Regine Harr, Founder of Fashion Startup Nelou on Ashton Kutcher and her Move to the Valley
Regine Harr, founder of Nelou, is a cool woman. Her fashion startup for independent designers in Berlin has a great following and now she wants to move to Sillicon Vally to speed up the growth and get connected even more. Time for an interview with The Next Women.
How did you come up with the idea of your start-up
While at the Grameen Bank (Micro Financing) in Bangladesh I got to know the production companies for garments. Which is where I realised that only the really big fashion houses produce in those countries. However the small designers are to small to produce in quantities which would allow them to work with garment companies in those countries.
After some serious research into the topic, I realised that those independent designers have not even a proper distribution channel which would allow them to get worldwide exposure. So, nelou was created.
On the other hand green, fair traded, ethical, sustainable fashion is in growing demand. People know about the working condition in Bangladesh and China and are increasingly concerned about it, hence nelou is a “fair alternative”. But not only that, people can now buy from around the world and really express their personal style. Whereas before, you could only buy what was available in your city. Now you have the freedom to choose from designers around the world.
Hence nelou is the “youtube” for designers. On youtube you can find new musicians, and on nelou you can find new fashion designers :)
How did you form your team?
Our team is my co-founder, Boris, and I. IT is outsourced as well as PR. This is a strategy which we are really very proud of. We have managed to acquired over 350 registered designers from more than 25 countries in one year with more or less only two people.
We were partners of Vienna Fashion Week, Lake's Fashion Days, Ramazzotti Runway Award, had a few designers present at the Berlin Fashion Week and that only with Boris and myself.
But in 2012 this needs to change – however also 2012 will not make us change our believe in small teams, which are quick to react and which work hard and effective together.
How did you fund it, with how much money, and what is the business model?
Right now we are self funded. We were in the lucky position to get started without any external investor. We wanted to have a proof of concept first and also acquired a substantial amount of designers – which we did. Now it is time to get some serious money behind our business.
It is a commission based business model. We take a percentage of what has been sold.
What makes you different from other players in your sector?
There is none like us. There is etsy and there are platforms like my-wardrobe. And we really fall in the middle. It is a purely commercial driven platform, home to the independent designers. Nelou's aim is to become the youtube for fashion designers. Our idea for everyone to find their ethical alternative and to dress in ways they like with designers from around the world.
What was your biggest challenge during the development process and how can other start-ups learn from that?
The biggest challenge for me was IT, since I have no experience in that field I totally need to rely on experts. That really is the biggest challenge.
I can only recommend to anyone to find a co-founder who covers the areas of your business you are not familiar with. The current biggest challenge is, to handle the huge number of designers, which we did not expect, find an investor as well as spread the love, i.e. acquire customers.
What about turnover, profitability, bootstrapping?
We are in the lucky position of making money and are also able to cover our costs. So proof of concept right there – without ANY marketing budget!!! :)
Where is the company in 1 year?
2012 will be very interesting for us. We are in the process of moving to San Francisco. Our aim is really to get some serious financial backing and conquer the world. So, we take offers for that.
From what we see, the demand in ethical products is increasing as well as the demand in individual clothes. So with nelou we right in that spot.
And bonus Q: how is the startup ecosystem in Berlin?
In Europe – no doubt – this is the place to be. If you want to start your own business, come to Berlin. A lot of Vcs are moving their European offices to Berlin.
Ashton Kutcher is here every other week investing in another start up.
Form an entrepreneur's perspective, it is cheap and here is amazing talent who really pushed Berlin forward. The support system is amazing as well. There are a lot of seed investors that put all those early stage start ups into one office, which is unbelievable fruitful.
Another bonus Q: What was your biggest learning points in the Founder Institute?
What I loved about the Founder Institute the most was, getting to know all the other guys. We were so productive and helped each other with toying around with their ideas and really learnt a lot from each other.
The FI really focuses on a great support network that helps you get your idea of the ground. The mentors are a great help in that. They flew in from around the world and gave some very inspiring talks.
It is great being part of a group of really innovative people that support each other in really amazing ways. Which is something I have only ever experienced in the startup world.
What do you hope to get out of the German accelerator programme?
As mentioned above, we are self financed and really want to change that in 2012. Hence we really hope that through that program we meet some great Vcs who can help us push our product into the market.
Also because Europe is not really easy concerning Ecommerce (tax and shipping costs issues) and also not homogenous (e.g. language), we believe that getting a great head start in the USA could be really beneficial.
So anyone who want to invest or support is, is more than welcomed to, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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