Amid what seems like unlimited choices, a key way for retailers to stand out is to try to offer products no one else has.
For a small boutique, that could be exclusive access to a bespoke clothing line, say, but creating and manufacturing one is typically cost-prohibitive except for the largest of retailers.
Enter MakersValley. The New York-based startup has developed a Web platform to connect individual businesses with clothing manufacturers based in Italy at inventory numbers far below what is typically required of these kinds of orders.
“They usually have minimum orders of 5,000 pieces,” says Tiffany Chimal, MakersValley’s co-founder and COO. “That’s a lot of capital.”
Instead, smaller boutiques and designers can, through MakersValley, tap into unused capacity at these Italian factories. “Now, they can make something that’s totally unique and their own so that people have to come to them to buy it,” she adds.
MakersValley provides access based on a monthly subscription model charging $49, $99, or $199 to work on one, three, or an unlimited number of product projects. (The startup also charge a per piece markup of 22 percent.) Once the project has been submitted, MakersValley will broker the bids from interested manufacturers. The customer chooses the winning bid and can decide to produce a few samples or an entire order.
Manufacturers upload photos and videos of the clothing being made, allowing the boutiques or designers to share them via social media. “Fans can be part of the process and see inside the factories,” Chimal says.
MakersValley has about 185 manufacturers on the platform, including those who produce clothing for marquee names such as Ferragamo and Versace, and is currently working on 90 projects—37 of which are being made by one designer, she says.
“We focus on the manufacturing piece of the supply chain, the fabric details, color size,” she explains. “You specify your budget and when you want to roll out your collection. You decide which bid works for you.”
In addition to connecting makers to manufacturers, MakersValley’s founders say their “Made in Italy” brand is a powerful label. “We’re giving them access to the same people who make clothing” for some of the world’s top couture houses.
While the idea of white-labeling retail products has predominantly been used in the grocery business, its use in apparel is growing fast, according to New York consultancy 1010Data. Online, private-label apparel is growing as quickly as that in consumer-packaged goods, it said.
Big retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target have all jumped into the private-label business. Among Amazon’s 6,800 such products, more than 4,600 are in apparel, and the Seattle-based company could become the largest apparel retailer by next year, according to data firm ScrapeHero.
MakersValley rightly targets the need for retailers to offer unique products, says Keith Anderson, senior vice president for strategy and insight at Profitero, a Boston e-commerce research firm. “The bigger chains are very commoditized and often serving the lowest-common denominator,” he says. “They can’t always attract brands that want to do exclusive arrangements [like you would do] in being part of a boutique.”
Partnerships that provide exclusivity between a retailer and a designer can help prevent shoppers from sourcing the garment in other places in hopes of finding a lower price. “That goes a long way toward minimizing competition at least at the brand level,” Anderson says.
And, for a fashionista with good taste and design skills but no manufacturing contacts, MakersValley could be a new way to launch a clothing line, he adds. “You could picture Instagram influencers using a service like this,” Anderson says.
Chimal founded MakersValley in 2016 with Alessio Iadicicco as CEO, whom she met while working in Milan. Iadicicco’s parents own a boutique and had connections among the apparel industry there. They toyed with the idea of connecting Italian factories with makers, and decided to move to New York to explore it further. A third friend, Babajide Okusanya, joined as co-founder and CTO.
MakersValley set up a Shopify account and Chimal says she cold-called boutique owners with custom-made suits in a suitcase. “I would get feedback from them saying, ‘I really need someone that can make my own brand of shirts, shoes, jeans,’” she says. “We had that network of factories that Alessio knew where he grew up.”
The founders were accepted into the Parallel 18 accelerator in Puerto Rico in 2017 and then received an Arch Grant of $50,000 to locate their business in St. Louis for a year. MakersValley is now part of the Monarq Incubator, a New York program focused on supporting women entrepreneurs, and Chimal says the startup has been accepted into the Apple Developers Academy in Naples next spring to work on a mobile app.
Additional factories are contacting MakersValley about joining the platform—Chimal says that Okusanya is currently in Naples recruiting them. “We’re at capacity as a team of seven,” Chimal says. “So we’re looking to raise money to hire more staff.”