NEW YORK — Fashion start-ups might have more financing options than they realize.
That was the gist of a panel discussion hosted by Fashion Group International Tuesday night at FGI’s headquarters at 8 West 40th Street here. The panel was on “Staying in Business: A Financial GPS.” Charles Klein, a partner at the law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, moderated the discussion. The panelists included Pavan Bahl, founder and chief executive officer of Open Source Fashion; Mary Ann Domuracki, managing director, MMG Advisors; Michael Hahn, vice president, fashion division, Samsung C&T America; Mark Katz, chief operating and chief financial officer, 3.1 Phillip Lim, and J. Michael Stanley, managing partner at factoring firm Rosenthal & Rosenthal.
The program touched upon the basics, and was geared more toward an entry-level primer on finance 101 for start-ups.
The general consensus from the panelists was that the attendees don’t have to sell stakes in their firms in order to finance growth. When considering taking on debt or giving up some equity, debt is generally the better option since owners get to retain equity in the company and, more importantly, control of their business.
Katz noted that the designer had an existing partner who was in another business. When that partner wanted out, Lim met with an individual who was in the fabric business. The two “hit it off” and have been partners for 10 years now, Katz said. “The company hasn’t needed to borrow” any money, and Lim’s experience shows that there are other options beyond selling a company or taking out substantial loans.
Bahl spoke about the crowd-funding process. He noted that while luxury brands probably wouldn’t go that route, crowd-funding could be a way to validate a concept. “Rewards-based, like Kickstarter, could be a great way to launch a product that is in pre-production. You have to have your sourcing and manufacturing lined up, but it could be a great way to organize your friends and family round,” he said.
Stanley explained the factoring process and how it can be a good option for smaller firms. Rosenthal would lend money to companies, and take care of the outsourcing of management of the receivables for the firms, all for a small fee, he said. Most arrangements are for at least a year.
Hahn spoke about how Samsung got into the financing business through its work with FUBU, the American hip hop apparel firm started by Daymond John in 1992. Samsung’s model calls for it to buy the inventory and manage the logistics — which includes warehousing and insurance of the product — of the business, allowing for the founders to focus on the creative end of the operation. Owners don’t give up ownership their business, but should be in existence for three years and have at least $5 million in annual volume for the model to be cost-effective for Samsung on the operational front. “We don’t require collateral and there is no personal guarantee required,” Han said. Samsung typically enters into three- to five-year working agreements.
Domuracki, who explained the difference between strategic and financial buyers, advised companies to do a business plan for the company. “It’s important for companies to have a roadmap for how much capital it will need and for how long,” she said. She also explained that it can be okay to have a financial sponsor at one stage of a company’s development to grow the business and then look for a strategic buyer once that growth is achieved.