Career Advice Successful entrepreneurs’ story

Fashion brand grows online

Selling fashionable garments at a price that most people find affordable is what one Hong Kong-based e-commerce brand is all about.

“Our philosophy is quality for all and making it accessible, and that really starts with the fabric,” says Luke Grana, founder and chief executive of the company which bears his family name.

It was while still living and working in Australia that he made a first visit to Peru and came across Pima cotton fabrics when browsing for gifts in the local markets. He was immediately struck by how soft, silky and beautiful they were and began to think about the possibilities.

In particular, he asked himself why T-shirts made of Pima cotton could sell at well-known fashion outlets for anything from US$50-80 when the same items cost only about US$7 to manufacture.

With this in mind, Grana decided to meet with representatives of some fabric mills during his trip and, on returning to Australia, found the first sample batch of T-shirts had already arrived.

“The quality of the material comes from having longer fibres, which makes it softer and more durable,” he says.

To get a better understanding of the fashion industry, which at the time was largely unfamiliar to him, he opted to work on the retail side in Australia for a while to get a feel for what customers want and need. During this period, though, his longer-term plans started to centre on setting up an e-commerce company, which could potentially have a global reach.

When further research showed that the rates for shipping services from Australia were comparatively high, he investigated other options and found that, as the world’s largest international hub for air cargo, Hong Kong could be a great base.

So, after due consideration, he bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong in late 2013, determined to launch his business here despite knowing hardly a soul.

By April the following year, he had taken space in a warehouse, sealed initial deals with garment manufacturers, had a functioning website, and was shipping his first 2,000 T-shirts to online buyers in eight different countries.

“It proved to me that people understand the importance of fabric quality and a good price point, both of which I was able to achieve in Hong Kong,” Grana says.

From that point on, he and a growing team managed to secure further funding and embark on the journey to becoming an e-commerce brand.

In the start-up phase, raising capital and sourcing materials were the major challenges, along with maintaining cash flow and finding possible international investors.

“For every round of raising capital, you have to explain your assumptions and let investors know what you are planning to do,” Grana says.

He saw the first successful sales as a real milestone, and that gave the confidence to keep pushing ahead.

The company now offers a range of stylish garments for men and women, all made from quality fabrics which now include Mongolian cashmere, Chinese silk, Italian merino and Japanese denim. And, these days, orders are being shipped out to around 70 markets.

Locally, there is now a flagship showroom in Wong Chuk Hang where customers can check garments – mainly blouses, dresses, sweaters, trousers and wraps — before confirming a purchase online.

Understandably, the company keeps a close eye on quality control and still goes directly to fabric mills, believing in the importance of good relationships with them, as well as with garment manufacturers.

“We made a point of partnering with the right people and really communicating our vision of what we’re trying to do in the market,” Grana says. “We have always demanded the quality we need for our customers at a price point that doesn’t include too much of a mark-up. We want to be more transparent about the process of how we source and deliver products to our customers.”

He notes that, in a sometimes cut-throat industry, this approach presents a strong value proposition.

“In the current day and age, you need to build a brand that people love, so they can believe in you and the values you stand for,” Grana says. “That’s why new consumer brands selling direct have the opportunity to find a market. We are just one of them.”

Grana was an entrepreneur long before moving to Hong Kong. Previously, he had launched coffee houses and tech start-ups, and his general advice is to take your time early on with any new business venture.

“You don’t need to rush. Slow down and make sure you have a very strong foundation. Going too fast initially can hurt the business.”