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Zilingo Plans to Be a Much Bigger Player in the Fashion Supply Chain

Zilingo, the Singapore-based B2B fashion supply chain disruptor, announced a $100 million investment Thursday that it claims will benefit American retailers as well as stateside apparel manufacturers.

The move comes on the heels of the Zilingo’s $226 million raise in April, when venture capital heavyweights like Sequoia Capital threw their backing behind one of the rising stars in an industry struggling to incorporate technology and modern strategy into oft-manual and antiquated business processes.

Describing Zilingo as a “technology company at heart,” CEO Ankiti Bose said the company she co-founded in 2015 with Dhruv Kapoor “firmly believe[s] in the power of technology to improve business and the world.”

Four years ago, Zilingo began as an e-commerce platform through which merchants could sell their wares directly to end consumers in the Southeast Asian region. Now, it’s expanding its reach not just to the U.S. but to new markets including Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

In an industry that’s “exploitative, wasteful and, frankly, completely broken,” the startup is making an effort to add “technology to a supply chain that hasn’t changed since the industrial revolution,” Bose added. “Zilingo levels the playing field in fashion so that businesses—no matter how big or small—can have access to a fair, transparent, affordable, fast supply chain.”

Zilingo, which also sponsored the Sourcing Summit New York on Thursday, landed in the U.S. over the summer, setting up offices in America’s twin fashion capitals of New York and Los Angeles. The firm will use a portion of the new investment to build up teams in sales and product.

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On the business side, the four-year-old firm takes a pared-down approach to sourcing, connecting brands and retailers with suppliers and infusing technology and sustainable thinking into every aspect of the apparel supply chain. SaaS-based software enables sellers and factories to digitize, automate and scale their business, while sidestepping the middlemen that “eat into their margins.” The Zilingo platform incorporates artificial intelligence to foresee hot-selling trends producible in as little as three weeks—which it says helps brands curb excess production and its attendant and harmful waste.

Platform users have access to unlocked credit, working capital and insurance, leveling the playing field for smaller outfits. And Zilingo claims a “global network of sustainable supply” is the linchpin for enabling “sustainable retailing,”

Zilingo, which boasts a network including more than 60,000 retailers and 6,000 factories in 17 countries, “grants access to internationally recognized auditing and compliance services to ensure responsible manufacturing” active on its platform—one of the ways the company strives to strip the complexity and costs out of sourcing.

That 6,000-strong group of makers and manufacturers is poised to swell now that Zilingo has unveiled a new initiative designed to uplift women, the lifeblood of apparel supply chains. Billed as “the largest, decentralized manufacturing program empowering female microentrepreneurs,” SheWorkz aims to reverse a reality in which women in Southeast Asia contribute just 31 percent to the workforce and even less—24 percent—to the GDP, Zilingo claims.

That’s primarily because women in this part of the world are often expected to tend to home and hearth rather than develop themselves or their careers. Pregnancy and subsequent childcare duties can keep women domiciled for long stretches of their most productive years. But SheWorkz has found a way to work with women as they are.

Through vocational training as well as financial assistance and business development opportunities, the Zilingo-backed initiative just might bring “women back to the workforce, on their own terms,” the company said in a statement.

Women selected for inclusion in the program will learn a range of important skills, from financial literacy and entrepreneurship to sewing, pattern making and batik making during a 20-day vocational program. SheWorkz—which has set of goal of upskilling 2,000 women in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Vietnam by 2022—then groups candidates according to their geographic location, skill set and ability level, essentially forming microfactories that are set up on Zilingo’s platform and ready to begin taking apparel orders from global brands.

To ensure they have the funds necessary to operate a business, Zilingo is offering women access to its partners’ verified lines of credit. But the creation of SheWorkz also led to the establishment of the “fashion and lifestyle” cluster, or subset, within microcredit financing, said Darmin Nasution, the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, who was on hand to inaugurate Zilingo’s new social enterprise.

“I am confident that women in the garment manufacturing industry will benefit from the vocational training provided by Zilingo and people business loans provided by KUR,” Nasution said, noting that SheWorkz will “extend financial inclusion to women aspiring to be micro-entrepreneurs.”

And the program gives Zilingo stronger ties to its supply stream as well. “Yes, we want SheWorkz to be deeply connected to the rest of our business and the supply chain,” said Bose, who CNBC described earlier this year as on track to become India’s first $1 billion female founder. “For us, SheWorkz is not just a social welfare initiative, but a deeply economically incentivising initiative for women. At the end of the day, we’ll only be able to put real money in the pockets of these women and change their lives by generating sales for them.”