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How I Built This: An Interview with Abu Rizve Al Hosaine, Founder and CEO, Ritzy

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Abu Rizve Al Hosaine is the Founder and CEO of Ritzy, a Dhaka-based fashion brand. Ritzy, originally started as a side project in 2010 when Mr. Rizve was still an undergrad student at East West University, has a thriving business today and is a team of almost 20.

In this interview, brought to you by Ajkerdeal, Mr. Rizve reflects on his journey, trials, and tribulations he has had to endure and illustrates how he has built a fashion brand from scratch.

Future Startup

Please tell us about your background and your journey to what you are doing today.

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

I was born and brought up in Dhaka in the late 80s. I started my formal education at Dhanmondi Govt Boys’ High School and then Adamjee Cantonment College. After college, I attended East West University in 2007.

My journey into the world of business started back in 2010. It was the time of FIFA Football World Cup year, I was still an undergrad student. It was and is common among students doing something such as tuition or small business on the side to earn some extra income.

One of my friends and I decided to bring some denim bags with the identity of different football teams such as flags, jersey number of players and test the market. That’s how my journey into the fashion business started.

Once we started, we came to realize that making the backpack was the easy part. The difficult part was making the sales. We made the products on a fairly commercial scale and hand to hand sales was not a good option for us. After much trying, we managed to pitch Infinity Mega Mall who agreed to keep our products and we became their listed supplier. They liked our product quality and creativity.

Richman and Lubnan were under Infinity Mega Mall. They asked me to work on their men’s clothing section of Richman where, I must say, I came to learn about product costing, design, and even product sourcing.

In 2012, I started a small manufacturing facility called Ritzy Fashion Creations to do production related works starting from sewing to printing to embroidery on products. After two years of that, in 2014, we launched our first outlet in Kuril area.

Our online operation is quite new compared to our outlet and factory which we launched in October 2016 with enlisting ourselves in various eCommerce platforms.

Fashion is a different business. In many other businesses, it is enough to put together a production line, ensure quality and then you go on to market and sell your product. In those businesses, investing in sales is critical.

In fashion, however, you have to be aware and mindful of a lot of other things along with manufacturing and sales. You have to be mindful of your designs, seasonality, timing, and trends in the market all the time. Every step is quite detail oriented and sensitive to change or failure. The failure of any of the factors will result in a major loss.

As I mentioned, we started with working with the Infinity Mega Mall as a listed supplier. It was the foundation of our business. They were kind enough to give us the opportunity at that young age. We learned a tremendous amount from our experience of working with Infinity starting from product quality to pricing to sourcing and a long list of other things that are critical to building a brand. We learned the importance of affordable pricing. It does not matter how great your product is if the price is not affordable to the general people they would not buy.

We started with our own savings and a little help from friends and family. Over the past few years, we have managed to build a sustainable business without raising any investment from any financial institutions.

As opposed to conventional wisdom, I believe that it is possible to build a business if you have a solid business plan, offer a great product and do your work well without raising investment. I have always made it a point to dig deep into the matter and investigate every project carefully that helped me to structure my financial plan well and make sure that the project works.

Ritzy essentially is a fashion lifestyle brand. We manufacture and sell men, women, and kids clothing both through our outlets and online platforms including our website and marketplaces like Ajkerdeal.

Our priority at Ritzy is to produce quality products at an affordable price. Our goal is to build a mass brand and make our product everyday companion of our users.

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Our ambition is to make sure that your business thrives in this new digital world.

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At Ajkerdeal.com, every day we strive to be better in order to make sure that your business reaches the maximum number of customers. Our goal is simple: empowering small and medium enterprises to reach out to the customers they otherwise would not be able to reach.We are the largest managed marketplace in the country. Learn more here.

Future Startup

What motivated you to get started with Ritzy?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

I have always wanted to build something of my own. I understand it is a safer option to opt in for a job, but I have realized that through starting a business I would be able to use my potential and put myself into better use for the betterment of the society and create opportunities for people.

We are quite a small operation, despite that, we have been able to create economic opportunities for a handful of people which is an incredibly satisfying feeling to have.

