Bangladesh is one of the most well-known names in the global apparel market, with exports pulling in billions every year. However, finding high-quality contemporary fashion wear in the local markets is a struggle for most consumers.
Fashion e-commerce platform Strides Co sells affordable contemporary fashion wear that meet global quality and fashion standards.
The CEO Zahia Khondoker, COO Alavi Khondoker, and CTO Ariq Mansur set out to fill the void as there is demand in the local markets for globally trending clothes.
What makes Strides Co unique is that there is an option on the website that allows customers to order up to three different sizes for one cloth. They can try out all three when they are delivered to their doorstep and choose the best fitting one.
After completing the International Baccalaureate degree, siblings Zahia and Alavi went to the UK. They came back to Bangladesh in 2015. From 2016 to 2018, they worked in their family's company Shanta Garments Ltd.
"It is difficult to find trending clothes – say the ones we see on Instagram or the ones offered by Zara or H&M – in our local markets. Even when I was looking for normal basics, it was so hard," said Zahia.
Zahia was the lead of research, design and development at the garment company, while Alavi looked after the factory-production side of the business. With the knowledge gathered from working with international buyers and their overall working experience, they were convinced that together they could create a viable business that offers a collection of clothes unavailable in the Bangladesh market. The brand's motto is 'Wardrobe essentials with an edge'.
"We started Strides Co in 2018, along with our factory. We became fully involved in it by 2020," Zahia told The Business Standard.
Although they had a positive response from the beginning, business really took off during the pandemic.
"When the pandemic started, it became a great potential for us to go all in. We became fully involved and built our team," she said.
The current team of around 12 people includes designers, marketing executives along with IT and operational personnel. "We also have an investor who has a company that does our photo processing, and they have a big team there as well," she added.
From 2020 to 2021, with 2021 being its first full operational year, Strides Co experienced nearly 200 percent growth. Last year, it received pre-seed funding from Bangladesh Angels Network (BAN), which helped scale up the business.
Alavi explained why they decided to open an online shop and not a retail shop like most RMG factories. "We want Strides Co to be a one stop destination for all things fashion. Along with our flagship brand Strides, we wanted to partner with brands with similar qualities, so that customers have a wide range of products to shop from."
He also believes the beauty of e-commerce is you are able to see all the customers' journeys as a collective. Moreover, they are able to keep track of customer response easily, thus allowing them to improve their services.
There are 11 brands mentioned on the Strides Co website, some of which are sub-brands. Mahal, for example, is a sub-brand for ethnic wear by Strides. The company also takes care of product shoots for its brand partners.
Trousers, winter jackets and western contemporary are some of the top-selling categories at Strides Co. For Eid-ul-Fitr, however, customers mostly ordered Panjabis.
Bringing diversity to products was one of the hardest parts of running the e-commerce platform since they try to provide all kinds of fashion items. Also, they have to make sure customers understand the products, which is why they take high-quality photo shoots.
"Because it is fashion, you always have to think about what is popular. Every new product is a bet because you do not know how popular it is going to be," said Alavi.
He further added that in e-commerce, the challenge is bigger than retail, because customers cannot feel the product, and their perception is based only on images and product descriptions.
According to him, the reason why online works out for them is that they have a big customer base in Dhaka as well as outside of Dhaka. Orders come from as far as Khulna, Barisal and Thakurgaon.
Inside Dhaka, delivery can be done in eight hours because all Strides Co products are ready-stocked.
To run a business such as Strides, as Alavi informed us, one needs to build a network of suppliers and Strides Co has done it successfully in the last few years. Shanta Garments, the family business of the owners, was certainly of help, but it wasn't the one stop solution as one might imagine.
"One garment factory cannot make all kinds of products, you need to have a network of suppliers to run a retail store," Alavi said.
With their family background, however, it was only natural for Zahia and Alavi to come into the garment business. Their journey was made easier with their parents' blessings and support.
"Our father was a bit hesitant at the beginning because the clothing business is tough and although he has been working on the export side, he has been in this business for a long time. Now when we do well, both parents become very excited," Zahia said.
For Zahia, the future for Strides Co is to become the number one fashion destination. "We want to expand our product line and add lingerie, footwear, etc. Currently, we are also looking for funding and the right set of mind to scale up our business."
The company will also try to expand sizes (right now, it has sizes XS to 3XL) and become more inclusive, she mentioned.
"We are trying to create a brand worthy in Bangladesh and also in the global market," said Alavi. Right now, they are running a pilot project on Amazon.