Shirts – The First Step in a Fashion Firm
20 January, 2016
Brava Fabrics designs shirts, blouses, ties, bow ties and underwear. It wants to eventually offer a full outfit in its online store.
On 24 December, the founders of Brava Fabrics rang around every customer who had not that day received the products they had purchased over the Internet because they hadn’t been home when the courier came. “We gave them back their money. The courier had visited them but they weren’t home so they missed out on their Christmas gift. We offered to give them back their money so they could buy another gift that same day. We have a premium product and the service must be top-notch as well,” says Ramon Barbero, founder of Brava Fabrics. When Barbero and his business partner and project co-founder, Ivan Monells, speak about ‘premium’, they are referring to providing a “different and excellent” shopping experience – and one that is always online. “If we are more expensive than the competition, and we are, and we don’t offer a perfect service, we won’t get repeat customers. That’s why we have free delivery and returns, we give you back your money if you’re not happy with the product and we contact the courier as soon as we get an email from a client. You might spend €79 on a shirt, but the shopping experience is completely different!”
Brava Fabrics is a young project. Indeed, it is practically a baby. The label opened its online store, the only place where its designs can be found, in March 2015. The shirts attracted a lot more customers than expected at Christmas and, as Monells explains, it was hard to keep up the stock. “We set the sales forecast high, but in fact it exceeded expectations”. The shortfall of stock is proof of the success the firm has achieved in a few short months.
Barbero and Monells met while studying a corporate management master’s at business school. There they devised a first project together, one that was also online but which focused on selling food. This was a test before, a few months later, starting a more solid and successful company dedicated to designer shirts for men and now for woman as well. “Shirts are just the first step in becoming a fashion company,” the founders say. That’s why they are now working on a more extensive product category. “We add new models every two months, but we don’t withdraw the most successful designs, such as the one with the white bicycles. If the product continues to sell why would we stop making it?” Monells asks. Both he and his partner believe in timeless fashion and repeating models.
The system of local production they have chosen allows them to replace and rotate stock fast. “We operate at a very low stock level for sector standards. In China you have to make large quantities of a single product because you won’t be able to produce them again. We focus on small runs and can replace them each month. That means we avoid that risk”. They say that working with 25 different models of shirts “isn’t the best way to avoid risks in stock management and financial leveraging” but it’s the only way to guarantee that there is always something for visitors to the online store. “People want to see 20 models of different shirts and if we want the customer to buy again we need to have them,” Monells says. Brava Fabrics has also recently started making women’s blouses, men’s underwear and bow ties, always with a distinctive design that recalls their Mediterranean roots and which is inspired by the Barcelona lifestyle. At the same time, all of the goods are made in local workrooms, using natural cotton and drawing on a number of carefully studied patterns to offer the best fit for both the male and female body.
Monells is an IT engineer who worked in finance before starting Brava Fabrics. Today he is responsible for logistics. Barbero leads the product, sales and marketing areas. “Ivan is back office and I am front office. That means I am in charge of deciding what products to sell and the strategies for making them attractive and growing the customer base,” Barbero says. Immediately before starting the business, he worked in corporate internationalisation, which is why he is convinced that it is necessary to enter new markets now that the company is doing well in the local environment. “If we were to sell to physical stores, we would consider travelling to a city, finding a local distributor and positioning the product. But what we want to do is sell directly over the Internet. We started with London, the UK’s largest city, where Brava does well because of the type of product we sell”. Monells adds other key factors for having wagered on the UK capital. “Incomes are higher, people like the products and, above all, e-commerce has a high level of penetration.” In that regard, his partner says that attracting British traffic to the online store is much harder than it may appear. “If you don’t have money it won’t happen and we need to work on ways to achieve it. We don’t have a physical store which would make it much easier to boost brand awareness. We are looking into the possibility of opening our own, pop-up salesroom”.
The pair is considering a pop-up exhibition of their products in the European cities they wish to enter. They agree there is still a need “to touch and see clothes before buying them over the Internet”. That’s why they have decided to commit to a minimum infrastructure that “satisfies the future customer’s trust”, specifically, a place where people can see, feel and try on the clothing. The purchase will then be closed via the online store. But why not just have a physical shop? “A physical shop involves relocating stock and is a very significant risk with regards financial leverage. For now, and I repeat for now, we are opting for a minimum physical retail service. We don’t need help to sell the products; we are doing it ourselves and it’s going well. We are much more inclined to believe in online scalability while at the same time offering the possibility of touching the shirts,” Barbero replies.
The debate about whether or not an online store is necessary sparks a long conversation between the founders on the potential of e-commerce. “When you open on the Internet, you need to devote a great many resources to it. If you have a physical store as well, you lose focus. The e-commerce sector will grow in the medium to long term and we want to be leaders when between 20 and 30% of purchases are online,” Monells says.
A company on the move
Indeed, taking the company global is the most important project in the firm’s second year of life. Finding a financial backer is another of Brava Fabrics’ plans – someone who understands and shares their philosophy and can help the firm to grow. They must also believe 100% in online sales, as Barbero and Monells do. “Future partners must understand that Brava has its own strategy and wants to keep it that way,” Monells says, adding, “We are looking at investors but if we don’t find them we will plough on anyway, slowly but surely. True, we would like to grow faster, but it’s not absolutely essential”.
They know that gaining in size alone would take a long time and they have no doubt that one of the firm’s strengths is that it offers a good starting point in any negotiations with future investors. “We’re making money and we don’t need better sales,” Monells says. If they can’t entice a new investor onboard, he says, “the company will keep going”. At the same time, Barbero counters, “We’ll survive, sure, but will we grow to be a €100m company? That’s the question”.