Donovan Mathews is a Singaporean entrepreneur. Donovan started Bryden Apparel in 2014 and is based in Singapore. (source)
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Donovan started Bryden Apparel in 2014. They detail the beginnings of their company in their Starter Story interview: (source)
Q: How did you get started on Bryden Apparel?
I started my own t-shirt brand called Ardentees back in 2009 when I was still in school as e-commerce was starting to get popular. I was intrigued by the whole idea of e-commerce as you could reach a worldwide audience easily. I especially loved the idea of waking up to see emails of orders from customers around the world.
I always had that inner voice urging me to start something on my own related to sourcing & manufacturing and I decided to register a business to reserve the name.
After getting 2 friends on board, we spent a year sourcing & testing different manufacturers with major hiccups along the way before finally able to settle for one and start selling.
Traction for the t-shirt brand business was pretty decent and we even got picked up by a few stores abroad, which I thought was a mean feat for a little brand from Singapore at that time. We went on and created another online multi-label store with the idea of stocking cool labels like Life After Denim, Free People, Love For Lemons & Finders Keepers alongside Ardentees and other local brands.
My first job after graduating and promotion from an intern to manager in 2 weeks
After my graduation, I noticed that Zalora, a large ecommerce fashion retailer was entering the local market. I applied for a job with them, with the intention of learning & gaining more experience in the industry. While working in this company, there were several events pivotal to the journey that led me to where I am today.
As I was still running my own business and I did not plan to stay long in Zalora, I didn’t disclose that I was running my own company on the side. I was posted to their dropshipping department to help bring brands aboard their platform. After a few days, I decided that I have to come clean as I had to contact the same local brands that were on my online store.
As my manager brought me to explain to our managing director, I thought that it was going to be a quicker end of my tenure than expected. However, to my surprise, she said it wasn’t a big issue and recommended that I should be promoted to a manager and be remunerated accordingly!
During this time, I received an offer to buy over my business and decided to sell it as both my partner & I were tied up in our respective jobs.
Another promotion to regional sourcing manager
Several months into my job, I got wind of the news that the company was looking to create their own in-house brands. I applied for the role of regional sourcing manager and managed to get an internal transfer.
The company decided to source & manufacture in China and I was posted there to set up operations from scratch. When I went over, it was a real eye opener for me. I knew there and then that my connection to China wouldn’t be a short one.
Naturally, after visiting hundreds of suppliers and factories there, I picked up a lot of the intricacies on what goes behind making a successful or bad product and the whole supply chain.
One of the key things I learnt was that even with a big sourcing budget, you really need to understand how a product is made and need a team of knowledgeable people to help you at the different parts of the process to ensure the most chances of success.
Joining my ex-boss in his new start up
After a year, my ex-boss in Zalora reached out and asked me to join his new fashion startup. In the new job, I was travelling to China and staying there for 2-3 month stints, taking care of the entire operation from the design development process to shipping the products. We also pitched & secured a contract to design the uniform and manufacture shoes for our National Postal company, Singpost.
While my time there was great, I always had that inner voice urging me to start something on my own related to sourcing & manufacturing and I decided to register a business to reserve the name Bryden for my future company.
The company I was working for eventually shuttered as they burnt through all their investment funding. Faced with another junction in my journey, I was looking at 3 choices for what I was going to do next. One of the choices was creating a womenswear brand with the designers from my previous company, starting an e-commerce fulfilment company or doing Bryden.
Testing 3 ideas at the same time and failing terribly in 2
Not wanting to put my eggs in one basket, I decided to try all 3 at the same time and tried to validate all 3 businesses.
With the womenswear brand, I spent a fair bit on creating a nice lookbook & video to use that to reach out to stores and build a launch campaign. However, the launch didn’t turn out as well as expected and with a high starting operating expense, I decided to drop this idea.
For the fulfilment company idea, I actually pitch the idea to my current business partner, Kai, and convinced him to leave his job in Thailand to join me. We tried reaching out to companies with our sales deck and a website but was unfortunately unable to secure the minimum number of paying clients to secure warehouse space.
Faced with 2 failed ideas, the only choice left was Bryden. As I had maintained a good relationship with my former bosses, I asked if it was fine with them to transfer their supply contract with Singpost to Bryden. Thankfully both my bosses and Singpost agreed and that helped to bring in some money for me and Kai and validated the idea of doing Bryden.