What is VIDA?
VIDA is a collaboration between designers & makers. Who can each be within any part of the world to come together and build beautiful, original, artful products that are made in a responsible way.
Your background is not from fashion, so why you pick this industry?
UM: Fashion is beautiful but the way it is made is not beautiful and the people who are really building the industry with their hands are not benefitting from it.
When I saw the conditions of the labor force in Bangladesh, it didn’t seem that was necessary and how the factories should operate.
I had these thoughts in the back of my mind and finally made the plunge in 2014.
And in the beginning it was in the definition phase, you are trying to figure out where the need is, which angle you can take and how can you make it a scalable business.
I always wanted to do that so I wanted to put pressure, that artificial pressure on me to make it really big. So I started with the idea that it should be something that is scalable, something that is big and actually makes a difference.
How are the conditions really for the factories, are they really that bad or worse?
UM: They are worse. On my first trip, I visited factories in Pakistan, Columbia, and the Sri Lanka. I found that there is no mean-spiritedness per say but its just the way the infrastructure is set up that there is no particular need or incentive for anyone to improve the condition.
I saw better product and working conditions in Sri Lanka. I shared that with factory owners in Pakistan and they mentioned that majority of our workforce is illiterate and we do not have educated people working on this.
Upon further conversation, I learned that he was building a school to support education. I proposed if he would be interested in doing literacy program for his workers. They said they never thought about that and that is where the idea of giving back thru literacy was born.
UM: You are right, the hardest part is usually the starting process. I started asking around to my group at Harvard if anyone had connections with factories. I followed the similar approach in Columbia, where I ended up working with Export Bureau.
Sri Lanka was friends of a friend’s cousin at this factory, they hosted me and I had never met them but I showed up.
Pakistan was a lot easier because it’s home base.
There was a slew of artists and factories that had an amazing product but didn’t have access to the western market. You see these bits and pieces but they are not connected.
We started with creative community broadly defined and how we can create something that is scalable and manageable. Where they can come and launch their line without anybody being a gating factor. There were a couple of specific things we have to pick in order to get started.
You raised money before having a product, how did you go about it?
UM: I raised money on a deck. The first check from google ventures was all about the idea, opportunity, which other companies have done something like this. They were counting on the people.
When I talked to Google it was just me. Single founder, no product. Cameron, who built the product, I had worked together on the non-profit.
First, several checks were just me going in the room and pitching, hey this is the dream and come with me.
Is it daunting to present when you are not from the industry?
UM: Yes, especially when you are presenting to someone like Google ventures.
Being an outsider, you can create your story that how you being an outsider can actually see the inefficiencies because it is hard to disrupt the system from within the system. That story line works in reality because it’s hard to have done something really successfully for a number of years and then say I am going to disrupt it.
That story line works in reality because it’s hard to have done something really successfully for a number of years and then say I am going to disrupt it.
Being a Sole founder is harder for some but good ideas for others:
But as you saw, in yours and mine case that this is the vision that I wanted to realize. It is kinda fuzzy because you are still trying to figure out. And when you bring the co-founder too early, they might suggest let’s do this and you are like, it doesn’t fit the vision.
VIDA at Golden Globes
How did you select first set of artists?
UM: I started with Google spreadsheet and started adding names, websites and build 300 names manually. I wanted to build a list of creatives from different areas: fine arts, sculptures, photography, etc.
From those 300, we started reaching out to them and finally launched with 20 artists from 20 different parts of the world, that’s how we built the first collection.
I shared with them that we had raised money with Google ventures and I used all the points I could to establish credibility, such as:
I spoke with a lot of artists and I started to understand what the challenges are, so I could talk to them in their language and pitch to what their challenges were.
What is the Launch process for a new artist?
UM: It is really really simple & Free.
As a New artist, you upload your design and/or photo, select from product wheel and you can start selling.
We did not want to be another gating factor, so now we don’t gate the process at all. There is no minimum quantity, we have best prices, we have build economies of scale.
Our artists get fast 30 days turn around which is extremely rare in this industry.
Artists get started here:
How much does an artist get from each sale?
UM: When an artist is coming to the site, we do production, we do shipping, customer service. Artists get 10% of the Revenue/Net Sales. On profit basis it varies, it might just be 50/50.
How many artists do you currently have on your platform?
UM: Current artists: we have over 75,000 artists as of today. 2,500 different cities with 150 different countries. The community is launching about 1,000 new products every day.
We also provide various tools for our artists to get started.
Are there any minimum order requirements?
UM: None, we manufacture when there is an order. It works well for our artists since they do not have to be bound with minimum orders any longer.