LOS ANGELES — How to go from a jobber selling fast fashion into a brand with a focused point of view and collections is no easy feat. For Honey Punch, it was a seven-year process that has the company now at a turning point.
The company, started in 2002, is on an ambitious track for global status. About six months ago the business stopped selling Honey Punch at the Mart — a collection of businesses hawking mostly fast fashion in downtown. The design and sourcing teams began putting together collections for Topshop. By year’s end, the company should have 31 concessions in the London-based retailer. The company counts more than 500 retail customers, including Berlin-based Zalando, Bloomingdale’s and LuLus.
Chief executive officer and owner Katherine Kim, seated at a conference table in the company’s showroom at the New Mart in downtown recently, declined to state what the company’s generating in annual sales but said it’s growing at a rate of about 30 percent each year. It’s a trend she projects will continue for the next few years and reported the company has also been realizing a profit for some time now on a consistent basis.
It’s a turn for a brand that even just two years ago was still being sold at the Mart, handling business-to-business customers, but also mirrors what has happened to those company owners who have been able to pivot beyond the San Pedro Wholesale Mart for larger goals.
Marina Chianese, the company’s vice president of sales, was a buyer 13 years ago, shopping the Mart out of Kim’s store and has seen the slow progression that has helped lift a number of companies that got their start as jobbers.
“San Pedro, downtown was like a secret to some people and not everybody knew that and the people who knew about it were killing it and making a lot of money because the consumer had no idea what that San Pedro cash-and-carry business was. So buyers would fly down, fill up their stores, go back and make a lot of money on this stuff.…You had all of these Korean-owned brands that were from here,” she said. “They started doing the trade shows and that educated the buyers all over the country, ‘Oh, these brands are something’ and then they all started buying it.”
The company isn’t the only one to move to a focus on building brands in recent years. Vernon, Calif.-based Catwalk to Sidewalk Inc.’s owners, Billy Kang and Jenny Kang, began selling low-margin product to retailers such as Wet Seal and Charlotte Russe before they began building out their multibrand portfolio that includes lines such as Konus and Ro & De. There’s also another husband-and-wife duo, Kevin and Christin Kang, who started Edgemine Inc. from a swap meet on Slauson Avenue before moving to San Pedro Street. Edgemine is another multibrand portfolio holder with lines such as JOA — which has partnered with Chriselle Lim in the past — Blue Pepper and Moon River.
Kim made the decision to pull Honey Punch out of the Mart after Topshop came calling, investing in product development and sourcing before then landing multiaccount stores.
Topshop, when it first reached out to the company in early 2017, turned the business, Kim said. Honey Punch is now the line the company intends to focus on building into an actual brand. It’s still fast fashion but it’s akin to Zara, whereas Wild Honey — the brand replacing what Honey Punch used to be — fulfills the fast-fashion need and the company’s space at the Mart.
“It’s the fast-fashion girl who grew up, who still wants to be edgy and on trend, but she has a little bit more money to spend,” said spokeswoman Jill Martino of Honey Punch’s evolution.
“It’s taking the best part of what fast fashion has to offer, but mixing it with what people like about collections,” Chianese said. “When I was a buyer, a collection you had to buy four months out and nobody knows what’s going to be the next best thing four months from now, but there is something great about seeing a controlled merchandise assortment every single delivery, but then taking that fast, new injection of what fast fashion does so well to blend those together. It makes a big difference.”
On Aug. 4, the company held its first major marketing endeavor — an influencer event — in a move signaling its intent to market the brand in a much louder way along the lines of a company such as Revolve, explained vice president of marketing and merchandising Danica Cauffield.
How Kim fell into the apparel business is an interesting one. She previously worked in sales at Samsung. When a friend of hers, the founders of the business — whom the company declined to identify, citing the business’ privately held status — reached out for advice on Honey Punch, she agreed to consult. In 2012, she took over the business and is now its sole owner.
“A lot of jobber owners, they took the investment [the profits] and they put it in their own personal use,” Kim said. “For me personally, I put the investment back into the company either to the design or the product or to the sales team. I think that investment finally paid us back.”
The 140-person team includes about 20 in the design department with a presence in Los Angeles, New Jersey, South Korea, London and China. Kim said she’s looking to open a showroom in Australia. There’s also the name Honey Pop that she’s registered as she mulls the launch of a kids’ line followed three to five years out from now the rollout of a lifestyle web site.
Near-term plans also call for the company to launch a London pop-up for the holiday, which would be the start of a more aggressive strategy at retail next year that would see a combination of pop-up and permanent doors open.
“In the last eight years retail has changed so dramatically,” Cauffield said. “If you stay wholesale you’re always going to be at the mercy of the retailers and the buyers. Now that we have this really great empire of wholesale diversifying, it gives us the opportunity to then bring the additional revenue stream plus do it in the way we want to present our brand and take our future into our control.”
It’s a move that began several years ago with Kim’s vision as she and her team aggressively chase their customer.
“We’re reaching out to the consumer,” Kim said. “We’re not waiting for them to come to us.”