A few weeks ago, I meet the President of JHilburn.com, Veeral Rathod, at a First Growth Venture Network Event. J Hilburn makes custom shirts, pants, and suits.
I thought the concept was interesting, but when Veeral told me that over 97% of his company’s 2,000 employees were women, I had to dig deeper. It’s not everyday you meet a former banker who is up-ending men’s fashion. I decided to interview Veeral and find out how JHilburn came into being. It’s a great story for any entrepreneur (or banker) and reminds us that there are always multiple ways to disrupt an industry.
What are the backgrounds of the founders?
Hil Davis (Founder & CEO), Veeral Rathod (Co-Founder and President)
Hil and I both come of out investment banking. Hil started out as an equity research analyst covering restaurants and retail at Thomas Weisel Partners. He spent time as Head of Investor Relations at Brinker International (owns Chili’s, Maggiano’s and Macaroni Grill) before getting back to equity research with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. Most recently, he was at Citadel Investment Group managing a portfolio of restaurants, apparel and footwear.
I started as a mergers & acquisitions analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Technology Group. I then spent four years at Cogent Partners, a private equity secondary firm in Dallas.
We were introduced through a mutual friend. Hil shared with me an idea he had been developing to sell custom luxury apparel at attractive prices by compressing the traditional retail supply chain and selling directly to the consumers.
What made a bunch of bankers think they could do fashion?
We knew that the traditional retail model was fundamentally broken – high markups, heavy inventory, significant discounting. Also, consumer preference was shifting towards customized styling and product curation.
We launched the company with custom shirts, and significantly underestimated the difficulty of product design and custom supply chain. The apparel supply chain is built around bulk production and it took us two solid years just to reach a base level of consistency in our shirting program, from working with the Italian fabric mills to the few high-quality, scalable factories that would make custom. Good news is that while this has been one of our hardest challenges, it is now one of the most defensible strengths of our business.