While many professionals in fashion might be over trite terms such as “curated” or “edited,” the value of a fully vetted, invitation-only trade platform targeted to the industry cannot be overestimated.
And that’s the basis behind Serai, a solution specialized for the business-to-business crowd that aims to simplify international trade by connecting screened manufacturers and suppliers exclusively invited by other users, or by the platform itself. Serai is a fully owned subsidiary of the HSBC Group, which naturally opens the door to thousands of “qualified” clients in the apparel sector globally, giving the network a leg up from the start with companies such as FCI Group, Envoy Textiles, Leverstyle, Esquel Group and DBL Group already using the platform. Think of it as a LinkedIn for fashion industry professionals.
Here, Vivek Ramachandran, chief executive officer of Serai, talks to WWD about the mechanics of Serai, the role of technology in transparency, and why the fashion industry is ripe for change.
WWD: How does Serai’s platform streamline global trade for fashion industry businesses and brands? What about it is fashion-specific?
Vivek Ramachandran: Serai is a digital network for businesses to build trusted relationships. The world of international trade is still much more complicated than it needs to be. Brands in the U.S. and Europe, for example, continue to invest a huge amount of resources and time to find new manufacturers and suppliers — and that is just the start of the journey towards building a trusted relationship.
Serai aims to simplify this journey. It provides a platform for manufacturers and suppliers to showcase their capabilities, credentials and connections. Brands can use Serai to find new suppliers and to manage their current relationships. Being a digital network for businesses, Serai aims to go beyond just “streamlining” global trade, we are looking to provide a new way for businesses to engage, connect and build relationships digitally.
We are starting with the Clothing & Garments sector. This sector is facing disruptive change on multiple fronts — consumer preferences, the push for supply chain transparency, trade tensions and the push for more sustainable production sources. We believe Serai will help the players in this industry respond to these changes.
WWD: How is Serai’s solution differentiated in the market? In what ways has it “reinvented” trade finance?
V.R.: Serai is trying to reinvent B2B trade — it is not a financing platform. Technology has fundamentally changed how individuals build and manage their relationships with each other, and how businesses build and manage relationships with their consumers. Serai aims to do this in the B2B space. B2B relationships are not helped enough by technology today and are still dependent on centralized databases and human interaction. Serai will help change this. A key differentiator is the technology foundations upon which Serai is built, which will allow companies to access a range of third-party solutions and services through the platform.
WWD: What criteria is used to vet buyers and sellers interacting on the platform?
V.R.: Serai is invitation-based, rather than open platform. Companies are invited by other users on the platform or they can register their interest via our web site and receive an invitation directly from Serai. Serai is also a fully owned subsidiary of the HSBC Group, which gives us access to thousands of qualified clients across the Clothing & Garments sector across more than 50 countries. Over time, the data points on these companies, their connections and relationships on the platform will feed into our proprietary algorithm, which will allow the network to validate itself.
WWD: Can you speak to Serai’s promise of traceability throughout the supply chain, and what that entails?
V.R.: We believe transparency builds trust. Serai provides a platform for companies to showcase their connections and supply chains. The companies own their profiles and their data — and choose the extent to which they want to be transparent.
WWD: What’s next for Serai?
V.R.: It is the early days for Serai. We went live with a beta version toward the end of 2019. In 2020, our focus is on growing the number of users and driving usage. Our product development and feature prioritization will be entirely driven by the users on the platform. In the coming years, Serai will expand to other industries and introduce third-party solutions/services on the platform.
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