If you’ve indulged in a bit of online shopping over the past few years, you’ve surely come across the name Afterpay. The company, co-founded by Aussie Nick Molnar at only 24, has become one of the most popular payment-plan options, alongside competitors like Klarna and Affirm. At 30, Molnar was named Australia’s youngest self-made billionaire, and now he’s making it his mission to support the next generation of talent in the industry that helped build his fortune.
This past season alone, Afterpay (aka Clearpay in the UK) was the primary sponsor of Australian Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and London Fashion Week. During what has been a challenging time for the industry, that assistance was a game changer for both emerging and established talents—from Molnar’s countryman Jordan Dalah, known for his exaggerated, ruffly shapes; to Sarah Staudinger of the hit contemporary brand Staud; to Michael Halpern of Halpern, who cast members of the Royal Ballet in his spring 2022 spectacular.
For New York designer LaQuan Smith, the support allowed him to reach even greater heights, quite literally: His spring 2022 runway was none other than the observation deck of the Empire State Building. After a COVID-induced absence from IRL shows, “I wanted to come back in a big way,” Smith says, “and felt so blessed to not only show at the venue of my dreams but add exciting new elements,” including his first see-now, buy-now collection. Meanwhile, Joseph Altuzarra was able to give some of his customers front-row access (via livestream) to his spring 2022 show; they could even shop straight from the runway and pay in installments via the service. The designer calls it a way to “democratize consumers’ access to fashion.”
Molnar’s roots in the industry run deep. Rewind to a little over a decade ago, and he was actually running his own retail operation, selling jewelry out of his bedroom while still an undergraduate at the University of Sydney. Around the same time, he noticed a reluctance to use credit on the part of his generation, who favored debit cards. Molnar’s daily runs to the post office sparked the curiosity of a neighbor, Anthony Eisen, who happened to have a background in financial services and became Afterpay’s cofounder. Last August, the company announced it was being acquired by Square for a reported $29 billion.
Though the installment payment model is not an entirely new concept, its resurgence has not come without criticism, with some users reporting overdraft fees and late charges. (“It sounds too good to be true, and it is, in many ways, because there are perils for people who use this,” Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, told the Los Angeles Times last year.) But Molnar defends the model as a safer option than credit for many customers. “We built a product that was completely free for consumers who pay on time, which means that it’s not a line of credit, it’s not a loan, and we don’t have to do soft or hard credit checks or upsell someone to a line of finance,” he says.
His goal for the future: “building an economy where everyone wins.” And this season, his crop of runway protégés was definitely among those winners.
This article appears in the February 2022 issue of ELLE.
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