Future Startup

What went into building the initial operation? Please give us an overview of Ritzy now.

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

We started small which did not require much investment. Whatever investment we needed, I investment from my own pockets and from family and friends. So far, we have grown organically. Our expansions have also been funded through reinvesting the profit we earn from the business.

We have three strategic business units including production, retail and online business. Ritzy Fashion is our production/manufacturing unit where we design and make the products. We collect the fabric, conduct QC and then go to production. Ritzy Outfits is our retail and online business unit.

We have a great team who look after different segments of the business which has allowed us to maintain our growth over the past years.

We mostly design and manufacture men’s clothing including t-shirt, formal shirt, casual shirt, Punjabi, trousers etc. However, we are about to launch ladies and kids wear and fashion accessories soon.

We have 12 full-time and 3 part-time people in the factory. In the outlets, which is Ritzy Outfits, there are 2 people and one person looks after our online operations. We have 2 part-time designers who are behind all of our product designs.

The retail part, Ritzy Outfits, brings about a couple million taka in revenue annually. Our operation is relatively small. So that’s there. We are new in online. However, we are doing well in the space. Our last eight months revenue from online revenue has already crossed our annual physical retail sales. We sell a couple of hundred thousand through different digital platforms a month, around 800 pieces of products a month.

Business-wise, growth is a key priority for us while ensuring best possible products and experience to our customers.

Future Startup

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early days?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

Finding good people was a major challenge, it is a challenge even these days, but it was acuter in the early days since we’re new and I had almost no experience in hiring. It was difficult to find, hire and retain people who could get the job done. This sounds so counterintuitive given that we have a huge young population, but that is the reality in the market.

Sourcing raw materials was another challenge that I had to endure for quite a long time. When you are into apparel and a small manufacturer, it is always a tall order for you to manage raw materials. Either the raw materials you like are sold out or stocked by someone else who now demands a higher price. It took me quite a long time to understand this reality and devise a strategy to deal with it.

Finally, lack of a team. Since I’m a solo founder, initially, I had to oversee everything by myself for a quite long period of time. I was sourcing raw materials, looking after production, doing sales and every other tiny little thing. It was very hard to manage and took a toll on our growth, initially. When you are a one-person team and are doing too many things, it is hard to pay attention to many important things such as structuring growth.

Future Startup

What are major challenges for Ritzy Outfits now?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

The market is getting competitive by the day. The profit margin is getting thinner. In order to remain competitive, you have to offer both the best quality products as well as a competitive price which is an impressively difficult balance to achieve.

It is hard to build a brand on digital platforms because people don’t pay much attention and always looking for the next cool thing. Since new customers do not know about your brand, they are not sure about the quality of any of the vendors. As a result, price becomes a key competitive factor on digital. On the other hand, you can’t reduce your price after certain threshold if you are to maintain your quality.

Timing is an important factor in the fashion business. For instance, if you fail to launch winter collection on time, your entire collection would have to wait for the next winter, because you would not be able to clear it on summer. Maintaining schedule is a constant challenge. Moreover, new trends are coming out every day. In order to stay relevant, you have to follow through and match with the changes in the market.

For ecommerce, achieving customer trust is still a major challenge. There is a collective perception about ecommerce which means when a customer has a bad experience with one vendor they tend to perceive all others equally bad. This has consequences. One of them is that people tend to purchase low-value products online thinking that if they don’t get the right product, the loss will be minimum.

Timing is an important factor in the fashion business. Maintaining schedule is a constant challenge

Future Startup

How do you reach out to your customers? Please tell us a bit about your marketing efforts.

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

For Ritzy Outfits, we use conventional marketing tools such as banners, festoons, and posters. Over the past years, we have been able to build a loyal customer base who love our products and regularly order from us.
We are now on digital platforms as well. Facebook is a common tool nowadays for everyone. That applies to us too.

Apart from that, since we are listed on different online marketplaces, they also promote our products.

Future Startup

How have you attracted users and grown Ritzy?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

We have always been very serious about the quality of our products. We work constantly to make sure that we are providing the best value for money to our customers.

