Few years ago Kathleen ChanCEO and Founder of Calicostarted a few small fashion businesses, but as these businesses quickly scaled with the help of Shopify and Facebook ads, she noted a lack of tools to help her manage the back office of a specifically focused business on fashion.
As she pointed out, she couldn’t afford to buy SAP or even Netsuite, so she ran the business in spreadsheets. She longed for something that was specifically designed for what she was doing. So like any good entrepreneur, she set about building it. Along the way, she managed to catch the eye of tennis star Serena Williams, whose tech investment firm, Serena Venturesrecently launched a new $111 million fund.
“I basically started my third company, Calico, to create a solution that I wish I had. So very, very quickly we went to the Forum Ventures accelerator, held a pre-round boot, and now we’re raising our boot with the effective help of one of the greatest athletes in the world,” Chan told me.
Chan’s solution was designed to help brands manage their supply chain from design through manufacturing. “You can bring your own package on board and have a dedicated workspace to work collaboratively to bring a collection of products to market. Or if you don’t have one, we have a global network of the most coveted factories” , she said.
These factories work with some of the biggest fashion brands in the world, giving a small manufacturer the same access as these big brands. You can also filter plants by region, sustainability, etc., and the platform will match you with a facility that meets your requirements. You can get offers and quotes from various factories to get the best price, and when you are ready they can start production for you and you can manage the whole process inside Calico.
Chan had the expertise to start her business, but she’s not an engineer, so she called on Khalid Khatib of Freightos as head of engineering to help build the product she had envisioned.
It’s still early days for the company, but it has a range of customers from small emerging brands to large entities. The startup recently more than doubled its employees from 4 to 9. As she builds the company, Chan puts a lot of thought into how to build a diverse business, and that starts with offering use.
“For me, it’s about how we frame the ad and what we’re looking for, how we recognize our own biases and how we move beyond them, and how we make sure that there are people who can access our publications to access the employment opportunities that we have,” she said.
Chan acknowledged that being an Asian-American, solo female founder presents its own set of fundraising challenges. In fact, a report released by venture capital firm Work-Bench late last year found that only 1.9% of venture capital funding went to female business founders.
She said going through the Forum accelerator definitely helped her access investors and she was able to work on the network she had built and raise a 2.1 million seed round. of dollars.
Williams was drawn to the business after encountering this problem herself when starting her own branded clothing business and it was what drew her to this investment. “While running my own brand, I encountered the exact problem that Calico solves. It’s rare to see a founder and product as in tune with the current challenges and limitations of the industry as Calico,” he said. she said in a statement.
Its investors included not only Williams’ company, but also Maple VC, Inovia Capital, Hyphen Capital and a host of industry angel investors.