Tuesday, December 10, 2019

How the face of Boohoo went from getting expelled and living with 17 relatives to billionaire playboy pal to the stars – The Sun

WITH his love of designer clothes and private planes, Umar Kamani is every inch the jet-setting playboy.

He rubs shoulders with the likes of Will.i.am and Jennifer Lopez, drives a fleet of supercars and holidays in exotic places.

Not bad for a lad who was expelled from school and grew up in a house crammed with 18 family members.

Umar, 31, is a member of the founding family behind Boohoo, the online clothing retailer that started life as a simple market stall and is now a big name in the fashion trade.

While high street stores such as Debenhams, New Look and Marks & Spencer have seen sales plunge, Boohoo has bucked the trend. In the first half of this year it reported a hefty 43 per cent rise.

The Manchester-based firm specialises in fast, cheap fashion for tweens and 20-somethings and includes offshoots BoohooMAN, PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal, together worth £3.8billion.

Its executive chairman, Umar’s dad Mahmud, and his business partner Carol Kane — who started the business in 2006 — have just had a rather nice Christmas gift of £142.5million after completing a major share sale.

The firm deals not so much in fast fashion, as clobber at lightning speed. Up to 120 new pieces are uploaded to the website every day, and an average of 50 dresses — some costing as little as £5 — are sold every minute.

Celebrities such as footballer Dele Alli, Jennifer Lopez, plus-size model Ashley Graham and Little Mix have collaborated with the brands.

The Kamani family’s story is almost literally a rags to riches tale that started with Umar’s Indian grandfather, Abdullah, a classmate of Mahatma Gandhi, and within just two generations has led to a gilded lifestyle shared by few others.

Abdullah arrived in the UK in the late 1960s. He had already moved from India to Kenya, where Mahmud and his three siblings were born. But enticed by the opportunities Britain had to offer, Abdullah headed for Manchester and began selling handbags on a market stall.

That led to creating a textile business, Pinstripe, supplying fabric to high street chains such as New Look, Topshop and Primark, using their connections in India. By the early 2000s the family firm was selling nearly £50million of fabric a year. And then Mahmud spotted the potential of the internet.

His middle son, Adam, who also helped to found Boohoo, said: “I think my dad realised that online was becoming more of a thing and if someone else could do it then so could we, and we could do it better.”

Today it has offices worldwide, and while Mahmud leads a quiet life, his sons Umar, Adam and Samir enjoy a showbiz lifestyle flaunted on Instagram.

Umar has become the unofficial face of the company. He was named as one of Tatler magazine’s most eligible bachelors, and his contacts book is filled with A-list stars such as Jennifer Lopez, who Umar threw a 50th birthday bash for, Kourtney Kardashian, actor Denzel Washington and Will.i.am.

Umar and the Black Eyed Peas singer once partied at Manchester celebrity haunt Neighbourhood, ordering £500 magnums of champagne, a £1,500 six-litre bottle of Belvedere vodka and a £450 bottle of Don Julio tequila to make shot towers.

Umar said: “Will.i.am is a really good mate — we FaceTime nearly every day — as is P Diddy.”

Umar looks every inch the wealthy playboy, from the platinum streak in his hair to his neatly trimmed goatee and sharp suits, worn, of course, to reveal bare ankles and designer loafers.

He owns a fleet of fancy motors, including a £300,000 Lamborghini Aventador with a personalised number plate, two Hummers, a £92,000 customised Mercedes G-Class and a £264,000 Rolls-Royce Dawn.

He dines at Nobu in Malibu, California, parties with P Diddy at the Grammys and hangs out with Kylie Jenner at Coachella Festival.

He once said: “I’m a rich man’s son and that’s not what I want to be. So yes, I have got something to prove. I want to be the rich man. I want to be the successful person.”

But the carefully crafted image is part of his strategy. Umar said: “I brand myself like that to make rivals think I’m not a shrewd businessman.

“It tricks them, and I like that. If they think I jet around the world, drinking champagne and hanging out with beautiful women — and nothing else — they underestimate me.”

He is so focused on work that he now shuns dating and alcohol, as he regards them as “distractions”. This summer he split from his glamorous long-term girlfriend Amy Reddish, who is head of brand at PrettyLittleThing.

There is no doubt that Umar’s focus has its foundations in that cramped family house in Chorlton, Manchester, where he lived with his grandparents, parents and cousins.

His brother Adam, 30, said: “There were 18 of us living in this one house and at times it was like a mad house, but I mean that in a good way.

“If you fell out with your friends you still had your family and that mentality has been with us since we were born.”

Joining the family firm was a natural path for the boys. Umar had been expelled from £12,000-a-year Stockport Grammar School for “mischief” and failed to complete his business degree at Manchester Metropolitan University.

He duped his parents with a fake graduation photo in cap and gown for two years before admitting the lie. Six years after starting at Boohoo, the brothers had enough knowledge to launch their offshoot, PrettyLittleThing.

It has been owned by the Boohoo group since 2016 and last year took £374million in sales. By 2022, PLT is forecast to be worth around £2.1billion.

When it launched in America three years ago, Umar cleverly tempted Kylie Jenner with the offer of a six-figure fee to appear in one of the brand’s bargain dresses at the launch of its LA store.

Afterwards US sales increased tenfold, enabling Umar to buy a seven-bedroom Hollywood Hills mansion.

His younger brothers Adam and Samir share his love of the showbiz lifestyle. Adam, who has also founded a real estate business in New York and a venture capital business, married his wife Charlotte in 2017 in a million-pound bash at Lake Como in Italy. The honeymoon in Africa is also said to have cost £1million.

Samir, the tracksuit-loving boss of BoohooMAN, fills his Instagram with pictures of himself next to football aces such as Brazilian star Neymar and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, as well as model Cara Delevingne and boxer Floyd Mayweather.

And the boys’ mum, Aisha, 53, while not directly involved with the businesses, loves to flaunt her enviable lifestyle too. She dresses in designer gear, travels by private jet and enjoys relaxing in hotels such as the exclusive One&Only Reethi Rah, in the Maldives, which costs £1,500 a night. In her spare time Aisha does charity work — and giving back is something the family is keen on.

Last week Umar had a big gift-giving spree on Twitter, donating clothes, gift vouchers and even holidays to those who answered the hashtag #prettylittlewishes.

Aisha and her sons have previously donated toys and £500,000 to local children in their community in Manchester and last year, Adam ran a social media competition to give away a £20,000 home makeover.

As for Umar, his commitment to living the high life clearly does still have boundaries. He said: “When I get back from LA after a long time, I just want to go to Marks & Spencer and push a trolley round to buy some of their food and pyjamas.”

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