How our Fashion Agency Helps Brands Grow: The Journey of FashionNet Anton Dell

FNAD team
May 2, 2023

As the 1st anniversary of FashionNet Anton Dell comes to a close, we can hardly believe all we have accomplished since our start. It has been an exhilarating journey of growth, learning, and innovation. Our team has worked tirelessly to bring our vision of connecting the world of fashion to life. From the initial start of FashionNet 3 years ago to the acquisition of Anton Dell Consultancy last year, forming FashionNet Anton Dell, we have experienced both highs and lows of building a successful global brand development agency. But through it all, we have remained committed to our values, connecting and matching fashion brands with global markets and expanding their business. As we celebrate our 1st anniversary, we sat down with our co-founders, Mark Boloten and Jan Brabers, to reflect on FNAD’s journey and how we help brands grow.

What inspired both of you to start FashionNet and what was the vision behind it?

Jan:

In Holland, I had a simple version of what FNAD is currently doing. I moved to Canada and had a bag brand I contacted Mark about. This was two weeks before COVID-19 broke out in Canada. Mark had welcomed me to discuss the brand but told me that because of covid, he wasn’t sure what the industry would be like and said it was nice meeting me, and our conversation ended. However, a couple of weeks later, I received an email from Mark, who was interested and wanted to discuss further what I was doing. As I was new to the country, I felt honoured that someone like Mark, established in the industry, wanted to chat with me.

We sat together for three to four weeks to ideate and finalize the business concept. Since we both had experience working with so many brands, we wanted to do more than what I was previously doing in Europe. In four weeks, FashionNet was born.

Mark:

What inspired me to start FashionNet with Jan was that I have been working as a multi-brand agent selling brands for 30 years and wanted something new. With my experience in the wholesale fashion industry, I saw a lack of relationships between brands and agents. When Jan exposed me to what he was doing back in Holland, I put myself in the shoes of an agent and thought about how challenging it is to find good and trustworthy brands that are reliable and not only going to make a beautiful product, but also deliver it, stand by it, and give me what I need as an agent to be successful. Then, when I put myself in the shoes of a brand, trying to find representation is so difficult because all salespeople claim that they’re the best because that’s what salespeople do. But outside of these factors, there’s so much more to understand and to investigate, like whether they are the right fit, and nobody was doing that. We found a white space in an industry which has been doing the same thing, the same way, for generations, and we saw an opportunity to fill this void where we can connect the right pieces seamlessly.

FNAD Co-Founders Jan Brabers and Mark Boloten

What challenges did you face during the company’s journey, and how were you able to overcome them?

Jan:

In the beginning, it was just us. We did everything and sat together for hours, working it out. It was pretty interesting as most start-ups usually look for partners immediately or people to work with. Many people told us that our agency wouldn’t be possible and wouldn’t be big whatsoever. But we kept focusing and pushing forward, and in a short time, we got our first customer for FashionNet. Also, we were lucky to be able to bring over some past clients in Europe but keep in mind, this is also when covid first hit, so the whole market was up in the air, and no one knew if a customer would open next month.

Mark:

COVID-19 was a challenge for our company as we started up just before the pandemic, and like many other businesses, we were faced with uncertainty. We thought to ourselves, why would agencies take our new product, and why would a brand want to expand to a country under lockdown? However, we knew that there was a future for FashionNet and that our current challenges were good practice. We started small, did quality work, and worked really hard. We had to learn how to do everything because we couldn’t delegate. It was just us two. As we progressed, we learned what brands wanted from us and what the agencies and distributors wanted, and then it grew slowly.

Another challenge I faced was reintroducing ourselves as a new agency to agencies I have previously worked with. They were confused about why I was calling and asking if they had a brand or when I offered them brands they could work with. I was quite timid initially, but I grew confident once I realized that what I offered agencies and distributors were opportunities to make their businesses bigger. Every businessperson goes to bed and wants to wake up and know that their business has grown. The feedback I was getting from my colleagues and other agencies was that our idea was great. They were open to hearing about new brands, which gave me the assurance to say, okay, I’ve got something here — this is cool, people are receptive to it, and it’s something needed in the industry.

How has your brand evolved since its inception, and what lessons have you learned along the way?

Mark:

The evolution of FNAD since its inception was that we learned from the market. We began to investigate what was needed and continued building on those blocks. We realized that only about 40% of the solution to being a good partner for export and growth is logistical advice, ousting advice, and fashion council as far as duties and tariffs and labelling. So, we wanted to have a brand meet an excellent partner who’s going to write all these big orders and be able to act and follow through. Without the execution, the orders are just pieces of paper.

