1. Design: From the shops’ virtual façades to the abundance of product photos, the site comes close to a real-world shopping experience.

  2. Convenience: The site offers internet-only perks.

  3. Critical mass: Start Today’s buyers have become fashion arbiters and, consequently, the site is a magnet for both users and new brands.

  4. Online-offline: Start Today’s system links inventory data from virtual and brick-and-mortar stores. A user who finds an item online can go to a store and try it on.

  5. Great workplace: Despite the suburban surroundings, Maezawa has created an attractive work environment with the help of Wonderwall.

Boom time

With the return of deflation, Japan’s fashion industry is bracing itself for tough times. But e-commerce is one of the few bright spots. In 2008, online fashion sales jumped 28 per cent to €585m, according to government data. Consumers in Japan now buy more clothes online than in any other country, with e-commerce accounting for 4 per cent of domestic sales.

For the fiscal year to March, the firm reported record-high earnings, with operating profit rising 47 per cent to €26m and revenues surging 60 per cent to €138m. Active Zozotown users spend an average of around €350 a year – and Start Today takes a cut from every purchase. In the past year, half a dozen retailers and brands have hired Start Today to run their e-commerce operations for them.

Brand hunting

Chie Ogawa is on the front line of Start Today’s search for new brands. She joined Zozotown straight out of college five years ago, having never worked in fashion. Now the 27-year-old is one of 20 buyers. When she finds a brand she likes, she talks about it with her group and if others agree about its sales potential she negotiates the contract, selects products and manages the online shop. So far Ogawa has added nearly 50 labels to Zozotown’s roster, including Kim Songhe’s Kilke and Australian grunge-punk brand Evil Twin. “Kim Songhe is an artist who attracts a lot of attention among a wide variety of fashion brands,” she says. Ogawa also introduced British online retailer Asos to Japan when she and a colleague brought it into the Start Today fold.

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