Growing up, Bushra Siddique, an alumnus of University College London and a fashion blogger, had always been interested in fashion and styling.
"Even though it was not what I studied or planned to get into, it was always a part of my life. Because I had a big following on Instagram, a lot of brands approached me, and I endorsed their products. At one point, I decided to stop promoting other clothing brands and start building and promoting my own," she said.
But, a clothing brand needs more than an exquisite apparel design to create a sustainable business. It needs all the other elements of a successful business as well. Apparel retailers need to master marketing particularly to grow their business.
In 2020, A platform named DEFCLO approached Bushra Siddique with an innovative concept where they would partner with her to launch her own clothing brand.
"What drew me to working with them was their commitment to sustainability and giving back to the community on top of their usual activities. I loved the fact that they were going to use deadstock fabric to create my designs. A completely new concept, never before done in Bangladesh," she added.
Bushra now owns her long-dreamt apparel label named 'Bsidd Loves'. The brand has successfully launched three collections so far. The fourth collection is awaiting its grand launch.
Bushra works on the design and marketing side of the brand, while DEFCLO handles the production and manages the sales infrastructure and delivery services.
Looking back, Bushra believes it was a very smart decision for her to partner with DEFCLO.
"Both parties play to their strengths on this platform. I can focus solely on new designs, content creation and marketing without all the back-end headaches of production and delivery. They are great at what they do and make the entire process of production, sales, delivery and customer service seamless," she opined.
DEFCLO in a nutshell
DEFCLO is a platform for talented individuals, designers, fashion influencers, and community leaders to design, produce and sell their clothes. Through DEFCLO, fashion enthusiasts can bring their visions to life.
DEFCLO collaborates with these enthusiasts in three ways.
Firstly, DEFCLO offers a 50-50 partnership with the brand owners. In this manner, DEFCLO will provide all the back-end support to the brand while having an equal stake in the venture.
"I think the margin I share with DEFCLO is well justified. It's important for both parties to have enough skin in the game to remain interested in putting in the work," said Bushra.
The second way is providing only service, where DEFCLO does not share profit with the brand, but receives a fee for the service.
The third way that DEFCLO works with an influencer or brand is by essentially acting as an e-commerce platform where a brand can sell through the company's platform.
DEFCLO is the brainchild of Zain Ahmed, a computer science engineering graduate from The UK's University of Sussex.
During his undergrad days, he used to do small gigs and helped small offline businesses go online.
"I helped a lot of European businesses grow. I used to help their whole business go online by building their e-commerce website and creating a whole system to manage all their needs, and on top of that, I used to share branding ideas. It is not like I had any training on this, but my major in computer science helped me a lot in dealing with the tech part," said Zain.
After completing his graduation, Zain returned to Bangladesh in 2016 and started thinking about how he could create a business here using the experiences he gathered in the UK.
In 2019, after Zain had finished designing the business, he started reaching out to different influencers.
"We reached out to many influencers and faced countless rejections. It was Bushra Siddiqui who believed in us and agreed to partner with us first," Zain said.
As of now, DEFCLO has six brands by six reputed content creators onboard, including Bsidd Loves by Bushra Siddique, Spashe by Sumaiya Pasha, Ehra by Sunehra Tasnim, Gemini by Ridy Sheikh, Zoanne by Zohaina Amreen and lastly, DEFCLO's own brand The Label.'
Two more brands will soon be launched.
Currently, DEFCLO has a team of 18 people, and its office is located in the capital's Gulshan.
The challenges of starting an apparel business in Bangladesh
Zain believes that the setbacks of starting an apparel business in Bangladesh are much greater than in any other country.
"We definitely take pride in being one of the largest RMG exporters in the world, but it has its own setbacks. The garments industry has flooded our market with its delayed and rejected products at super cheap prices. It creates a serious problem for designer brands to set their price ranges," described Zain.
This phenomenon has created a very low reference price in customers' minds. Besides, the availability of tailor shops on every corner tends to encourage buyers to get clothes made by these shops at lower prices.
"I think, in our country, customers are more educated than in any other country when it comes to fabric education. For instance, I have never seen anyone in the UK asking about the shrinkage percentage of fabric before purchasing it. We certainly have a wide range of queries in our minds," he explained.
Zain thinks this is an interesting dynamic and customers are very sensible to be aware of these details. But at the same time, it puts the manufacturers under extra pressure.
Moreover, local consumers have been dependent on customisation so heavily that brands that sell only fixed sizes face difficulty accommodating the requirements of buyers.
What makes the designs so popular
One of the most lucrative selling points of DEFCLO is that the platform has onboarded many popular content creators and influencers.
Many among us follow them religiously and want to keep up with their activities and designs.
Moreover, Zain believes DEFCLO is a versatile platform for shopping.
"All of our brands are unique and cater to different groups. For example, Bsidd Loves is a brand for stylish, bold women who love to be showstoppers with grace. On the other hand, Ehra is for young girls who love to play with bright colours and funky designs. The Label is our casual line for the youths," explained Zain.
DEFCLO is the only Bangladeshi vendor registered with Asos, one of the world's most popular fashion e-commerce sites.
The prices, however, are on the higher end of the spectrum.
"Our products might not be reasonable for all, but what we sell is absolute value for money," he added.
However, Zain has plans to introduce more affordable lines on this platform, and also to eventually open it up for any entrepreneur, not limiting to influencers only.