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Start-Up Brands Need to Know their Niche

Fledgling fashion brands need to have a firm grasp of what they’re about before they seek sourcing advice or financial backing. Declaring a desire to be the next Azzedine Alaia or Yves Saint Laurent means nothing in a world concerned with production costs, order minimums and distribution. Munir Mashooqullah, principal and founder of apparel sourcing agent Synergies Worldwide, said there are key questions a start-up brand has to be prepared to answer: “What do you want to make? Who do you want to sell to? What’s your segment? What margin do you want?”

Speaking Thursday at FIT’s “New Era of Global Sourcing” seminar, co-hosted by Sourcing Journal, Mashooqullah said it’s paramount for a brand’s founder to know the practicality of the product he or she wants to produce. “If they do ask someone like Synergies [for help sourcing a factory], they need to be very well prepared because we will give them a hearing,” he said. “We want to support them—we have brands like PRPS that started small or Saturdays which just crossed $15 million—but they have to be prepared to explain to us what they want to do.”

Fellow panelist Jeremiah Griffiths, founder and president of Agartha Studios, a New York-based apparel and accessory design and production studio, agreed. “I like people who are authentic, who know what their niche is and are doing something they care about,” he said, adding, “When brands come to me they need to bring sales goals, sales numbers and a general all-around look at what they want to do so I can actually assist them in doing that.”

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And if the established idea includes the possibility of U.S. production, Mashooqullah encourages it “because in the first or second phase, it’s not about making money,” he explained. “Synergies wants to make money by taking you to China or Vietnam but it’s better to test your product by having control over your development and that means being closer to your city or country,” he said.

Griffiths echoed this sentiment. “There’s a certain quality to locality; it’s easier to check on production in Los Angeles or New York than overseas in China,” he said. Plus: “Brands can design closer to market if they’re doing American-made designs. When you start doing it overseas you’re usually in a line, in a queue, and it can take three or four months to produce samples. Here, you can get samples back in six weeks.”

Beyond that, it boils down to which country makes what well and, if you can meet the order minimums, for how much. Other key factors to consider include turnaround, ease of communication and shipping costs.

“Certain countries have strengths in particular categories. If you buy a polo shirt from TJ Maxx, it’s not made from pima cotton in Peru. If you buy it from Bloomingdale’s, it is. Why not make them both here? Because of the retail price. It all comes down to that margin, that mark-up, that coupon,” Mashooqullah explained.

Sourcing Journal Founder and Publisher Edward Hertzman, who moderated the panel, agreed. “You have to find the right home when it comes to price and quality,” he said, adding that while it’s cheaper to source from the likes of Bangladesh and Pakistan, those factories have longer lead times than American or Chinese facilities, which doesn’t jibe with the fact that retailers are buying later in the season.

“So it means we have less time to produce but we still have to deliver the product in a quicker amount of time at a cheaper price,” he explained. “And every time you make a change, it messes the factory up. So a minor change in your mind is actually pretty substantial and could really slow the factory down and hurt delivery time.”

For a multi-product brand, that could mean many shipping-related headaches and unhappy wholesale partners. One solution Griffiths offered to help “stay on calendar” is to limit sourcing to as few locales as possible. “That way you don’t have too many locations from where you’re shipping,” he said.