For Russel Karim, Dhaka, Bangladesh, is his home roots. It also happens to be home to the second-largest exporter of apparel in the world.
So after developing two other tech companies, Karim decided he wanted to pursue something in the fashion industry. Karim quickly discovered a lack of accessibility and sustainability within the industry. The supply chain is full of intermediaries that make sourcing more complicated and expensive than it needs to be, Karim told Clay & Milk.
“There are layers and layers of the process that are unnecessarily involved,” said Karim. “And that doesn’t help with the transparency in the industry. It doesn’t help with the affordability and profitability for brands. And it doesn’t help create sustainability in the industry.”
So in 2019, Karim founded Dhakai, a B2B sourcing marketplace that connects South Asian apparel manufacturers directly to U.S. private labels and retailers. The Des Moines based company hopes to close the gap between the buyers and the manufacturers while bringing transparency, sustainability and ethical practices to the industry.
Dhakai was one of three Iowa companies accepted into the inaugural Techstars Iowa cohort last year. The company launched its website in October 2020 and since then has onboarded more than 500 factories onto its platform.
“Any brand can come in and is able to search for a factory by product group, segment group, target service country, minimum quantity compliances,” said Karim.
Karim said Dhakai works with brands from idea to launch in as little as six months.
The company recently partnered with Cassandra Dittmer, a Muscatine native and celebrity stylist, a private label brand focused on producing clothes ethically and sustainably. The pair raised more than $10,000 on a recent Kickstarter initiative and plan to build 40 new drinking water wells in Bangladesh with a portion of the proceeds.
The company also worked with No Limbits, an Iowa company that makes jeans for people with amputated limbs.
Karim says his goal is to have 1,500 buyers on the platform and have 1,000 manufacturers onboarded in the next 12 months.
Techstars Iowa Demo Day 2020 Showcases New Class of Startups -Dec. 3, 2020