When you hear of a 27-year-old millennial female involved in the fashion industry, you may not typically think of computers, data analytics and ecommerce. However, that is exactly the case with Ankiti Bose, the co-founder and CEO of fashion sourcing company Zilingo, poised to be India’s first female startup ‘unicorn’ with her company now valued at $970 million dollars, shattering the glass ceiling in tech.
The Singapore- based company is a veritable one-stop shop for the fashion supply chain and for starters, the company’s platform connects raw material suppliers to buyers and retailers. Fashion brands can also connect to smaller producing factories through this platform; and this ensures an impressive degree of ‘hire’ transparency. When the production process is complete, Zilingo also provides businesses with the ability to manage their ecommerce with data science and technology tools for cataloguing, distribution, inventory management, sales tracking and financial services. Zilingo now boasts seven million users across the globe and serves 17 different regions, predominantly in Southeast Asia.
The global fashion industry is worth a whopping $1.34 trillion in retail sales, and seems to be growing exponentially each day. While the monetary value of the industry grows in leaps and bounds, the same cannot be said of its adoption of technology. Major advances have admittedly been made in fashion marketing, but much of the actual fashion production and supply chain remain surprisingly manual and unsophisticated. Fashion brands have traditionally relied on middlemen who connect brands in Western countries to factories in Southeast Asia, but Zilingo is changing all that by digitizing these manual processes.
“We believe the future of fashion belongs to everyone. By using smart, technology-led solutions to bridge the gap between creators and producers, we’re re-imagining the fashion industry.” – Zilingo
Zilingo is often likened to the Chinese company Alibaba, but Bose is unfazed with the comparison knowing that Zilingo focusses on an underserved market. She tells Forbes, “Merchants where we operate, like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, don’t have access to the same tech, financial services and channels the Chinese have.”
Now, to help brands forecast trends and know what to produce, Zilingo (using data analytics) provides a ‘style hunter’ which identifies and predicts upcoming style trends. This of course helps increase lead time for manufacturing companies, a factor that has been greatly responsible for the poor treatment of garment workers. Zilingo, under the leadership of Ankiti Bose has gone further to partner with other fintech companies so as to provide production loans for small companies that need it.
With this business model, middlemen are cut out from the transaction, thus leaving more profits for both the buyers and the small businesses – the parties who arguably need and deserve the money the most. According to Ankiti Bose, “The idea is to make it easier for brands to source and sell, it’s not like electronics. There is zero technology in the factories, no SAP, Oracle. … There is nothing tailor-made for the apparel industry.”
For me, the crucial point here is that Zilingo has set an example I hope more companies will emulate. We all know that sustainable fashion and supply-chain transparency are the right principles to create products by, but brands and companies do not just exist for doing what is right. The argument for this seems to be that businesses exist primarily for profit-seeking and money-making, and shouldn’t bother with issues of right or wrong. But by practically creating a unicorn status from a company dedicated to transparency and sustainability, Zilingo has shown that sustainability is a viable business model and not just another marketing strategy.
With seed funding from Sequoia Capital, the company started in 2015 as an e-commerce company (when Bose herself was just 23-years-old). The idea was to help small brands access consumer markets in Southeast Asia; an idea that came to Ankiti during a holiday in Bangkok but by 2016, the company had raised an additional $8 million in a Series A funding round. In that same year, Zilingo expanded its focus to B2B sourcing and supply-chain services.
It raised an additional $18 million in a Series B round in 2017 and $54 million in a Series C round in 2018. This year, the company has so far raised a whopping $226 million in a Series D round and with this latest rise; the company is currently valued at $970 million making it a “rounding error” away from ‘unicorn status’.
What is next for Zilingo? Digging deeper and expanding of course. Zilingo’s goal is to provide as much insights and data collected by big brands right through to SMEs and indie brands. According to Druv Kapoor, Zilingo co-founder, “It’s imperative for us to build products that introduce machine learning and data science effectively to SMEs while also being easy to use, get adopted and scale quickly. We’re re-wiring the entire supply chain with that lens so that we can add most value.”
The company employs 800 people while managing about 60,000 retailers and 6,000 factories on its global platform. It is set to move into the US market with a $100 million push and to open offices in New York and Los Angeles. Through all these, Zilingo brings the small-scale vendors of Southeast Asia’s bustling open-air markets to a new, bright, and accessible space, niche marketplaces. It fills a gap in the market that large free-for-all brands have overlooked before now, and it simultaneously feeds the growth of Asian fashion subcultures that would otherwise remain underground.
How could all this be anything but impressive?
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Feature image of Zilingo team via LinkedIn.