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Dhakai is connecting fashion brands directly to verified apparel manufacturers

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.

Previous coverage

Techstars Iowa Demo Day 2020 Showcases New Class of Startups -Dec. 3, 2020

Dhakai is connecting fashion brands directly to verified apparel manufacturers | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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