Sundar, a Web-mobile site launched last month to more than 100 select vendors and an exclusive group of buyers, aims to help bring textile purchasing into the 21st century.
In the digital age where experts and industry leaders are calling for more tech innovation in the fashion world, Sundar sets out to be a primary business-to-business digital platform that unites global and local merchants, manufacturers, artisans and international fashion professionals. Providing a digital catalogue and tech aspects like granular search features, the site — sundar.io — intends to save buyers and apparel manufacturers the time, money and hassle of traveling to trade fairs, and optimize how information is collected in the materials and related components-sourcing world.
Sundar’s founder, Jag Gill, a banker turned entrepreneur who led her team to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Condé Nast and Decoded Fashion Hackathon in 2013, talked to WWD about her new endeavor.
WWD: How can Sundar compete with big trade fairs like Milano Unica and Première Vision?
Jag Gill: Trade fairs are becoming too expensive to attend and are infrequent and location-specific, and at Sundar we plan to partner with them and not compete. Fashion is obsessed with the latest and newest — and innovation in style and materials is fundamental to a brand’s success, so Sundar will serve this unmet market need. I am not suggesting that trade fairs like Première Vision will be obsolete, but the digital disruption like we are committed to at Sundar can refine and make the sourcing process more real-time, delightful and efficient.
At Sundar, we are going further by showcasing global and curated materials that can be sourced from our trusted vendor relationships, as well as supplying due diligence and data on important supply-chain issues for design and production.
WWD: Do you have any competitors in the industry already?
J.G.: The industry has established offline channels — trade fairs, agency models and intermediaries that connect buyers and sellers. The larger Web sites like Alibaba are limited by quality, trust and curation constraints, which is what our customers need. Other digital companies are tackling supply-chain problems that complement Sundar.
WWD: How did your studies at MIT’s Sloan School of Management prepare you for a career in fashion, e-commerce and the textile industry?
J.G.: MIT is an illustrious place for innovation and idea incubation. Entrepreneurship is deeply embedded in its DNA and the highly iterative process of experimentation that is critical to any businesses’ evolution. For me, MIT was a deep dive into start-up culture and execution — experimental and exciting.
WWD: You were a banker for many years to the top business owners and companies in India [formerly a vice president at Deutsche Bank’s Wealth Management Division and client adviser at UBS’ Wealth Management Division]. Why is India important to your business?
J.G.: As a banker and adviser to India’s industrial magnates, I learned firsthand whilst doing business there how challenging it is for even good manufacturers to connect with Western buyers. My cultural heritage is North India, and India has a rich legacy in textiles, luxury and fashion dating back to the days of the Maharajas. This always enthralled me, and I was even eager to explore how to increase the visibility of Indian artisan work in a high-fashion context.
I did a lot of groundwork in India. I worked with Fabindia and I designed and manufactured my own apparel line. It reinforced the importance of the process, and not just the end product, which is why I find the consumer shift around artisanal products and maker movements so fascinating.
WWD: Why is now the right moment to enter into the textile business with a “global discovery platform” such as yours? What are some economic indicators/data that show the market has an appetite for such a business?
J.G.: I think that now, the world, at least the B-to-C [business-to-consumer] world, is highly connected and digital. Consumers are sensitive to user experience and feel at ease making purchases on iPads. Sundar is a tool for the creators of fashion and design, as well as consumers. B-to-B is behind — and there are still many industries that conduct business in an offline, pen-and-paper, ad hoc way — and materials sourcing for the apparel industry is one of those antiquated multibillion-dollar industries. Alibaba’s massive IPO and fund-raise, and its share-price performance since, is testament to the size and scale of the opportunity to create commerce opportunities between distributed vendors and buyers (such as in China and India).
WWD: Who are some of your key clients/subscribers and where do they come from geographically?
J.G.: We are focused on Italian vendors and manufacturers right now. We believe that going deep into a domain is more valuable than spreading out geographically from the outset and we will launch in further regions in the coming months and quarters. Our buyers now are focused in New York and London, but our reach is truly global and our vision is international connectivity.
WWD: Why did you decide to break from the financial/banking industry and into the fashion world?
J.G.: I decided to turn my back on big-business capitalism as I became disillusioned, and I wanted to explore building and launching something from the ground up that is mission-driven. Innovation and flexibility are core competencies of start-ups, and it fosters a dynamic and fulfilling opportunity from a career perspective. But you have to have inordinate amounts of drive, energy and commitment.
WWD: Why Sundar as a name?
J.G.: Sundar means “beautiful” in Indian Sanskrit and conjures, for me, imagery of rich and colorful Indian textile markets in Janpath, Delhi, where local women sell swatches and swathes of embroidered materials and cut-offs of traditional Gujerati sari fabric. I was so inspired by my many trips there.
WWD: How will your platform supply real-time data and perform due diligence on global suppliers? That seems like a huge undertaking that requires a huge network of agents and intel…. Do you already have such a network in place?
J.G.: The vision is a grand one, yes, but the industry needs it, and all our customer development and research has motivated us to build this capability. Yes, it will be through a rich global network of trusted partners and industry players. Sundar has a massive opportunity to be a thought leader in the space and we plan to develop our own proprietary methodologies.
WWD: Have you had any investors approach you about your business? So far, how is Sundar being financed?
J.G.: Sundar was part of Techstars earlier this year, one of the world’s most eminent software incubator programs that selects less than 1 percent of applicants to participate. They funded us and continue to mentor our growing team. We have some super early-stage institutional and angel investors backing us, and we’ll raise more funding in the spring to reach our next milestones.