When Manchester-headquartered online brand Missguided collapsed into administration in 2022 the ‘rise and fall’ stories of its founder Nitin Passi weren’t far behind.
The fast-fashion retailer was launched in 2009 with a focus on younger women and, over 13 years, grew to have almost five million customers in over 120 countries, generating revenues in £290m.
Recognising the power of social media, the company grew its global fan base to more than 12 million people.
With his impossibly white teeth, beautifully manicured beard and decision to hire Nicole Scherzinger to model their clothes, the image-conscious, party-loving Passi seemed to be the perfect CEO for the Instagram generation.
And then it all went wrong. Hit by a series of supply chain issues, Missguided imploded, slipped into administration and Passi resigned as CEO.
At one point angry suppliers descended on the company’s HQ – once dubbed the ‘coolest offices in the world’ – demanding overdue payments be made, forcing the police to be called.
Passi described leaving as CEO a ‘wrench’, adding: “Endings are hard – but they’re necessary to create new beginnings.”
Fast forward 18 months and Passi has revealed details of his own ‘new beginning’.
Describing the last 18 months as a ‘rollercoaster ride’, he’s launched a brand specialist called Sumwon Studios and joined forces with the Chinese clothing giant Shein.
Last week Shein made headlines with the news it had acquired the intellectual property and trademarks of Missguided from Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which had bought the online retailer out of administration.
Headquartered in Singapore, Shein was valued at $66bn earlier this year. It has 150 million global users and will sell Missguided products through Missguided.com and in Shein’s physical stores.
But here’s the twist. Shein has entered into a joint venture with Passi to manage and operate the brand he founded through a licence.
Writing on LinkedIn, Passi said: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.
“For over a decade Missguided shaped my life and showed me the impact a brand could have when it was a pioneer.
“I have exciting plans to re-energise the brand and make it more impactful than it was previously.
“When you are confronted with failure, it is important you don’t allow it to knock you down. Instead, use it as an opportunity to learn from, recalibrate, and come back stronger.”
So who is Nitin Passi and will his Missguided story have a different ending the second time round?
To answer this I need to go back to 2015 when I interviewed Passi.
At the time he’d grown Missguided to an £87m turnover business in just six years and was preparing to move to new premises in Salford Quays, complete with tunnels, floating meeting rooms and a money tree.
The company even applied to the council for a helipad on top of the office for a bit of extra PR.
The Sunday Times Rich List estimated his wealth to be £133m (although by 2018 it was reported to be £250m) and he drove a £300,000 Lamborghini Aventador.
One thing I vividly remember were the photos of him and model/singer Nicole Scherzinger on his office wall.
“I’ve always been image conscious but I’m not arrogant,” Passi told me. “I like to have fun with my life. I work hard, play hard. Why not?”
Born in Cheshire, his grandparents hail from India. At the age of nine his parents moved to Hong Kong but he chose to go to boarding school instead of joining them.
His father has been a big influence in Passi’s life, having grown his own clothes business, called By Design.
“My Dad is completely self-made,” said Passi. “When I left university in Newcastle he gave me the option of moving to New York and working in his business.
“I got a lot of good experience and I stayed there for two years, then told him I wanted to set up on my own. He was completely adamant that I stand on my own two feet. He gave me £50,000 to start the business.”
The name Missguided came from his time in America where there was a sitcom called Miss Guided.
He launched the business in March 2009, from a back room in Manchester with a mission to be ‘affordable, fast and at the forefront of fashion’.
“My first target was wanting to be more successful than my Dad,” he said. “That was my goal.”
In order to complete with rivals like Boohoo, he decided to get Nicole Scherzinger to model the company’s clothes. At the time he said the pair went to Ibiza and became friends.
In 2015, the company was looking at 40 per cent growth with a stated ambition of becoming a £1bn global fashion giant. Hardly surprising then that Passi was receiving 30 approaches a year from private equity houses wanting to invest.
In 2020 the company even allowed Channel 4’s cameras in for the series ‘Inside Missguided: Made in Manchester’.
The company could seemingly do no wrong. However things weren’t as happy behind the scenes and the combination of rising costs, the cost of living crisis and growing competition combined to push Missguided into administration.
The company’s fall from grace clearly hurt Passi, who was seen by some as the fall guy.
Until last week’s news that Shein had acquired the intellectual property and trademarks of Missguided, he largely stayed out the public eye, rarely posting on social media.
Now he’s back. According to his Linkedin biog he’s based in Dubai.
He turns 41 later this month and, as he turns back the clock with Missguided, there’s even a hint of grey in his beard.