On Monday, Farfetch, the luxury marketplace founded in 2008 by entrepreneur José Neves, got a new owner. E-commerce company Coupang, often called the Amazon of South Korea, gave Farfetch access to a $500 million bridge loan so that it could pay its bills and not go under. Farfetch, which stopped trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, was once valued at as much as $23 billion. Today, insiders are calling it a “ghost ship,” and it’s unclear what will happen to its subsidiaries, including Off-White operator New Guards Group and department store Browns. The deal to buy competitor Yoox Net-a-Porter Group from Richemont has been terminated, making this a multiple-front disaster.
It’s hard to explain precisely what went wrong at Farfetch not only because so many things went wrong, but also because its problems befell so many others, too. The market for selling luxury goods online exploded during the past decade, which led to rampant investment and a proliferation of businesses—followed by the gradual realization among these companies that they had overestimated how much of that market they could own. Many of these businesses were profitable and thriving at $200 million-$300 million a year in sales. Some even reached $500 million in annual revenue with relative ease. And yet that didn’t matter because most raised capital at unrealistic valuations, forcing growth at the detriment of everything else, to repay their investors and not go underwater.