We met brands without the knowledge or the sophistication to do what they needed to do. So, if we introduced these brands to somebody and collected money from them, they would fail. We’re in the winning business here, not the failure business. We want every brand with us to grow and improve to levels they’ve never been. If we didn’t put the foundation in place and teach them how to do what they need to do before we introduce them to a partner, that’s what makes FashionNet so powerful. Otherwise, the relationship becomes one-sided when one brand meets another and pays them, and the other party doesn’t care if they fail or succeed. We really, really care that our brands succeed. So, we give them all the tools and resources. To sum it up, our evolution was by osmosis and receptively learning

What significant milestones or achievements has FashionNet accomplished so far?

Mark:

The most prominent evolution for our company was FashionNet transitioning over to FashionNet Anton Dell, as we purchased our largest competitor in the marketplace, which gave us 29 years of international presence and business, and an experienced team in the UK. It also took our business to the next level as the exposure we got from the acquisition made us legitimate very quickly.

What has been the most rewarding part of FNAD’s journey, and what are your future aspirations for it?

Mark:

Taking over the world! I think Jan and I have two different takes on that, and we often ask each other this question on a regular basis. It’s very interesting because we know our company, and we’ve been advised, and now we’re learning it in truth, that the company is not what it resembled six months ago, and it won’t look like this size months from now. Because of the growth that we’re on, it’s a totally different set of responsibilities. It’s a fun journey and can be very nerve-wracking, but we really want to be the largest in the world at what we do, which I think we’re probably there now.

In the long-term, we want to continue to be relevant and essential in the fashion, lifestyle, and home industries to help all brands, big and small, in every country to reach their potential. I think anyone that engages with us does that have the opportunity.

Jan:

Just to add to Mark’s points, we aim to have a presence in all the major markets with teams and offices that can serve internationally. Having this knowledge, in local markets, in combination with this fashion tag, we have some very big plans for the future and look to further expand globally.

Are there any collaborations or partnerships that have contributed to your brand’s success?

Jan:

Yes, there is, the partnerships we’ve made are with Greenway Logistics, MODINT Credit & Finance, and WE are COCO Consultancy have contributed to our brand’s success. We are always looking to see if we can find other partners, and if the relationship and agreement makes sense, we are open to partnering up.

Mark:

It’s not only partnerships with companies that have contributed to our success. Early on, when Jan and I were putting together what we feel like is a dream team, and what it should look like, we realized that we have contacts, friends, and colleagues that are experts in specific fields. We recognize that when you surround yourself with smart people, it makes you look even smarter.

We have an in-house executive committee which we call upon for their expertise on a case-by-case, project-by-project basis. If we have a menswear opportunity, we call in Jeff Farbstein, who has over 40 years of experience in the Canadian menswear industry. If it’s footwear, we call Gerald Woodman, who has over 20 years of building global consumer brands in the Canadian market. In the UK, we have Michelle Baartz, who possesses more than 20 years of experience building worldwide fashion and lifestyle brands, and Ricky Green, who has supported us on specific projects, to name a few. In addition, our business coach Robert Chun, from RSC Business group, played a major role in influencing the company’s growth the past year, helped us see the bigger picture, and advised us on making confident business decisions.

How we Help Brands Grow

Jan & Mark:

Our expertise is in fashion wholesale business We know what is needed to succeed in the wholesale market and understand how complex it is. Of course, we have an extensive network, and for instance, let’s say everything is perfect about a brand; in an ideal situation, we introduce them to distributor agencies and see how they can best work as partners, and manage standards like how much business I can get from that market, what is the best way to do it, and how long will it take and cost me to reach my goals. Each market is complex, and we are well-informed about their differences. For example, a brand based in the USA may want to expand into Europe and assume that the EU is a singular market and that one distributor will be fine for their expansion, when in reality, the EU market is not singular and diverse, containing various markets with different practices, needs and wants. We know each country’s best practices, rules and regulations and how to enter these markets effectively. We aim to create an easy rollout for brands regarding wholesale. Of course, one year may be easier than the other when it comes to business, but that is where we also step in and fairly advise on the brand’s feedback in that market.

Our role is to prepare and introduce brands to wholesalers and mediate a closing deal. We cannot force a deal to close, which has been a learning process for us, not due to a lack of knowledge, but analyzing what that market wants now, how we can introduce a brand even better in that market, and more.

We talk to hundreds of brands, each with a different maturity level. Some are multinational export powerhouses like DK company, which just needs one brand to find one market because of their agents. Whereas other brands don’t even know what an agent looks like, we must educate them. And we also have everything in between. We have all the facilities at any stage and size that the brand can choose from for us to grow their business, which is taking them to other wholesale opportunities. Additionally, we teach them to be profitable and not make mistakes going into these new markets, whether it be on costing, labelling, logistics, or essentially all the things it takes to sell, deliver, and get paid — the trifecta. All three points need to be checked because the business does not exist if one fails.

We have a team of 20 people globally, and we get feedback from every market on the current business landscape. Our team is constantly updating and investigating not only from the internet but through our conversations with agencies and distributors, people who know their market better than anyone else. If you’re ready to grow your brand, FNAD can connect you with the right partner to expand into new markets.