds on our Cult Causes mission, further fostering our inclusive culture, enabling shoppers of all shapes and sizes to wear their favourite sustainable brands.

Cult Mia

How do you feel about Cult Mia's progression since launching?

Since we launched in October 2019, we’ve brought more than 400 brands, from 42 different countries, across 14 product categories to Cult Mia. We've been blown away by the number of designers who have been knocking down our door to join the platform from around the world. We now have a waiting list of over 100 brands and have what feels like an endless supply of potential great partners to seek out.

I am particularly proud of our 95% brand retention rate and 80% brand onboarding success rate, showing us the brands that we handpick to join Cult Mia have wanted to stay onboard throughout our growth journey. On the other side of the platform, our community grew by 89,000 members in 2022, with our customer base growing by more than 335% year-on-year. Revenue has maintained tipple digit growth across our first three years, where in 2022, we hit an exciting milestone of sales reaching seven digit figures.

Most importantly, I feel incredibly grateful for the amazing women that power the Cult Mia platform. It has been a true team effort and a team that I am deeply proud of and attribute our growth to.

What are your ambitions for Cult Mia?

We believe that we are just getting started! We’ve only scratched the surface on both the brand and shopper fronts. We’ve just closed our seed investment round and we are excited to supercharge our growth.

Still early into our journey, we remain focused on scaling both sides of the platform (brands and customers), but ensuring we do so by investing in tech-powered automations that will support high growth and increasing demand. We know that key to scaling Cult Mia is ensuring our independent brand partners are equipped to grow with us. This month, we’re launching an Incubator that will offer a range of B2B services, ranging from digital marketing to data analytics to allow the brands that we work with to have the knowledge and resources to scale effectively and sustainably alongside Cult Mia.

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