The second pillar is commitment. Our return rate is quite negligible. When we make a commitment and claim that we will provide you a product of certain quality on a certain day, we try too hard to keep it. And when something goes wrong, we apologize to our customers and correct it.

Both in retail and online, customer experience is gaining a growing importance. We understand this reality that customers today expect seamless service from brands, our goal is to get there.

Future Startup

Fashion is a competitive business. How do you differentiate yourself from others who offer similar products like you?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

Distinct design and great quality are two basic things that set us apart from the crowd in the market.

We invest in original design instead of copying or imitating existing designs from the market. This is challenging given the reality of ephemeral nature of the design world.

Design changes every day. New design trends take the place of old ones. Despite the apparent challenge of designing original products, we invest because it helps us to differentiate ourselves from the market.

We relentlessly observe the changes in the market in order to develop insights and apply those to direct our strategy and work. We try to constantly collect data about our customers and changing trends in the market and make sure that we innovate accordingly.

Ritzy Outlet front | photo courtesy Ritzy
Ritzy Outlet front | photo courtesy Ritzy

Future Startup

What are the future plans for Ritzy?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

We plan to launch our full-fledged ecommerce website in 2018 which, we hope, will result in more brand recognition for us. It will also allow us to connect with our customers directly and more interactively. That said, we plan to remain present in other marketplaces and ecommerce platforms as well.

On the retail store side, we plan to open two more outlets in Dhaka in the next year.

In the long run, our ambition is to serve and expand into all the districts of Bangladesh. We understand that it will be a quite capital intensive endeavor to open outlets across the country which means it would be challenging for us in the near future to get to that scale. That’s why we have forged an alternative strategy. Instead, our plan is to use ecommerce to reach people across the country. The plan in the near future is to invest more into online sells and digital marketing.

Future Startup

You have been working with Ajkerdeal for a while now, How is your experience?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

We have been working with ajkerdeal for almost one year now. I have to say, it has been a great experience. Mr. Fahim Mashroor, CEO of Ajkerdeal and Mr. Sourav, Head of Business Development, have really been supportive all the time.

Apart from business relation, they regularly provide us with information regarding types of products that are selling well, customer insight, pricing strategy and other relevant and critical information that allows us to make a better decision.

They are equally good at customer service. They are punctual about the payment and the timely delivery of the returned products.

We also try to be supportive. We try to ensure that we use relevant product images, only sell products that are available in the stock, and provide better customer services.

Future Startup

What are the biggest lessons from your journey so far? What would be your advice to the people who are just starting out?

Abu Rizve Al Hosaine

First of all, I am grateful to the Richman-Lubnan for giving me the opportunity to work with them and giving me the opportunity to learn while we were completely new in the market. That opportunity changed everything for us.

This journey has been a constant learning for me. Initially, I made a lot of mistakes. In this business, raw material understanding is important. If you fail there, you have already lost. I could not understand the right fabric initially which had cost me dearly. I would buy subpar quality raw materials of which colors would bleed after a while and an entire lot of materials would turn into wastage. I have learned from all those mistakes. It is better if you could avoid making mistake, but if you can’t mistake is the best teacher.

Don’t only look at the achievement of people alone, look at their struggles and sacrifices as well. Often we overlook the price people pay for achieving something in life and get impatient. But in order to succeed, you have to be patient and aim for the long term.

Business is business, you have to understand the market, your business model, your product and everything in between in order survive and thrive in the market.

There are endless possibilities in the digital space. We are at the very early stage of this digital revolution, I would suggest young people that explore and find new opportunities instead of following the only mainstream ideas. There are simply so many things to do.

Be innovative. Try new ideas. Unconventional ideas. Forge your own path. It is easy to follow the crowd and it is to some extent self-affirming but fulfillment comes from choosing the difficult path.

Tashnim is a Final year-Finance major of BBA department at Bangladesh University of Professionals. His interest revolves around entrepreneurs, their stories and taking an initiative to change society. Tashnim likes to think about technology with its impact on our business and lives. Say 'hi' to him at tasnimdrmc14@yahoo.com

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