"We know we have been fortunate to achieve success so far"
The Manchester-based Kamani family have had a rags-to-riches story, going from market stalls to fronting a £3.9 billion fashion empire.
Over the course of three generations, the family have built up a worldwide clothing empire.
Billboards of their products plaster the walls of UK streets, enticing millennials to go online and buy their next item of clothing.
One of their biggest brands is Boohoo. As of January 2020, the company has overtaken the likes of Marks & Spencer and Debenhams.
It is a brand which is popular among celebrities and the aim is simple: offer consumers bold, fun and up-to-the-minute trends as reasonable prices.
But this empire did not come out of anywhere, it came from years of hard work.
During the 1960s, Abdullah Kamani migrated from Kenya and settled in Manchester, selling handbags on a market stall.
He went on to establish his own textile company and supplying Primark and New Look.
His son Mahmud used his father’s contacts to launch Boohoo in 2006. As the company grew in the 2010s, Mahmud purchased NastyGal, Miss Pap, Coast and Karen Millen.
His brother Jalal also got involved, launching I Saw It First in 2017.
Mahmud’s three sons are also in the fashion industry. Umar founded PrettyLittleThing (PLT) in 2012, Samir is the current CEO of boohooMAN and Adam fronts the family’s property empire.
Richard Oldworth, a representative for Mahmud and Boohoo, said:
“The Kamani formula has been to keep things simple and provide customers with quality fashion at unbeatable value.
“We know we have been fortunate to achieve success so far, and we will strive to ensure we can continue to give customers great affordable fashion.”
Despite the success, the Kamani family has been the subject of legal allegations.
One former Boohoo employee attempted to sue Mahmud for breach of agreement though the allegations were described as “entirely without merit”.
Umar Kamani & PLT
The eldest son Umar is the most high-profile member of the family. He is regularly out attending prestigious events.
The PLT founder was pictured with his new girlfriend Nada Adelle at Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 8 presentation.
Umar explained that his upbringing was very business-minded.
“We grew up in a house of 19 people, so I had my grandparents, my dad, my dad’s brother, my dad’s sister and then all of the grandchildren.
“It was always very busy, and kept my mind in overdrive.”
Umar stated that the household was about “hard work” and “respect”. From the age of five, his daily games of chess with his grandfather. He said it gave him a “mind for business”.
Umar also spoke of his father’s influence:
“I remember there was a new Action Man out, and I really wanted it.
“I went to a toy store with my dad. It was £25, but he said, ‘If you can go in and get it for £20, you can have it’.
“I was only about seven years old. So I went into the store, working my charm, and I ended up getting it.”
Umar argues that fashion should be accessible to everyone.
“My biggest love was always clothes.
“I was quite a self-conscious kid, so when I put my outfits together it would help me feel a different kind of way. I used to feel more confident. I think it’s important that fashion does that.”
Umar launched PLT in 2012, a louder retailer aimed at girls and women between 14 and 24.
The company is now worth £1 billion and has already resulted in collaborations with Little Mix and the Kardashians. Umar is expanding his own empire as he prepares to set up a site in the Middle East.
Reflecting on his success, Umar admitted:
“I was so, so close to knocking it on the head and throwing in the towel.
“For the first year or two, I used to cry on my way home from work. I remember feeling really lonely because I couldn’t relate to my dad because he was doing so well.
“People will always say, ‘Oh, you’ve done well because you’ve come from a rich family’.
“And I get why people would say that. I would probably look at myself as an outsider and think a similar thing. But with that also comes a lot of expectation and pressure.
“The fear of failing becomes even more heightened because you’re around so much success. I remember getting us to a decent stage, and it never felt like enough.”
One area that the Kamani family is keen to avoid is the effect fashion is having on the world.
The fashion industry is the second-largest generator of pollution after the oil industry, creating £1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 a year.
The majority of it is powered by chemical dyes and microplastics as well as much of the planet’s clean water supply.
Both Boohoo and PLT have taken measures to release more sustainable, eco-conscious lines, but they remain a small part of their output.
“I’m excited about opening PLT up to the world, and to keep adapting to the world and the climate that we’re in.”
There is also a social cost to quick fashion as the industry has a tendency for being murky, with little transparency. Typically, garments can only be sold cheaply if they are built off the backs of poorly paid workers.
Although there is no evidence that Boohoo or PLT are paying illegal wages, the location of their factories and their flow of production remains unclear.
Mr Oldworth insisted:
“We will continue to ensure that the Boohoo Group behaves responsibly.
“[We will continue] paying our suppliers in a timely fashion, ensuring our supply chain pay their staff above minimum wage.
“We will provide safe working environments and inform our customers how to style items in multiple ways to encourage repeat wearing of our fashion garments, enhancing the sustainability of our business and the environment in which it operates. We’ll never be complacent.”
Even though this level of consumption seems barely sustainable, Umar is optimistic.
“I’m trying to build a brand that will still be going strong in 200 years time.
“It has to be more than fashion. I want PLT to be like a young girl’s best friend; someone who they turn to when they need support or when they need encouragement, or who can deliver the right messages to live in this tough world.
“I think PLT has a responsibility to do that for young girls.”
Three generations of hard work have shown that the Kamani family are major players within the fashion industry.
As they continue to expand, it looks like they are here to stay for the long run.