- Marjorie van Elven |
When looking for a hotel room, all one has to do is go to a website and choose their preferences in regards to location, price and facilities to be matched with a list of options that meet the selected criteria. Same goes for those looking for an apartment, a job or even a date. So why isn’t there something similar for sourcing in the apparel industry?
Foursource, a German startup founded in 2016, aims to provide just that. The platform allows buyers and manufacturers to create profiles describing their business, product range, countries, certifications, target groups etc. Then, a matching algorithm pairs buyers with their ideal manufacturers, and vice-versa. Users can also follow each other’s updates and message each other. In short, Linkedin meets Match.com for the apparel industry.
Despite being officially launched just sixteen months ago, Foursource has managed to get manufacturers from over 60 countries to join the platform, and aims the number of member factories to reach 20,000 by the end of the year. As for the buyers, the company says its members have a combined retail volume of 40 billion US dollars, thanks to prominent early adopters such as Mango, Hugo Boss, S. Oliver, Tom Tailor and Debenhams.
FashionUnited spoke to Louise Leuchtenberger, co-founder and head of marketing & PR, to learn more about the company’s business model and plans.
How does Foursource work?
What’s interesting about our platform is that profiles are standardized. Every buyer and manufacturer has the same profile, everything follows the same standards. Globalizing the wording was actually one of the trickiest things we had to do in the beginning, because manufacturers in India may use different terms than manufacturers in the US, for example. So we wanted to make sure everybody could understand each other.
Think about it as tags. Buyers can say ‘I want this and this and this’ and find manufacturers that match what they are looking for without the cumbersome processes of hiring an agent, traveling to sourcing destinations, visiting trade shows and so on.
Manufacturers can also use the tool to find out what buyers are interested in. We feel that many manufacturers still need to learn how to approach buyers in a targeted way: buyers don’t want to receive thousands of emails a day, and most of them go unanswered because they’re just not relevant for them. So our platform can help with that. The more information you provide us, the more we’re able to make your search results as relevant as possible.
How does Foursource make sure that what companies claim on their profiles is true?
We do fact check the profiles. For example, we’re in touch with certifying organizations to make sure the certifications manufacturers claim to have are indeed legitimate. Users can also report profiles if they think their information is inaccurate.
In addition, we plan to have a recommendation system, similarly to Linkedin, in the future. People you’ve worked with will be able to vouch for you. This will allow us to refine search results even more: if a certain manufacturer has worked with a label that’s very similar to a buyer’s size, minimum order quantities, price and quality level, we’ll know it’s a good match.
How to make sure brands can’t find out what their competitors are buying?
The platform does not allow brands or suppliers to follow or find information about their competitors. Buyers can't see other buyers’ profiles.
How exactly does Foursource make the sourcing process easier?
A lot of buyers we work with used to work with agencies. Basically, they gave the agency a briefing and the agency would search for suitable manufacturers. While I don’t think agencies are dead, it’s quite common for buyers to need another manufacturer for a different project later on, and then they go through the same process all over again only to find out they already worked with a manufacturer who could do it. They could have just ordered a larger package from a single manufacturer, which is always better logistics-wise. But they just didn’t know, as agencies only look for what you ask.
Tell us a little bit more about the extra features paid accounts have access to.
We basically help buyers and manufacturers to develop a long term relationship. Not only do we help finding new partners, we also allow for users to keep in touch with their existing list of manufacturers or customers. You can make a list of companies you’re working with, and get updates from them. It’s like Facebook, where you can stay up to date about people you haven’t seen for years. You still know they bought a house and got married and how they like their smoothie in the morning, because they post images about that. Our platform is the same: companies can exchange updates about their operations, such as new machinery or new hires.
We also have a messaging service which resembles WhatsApp, where buyers and manufacturers can exchange mood boards. Manufacturers can also create a digital showroom to demonstrate their design and workmanship capabilities. Those are crucial features because we have to get manufacturers to participate in the sourcing process in a much earlier stage. Companies like Inditex have manufacturers pitching ideas, trends and styles to them all the time. But smaller, more traditional companies don’t work like that. First they decide what to do, then they define which garment manufacturer to work with. This takes them 190 to 250 days, which is just too long. We believe this process is just outdated.
You already have Mango, Hugo Boss and Debenhams in your list of clients. How did you get such prominent brands on board at such an early stage?
First we took part in several trade shows to present our company to buyers and manufacturers. The company’s founders are all very experienced in the fashion industry, so we started with our contacts in the DACH area (Germany, Switzerland, Austria). After a while, we realized we didn’t only need global manufacturers but global buyers as well, so we started partnering up with associations such as the International Apparel Association (IAF) and going to as many events around the world as possible.
What are Foursource’s plans for the future?
We want to add new features and help our customers build better profiles. We also want to integrate supplement suppliers (yarn, trims, fabrics) into the platform, which is particularly useful for manufacturers and sportswear companies. So we’ll have this triangle where buyers can say ‘ok, I want to buy this material from this company, say, in Bangladesh’ but their garment manufacturer will be in Europe. It will take us some time to get that live, but it is one of our top priorities because most of the buyers who work with more complicated apparel products start by looking for supplement suppliers. So it’s very important for us to have them on the platform as well.
Photo: courtesy of Foursource