When we started our mission to showcase some of the most dynamic trainers, most innovative entrepreneurs, and most inspiring missions, we were lucky that we had an awesome network to help jumpstart our initiative.
It seemed like perfect timing when a close friend of ours Akash Bajaj announced the launch of his lifestyle clothing brand, akthreads Clothing just a few weeks ago. We met Akash during our time together at Babson and grew close throughout the year. Whether it was playing basketball after class, enjoying time with friends on the weekend, or working on start-up ideas, we did it all with Akash.
One reason we're so confident in akthreads, is that Akash was part of the team that first worked on Vitalfit. We always talk about how it started as a school project, and that's not an embellishment. Without Akash' help during our time at Babson, we may never have reached this point. In fact, we've tried to recruit him endlessly but to no avail - and it's no wonder when he's working on such an exciting project!
We asked Akash a few wide-ranging questions a few weeks ago that hopefully all you active lifestylers, aspiring entrepeneurs, and anyone interested in fashion can learn from!
Let's start by talking about our time together at Babson! You obviously worked with us for a long time in the ideation stage - what are you most surprised by now? And seeing as you're an entrepeneur as well, what would you have done differently?
From the early stages of VitalFit and through all the pivots, I’m surprised that you guys have kept the same core principle of transparency. Transparency was the issue that led to your problem identification but I think in the crazy roadmap of a start-up, values like that are altered or left out as the challenges just keep pouring on.
There’s not much I would’ve done differently, I think you guys are going at the perfect pace of conquering one product at a time. The Cherry Tart is excellent from the packaging, sourcing, and the fact that it ACTUALLY works which is a rarity in the commercial supplement industry.
We definitely want to learn more about akthreads - the shirts look sick! How did the idea come up? What was your inspiration?
Much of my business experience has been rooted in the of clothing manufacturing and distribution. With this insight into the industry I had been toying with building a company and creating a dynamic fashion brand for a while. Experiencing how clothing is made and the humanity of the people involved drove me to find a medium where I could blend my passion for clothing with building a company with a strong social mission. The result of that is a.k threads – a modern menswear brand with a focus on comfort, quality, and making a difference in the world fueled by the idea that everyone deserves access to a quality education
I think that having a mission driven company is one of the biggest takeaways from our time at Babson - can you elaborate a bit more on your mission? Where do you think you can make the biggest difference?
When I founded a.k threads, I truly wanted to create an approachable fashion brand that was driven by a strong social mission. Our core mission is to provide high quality and approachable clothing that is ethically sourced; which isn’t always the case in clothing manufacturing. It blows my mind that companies can sell a t-shirt cheaper than a deli can sell a sandwich considering the process a t-shirt has to go through from start to finish. Companies that are ethically sourcing are transferring that cost to the consumer by marking up their product. We assume the cost of ethical manufacturing so the customer can pay the appropriate price.
Alongside our manufacturing mission, we believe the biggest difference we can make through a.k threads is to provide education to those with limited access. We’re fortunate to live in a country where there are so many opportunities to create value and a high standard of living, and good business is to give back while following your passions and satisfying your customers. Education has been an integral part of my upbringing, and can give any individual an opportunity to make the most of their situation as the great equalizer.
That's awesome! One of the things we've found is that people don't mind paying more if they understand everything that's going into the product and know that a company is doing things the right way. Besides costs, we dealt with order minimums being a huge struggle that makes it hard to compete with the bigger brands - did you face this? What have been some other roadblocks you have faced to get the product to market?
Order minimums are absolutely a huge hurdle in terms of costing. There is definitely some risk involved, and we kept this in mind with our first season keeping it a highly curated selection of our favorite looks while keeping the price point a very approachable option for men looking for high quality products. We’re constantly innovating with our manufacturing processes, to keep small batch runs economical and limiting too many “special orders” and customizations.
I love that you're referring to each line as a "season" and keeping things in small batches. This seems in line with the "fast fashion" trend that has become all the rage these days. On the other side of things, “slow fashion” has started to become more popular as well. Where do you see akthreads falling on that spectrum? What do you think these trends mean for the future of clothing and fashion?
A.k threads gravitates towards fast fashion. As a young company we’re not able to manufacture at scale, but this actually helps the curation of aesthetic for the better, encouraging constant refreshes of our prints and styles. However, we don’t sacrifice ethical manufacturing and sourcing to rapidly produce our fashion lines as is the norm for many fast fashion producers, something we’re very proud of.
Looking at the future, I think both trends of slow and fast fashion are here to stay. Fast fashion will always have a market for those early adopters who want to wear the newest trends and express themselves in unique ways without spending designer prices, and slow fashion will always be here to stay since there is a need for high quality basic wears-products where you can count on consistent demand season-to-season and really allow yourself to manufacture in scale. Uniqlo has done an unbelievable job at this, and has shown slow fashion can compete with fast fashion. I’d even wager we’ll start to see brands blending the two together across the spectrum of their offerings.
Thanks so much for that insight, it's really cool to see where experts see their respective industries going! We've found that along with looking at trends, goalsetting has been big for us. With regards to this, what are some of your short term goals for the business? What about in the more long term?
As you know, we’ve just launched our first season of men’s short sleeves, and they’re off to a great start. Near term, we want to continue increasing brand awareness through collaborations with fashion bloggers and pop-up shops. As an e-commerce business at the moment, we’re limited with our ability to show the quality and fit of our product to customers so we’re focused on getting our styles into the hands of our audience. Longer term we’d love to expand our offerings from shirts to a wider variety of styles. The manufacturing process changes drastically from shirt, to blazer, to pants so we want to experiment and find the right manufacturing partner before we become a one-stop-shop for everything.
At the same time, we’re focusing on our social impact continuing to build relationships with schools and educators in India. Long term with the success of the brand and our following collection we can give back to more children we’d like to execute on our goal to build a school in India, and eventually around the world.
Before we wrap this up, we just wanted to talk about collaboration really quickly. It's been a core of what we do, and it has been invaluable to get us to this point. I know we've even been working together on some photo shoots and helping each other out where we can. Do you see collaboration as a competitive advantage? How does akthreads utilize collaboration to help drive innovation?
Absolutely. In the world of Instagram stars and with new brands being launched every day, collaboration is the key to a successful commerce play. Our approach to get our name out there thus far has been rooted in collaboration. We’ve been reaching out to influencers in the fashion industry which has allowed for us to open the gate for more impressions but more importantly helped us learn about common practices in the industry. Entrepreneurs realize how challenging starting a business is and therefore are welcoming to help others and receive help.
To check out akthreads visit akthreadsclothing.com or check them out on instagram @akthreadsclothing. To get in touch with Akash email: firstname.lastname@example.org.