With high-profile DTC clients like Stitch Fix, Bonobos and Everlane, Lever Style is augmenting its production capabilities and expertise to include a varied array of knitwear products. On the heels of a November IPO, executive chairman Stanley Szeto told Sourcing Journal in January that the company was looking to manufacturing bodies that specialized in new categories.
True to his word, Lever Style has acquired Vista Apparels, a small, Dongguan, China-based manufacturer that specializes in knitwear. Sweaters in particular represent a new category for Lever Style, Szeto said, and one that he was eager to have under the company’s umbrella.
“For us, one way to grow is not necessarily by getting as many new clients as we can, but by working with our existing clients to maximize” relationships and sales, Szeto said. Lever Style’s 70-plus brand partners are comprised of about 60 percent direct-to-consumer businesses and 40 percent premium brands, and being able to offer them a greater range of product across different categories will help deepen those existing ties.
Vista has developed its own meaningful relationships over the years, Szeto added, supplying brands like James Perse, Ministry of Supply and Paul Smith, to name a few. Their high-profile clientele spoke to the depth and breadth of the company’s knitwear expertise, he said, making their business an attractive prospect for Lever Style’s first acquisition since going public.
While the COVID-19 crisis has created an uncertain atmosphere for most retail business, Szeto said that the relative pause has given his organization an opportunity to stand back and assess its needs and options.
With regard to Vista Apparels, Szeto said, “We became something of a safe harbor for them to park their business, and we’ll integrate them into Lever Style,” adding that the company will benefit from the know-how of Vista’s staff, their customers, and their supplier relationships.
A number of Lever Style’s existing partners have already expressed interest in the products Vista has historically produced, he said. As Lever Style works to fold Vista into its operations, the company will need to develop new factories to accommodate the specific machinery and infrastructure needed for sweater manufacturing.
About 60 percent of Lever Style’s production is based in Vietnam, and the remainder takes place across Cambodia, Indonesia, India and China. The company will build out its capacity for sweater manufacturing in Vietnam, where it has the greatest influence and expertise.
“The know-how lies in how you navigate the government, customs and language—all of which we already have,” Szeto said.
Lever Style will be working over the next six to nine months to bring staff from Vista’s operations over from China and develop, with its existing team, a new capacity for sweater production. “We’re not in the business of building a factory from scratch and slowly ramping things up—that would take years,” he said. “We want to use an asset-light strategy so that we can react quickly to what our customers need.”
Fall 2021 will represent the debut of Lever Style’s sweater program, Szeto said. “It’s a category that almost all of our customers sell, and we’re trying to round out our product portfolio.”
Throughout the past few months of the pandemic, Szeto noted that he’s seen an uptick in athleisure and lounge apparel on the market. He’s keeping a finger on the pulse to determine whether those trends will be ongoing once the intensity of the COVID-19 crisis subsides, or whether shoppers might demonstrate a renewed appetite for polished, professional attire after so many months cooped up at home.
But predicting fashion cycles is a beast of a task even for the most experienced designers. “As a business owner, I just try to lower our risk” to weather the market’s volatility, he said.
“These cycles come and go, but for us as a company, we don’t want to place bets,” he said. “If we have a wider portfolio of product categories, things are more likely to even out.”