When The Not Found was started we only wanted to feature young brands and emerging designers. When I discovered Victoria Road through the Creed’s Collective Holiday Pop Up, I realized that The Not Found could not limit ourselves to just featuring only designers. The creators of Victoria Road travel the world in order to curate their collections by bringing together different pieces from all types of artisans. Behind each artisan, or designer is a unique story which is shown through their work in what they create. In the interview with Victoria Road we discover how their business works through their unique story and perseverance as a brand. Not only does Victoria Road curate beautiful collections of interesting and tedious pieces, but they tell the story of how each artisan and designer came to produce their products; whether it’s a single mother with a passion for design or sisters who took their heritage and constructed it into clothing for young girls in the western world. Victoria Road is beyond just an e-commerce fashion brand.
What inspired the creation of Victoria Road, and how will you sustain your mission?
The story begins in Pakistan and evolves into a much larger mission. Victoria Road originated from a philanthropic venture that was established in response to the floods that occurred in Pakistan in 2010. The initial idea was to leverage the fashion that was being produced in Pakistan to increase the awareness of the floods and the level of devastation that had occurred. When traveling around Pakistan, we noticed shops overflowing with embellished, embroidered and printed tunics, wraps and dresses that were completely different than anything in the U.S. market. We thought that by importing and selling some of these items with facts about the floods printed on the tags, we could raise funds to contribute to the relief efforts and inform people in the U.S. about the ongoing situation. It was a complete failure from the very beginning. The designs missed the mark for a U.S. audience, the sizing and cuts were inconsistent, navigating shipping and logistical issues was impossible, and ultimately we had no sales channel or distribution network.
However, just because you don’t succeed initially doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t have merit. We became more connected in the design and textile space in Pakistan and saw an opportunity to help small businesses grow by providing access to the US retail market. It became clear that operating the business as a non-profit wasn’t going to work and whatever vehicle we used would need to be financially sustainable. We settled on a hybrid, a “social enterprise” that would provide support and assistance to our design partners and generate revenue by retailing the products.
Shannon Grewer was working as an advisor to the Pakistan government and participated in a number of discussions among representatives from the Pakistani and U.S. governments regarding the mutual desire to support small businesses and increase handmade textile exports from Pakistan to the United States. From our past experiences working with designers and small businesses in Pakistan and other markets, we knew that, while there was a huge potential, these companies were not in a position to produce products to U.S. luxury market quality standards or comply with the complex regulatory and logistical challenges of international distribution. We wanted to build a company that would fill those gaps.
Our objective is to support to our partners in every aspect of their businesses. In addition to providing a retail avenue through our website, trunk show and pop-up sales, we assist with demand-generation elements such as design and styling as well as with every level of the supply chain, ranging from consulting on sizing and patterns to logistics.
What has been your biggest struggle with starting Victoria Road and getting it off the ground?
Setting up a retail venture is very difficult under any circumstances. It is even more challenging when you have intentionally selected suppliers that require an investment of resources before you can begin marketing and selling the products. We don’t do our own product development. A lot of companies that work with artisans in emerging markets in many African countries, India and other areas send product development teams into the country to work side by side with the local teams. We take a slightly different approach. Our objective is to provide the resources to build that capacity at the local level from within. In most cases our design partners are about 90% there and just need a little help to get the products to 100%. This requires a lot of upfront capital that can be difficult to recover through sales revenue, at least in the nascent stages of the business.
Can you share one of your experiences from the artisans in Pakistan?
Our designers in Pakistan seem to be able to anticipate trends before they arrive. We are always amazed when we see something on the runways of New York or Paris and think to ourselves, we saw that last year in Karachi!
If you could give one piece of advice to a fresh face designer what would it be and why?
Great design is not enough.
In order for products to be sellable to the U.S. woman who demands high quality, they also need to be well-designed and well-constructed in terms of fit, sizing and finishing.
When scouting artisans and designers for Victoria Road, what do you look for specifically?
We look for entrepreneurs who share our commitment to creating opportunities through economic development. This means that our designers must pay fair wages, provide a safe working environment and train their workers so they can develop and expand their skills. A significant commitment is required to develop and produce products that meet our quality standards. We look for partners that truly understand this and are willing to invest the time and effort to necessary to expand into new markets.
What do the creators of Victoria Road find most rewarding throughout their process of discovery, selling, and sustaining each featured designer?
It is an incredible gift to be able to witness the process of something beautiful being created by hand, and we take great joy and pride in sharing the amazing stories of everyone involved.
Is all the manufacturing done by the artisans and their teams or is it outsourced in any way?
Generally the only time a part of the process is outsourced is when special machinery is required to provide the necessary level of finishing. For example, the leather handbags we carry by Popinjay are now being constructed in Vietnam using hand embroidery work done by Popinjay’s women artisan partners in Pakistan. When this is the case, we work with our partners to make sure that there is full transparency in that portion of the supply chain so that we can ensure we are comfortable with the way those operations are run and the way the workers are treated and compensated.
Does Victoria Road plan on remaining e-commerce mainly, or is there plans for a store in the future?
We love participating in pop-ups and would love to be part of a collaboration of other socially conscious brands interested in teaming up to create a combined retail venue!! However, it is more likely that we will work with our partners to help them wholesale their products to retail stores in order to develop additional sales channels.
Where do you see Victoria Road in 5 years, and how do you measure your success?
We hope to have expanded our reach so that we are sourcing from numerous markets around the world. This will require significant in-house expertise and a team committed to constantly working with new partners to elevate their own capacity and achieve scale to operate a sustainable and profitable business. We want to see the products from our design partners in the mainstream fashion world but we will measure our success based on the ability of our design partners to have grown their businesses and created more jobs and opportunities for people in their local markets.
Do the creators of Victoria Road bring experience from past work in the fashion industry and do you think its important for young designers or entrepreneurs to obtain that experience before setting out on their own?
This experience is an absolute must! We are building a team of people with different expertise in the fashion industry ranging from technical and production expertise to sourcing, styling, public relations and marketing.