A NuOrder for the global fashion industry
On the surface, everything should have been against them: Aussies Olivia Skuza and husband Heath Wells, founders of US-based technology disrupter NuOrder. Photo: Supplied
An Australian company that turned start-up rules upside down is poised to turn the fashion industry inside out. That, at least, is the plan for Heath Wells and wife Olivia Skuza and their technology disrupter, NuOrder.
Wells and Skuza's idea is simple – an e-commerce platform for the wholesale fashion industry to sell to shops and for retailers to buy from suppliers around the world. Though cutting edge on the runway, fashion's business methods are often stuck in the 1980s.
"It was quite extraordinary," said Wells. "You have all these brick-and-mortar and online retailers having to buy from brands, manually filling out bits of paper and faxing it back and forward. It was an antiquated way of doing business."
NuOrder's solution was staring everybody in the face. Just as retail customers buy products online, Wells and Skuza thought in business to business it should operate the same way.
"I sat there in meetings with big companies and thought, hang on, you are a $100 million company so how is this possible?" Wells recalls. "No one had invented this concept."
Wells and Skuza met in Adelaide before moving to Melbourne where they ran a publishing company specialising in fashion and music titles, including Beat magazine.
They sold their shareholding in 2008 and moved overseas, landing in Los Angeles. The couple's arrival coincided with the global financial crisis but they were not deterred from opening a digital creative agency. Dealing with fashion labels sparked the idea for NuOrder, which launched in 2011.
On the surface, everything should have been against them. Launching a start-up in LA – not Silicon Valley or New York – teamed with little tech experience and a desperate economy should have booked them a ticket on a plane home. Instead, their idea boomed and attracted A-list customers and investors.
According to CrunchBase, their last year's Series A funding round attracted more than $US3 million in investment from players such as Creative Artists Agency, Rachel Zoe, and New York venture capitalist David Tisch. An announcement of more significant investment is expected soon.
"We rolled the dice," said Wells. "There was no point dying and hoping. I'd never raised money. I had zero idea of what I was doing. It was a matter of meeting people, trying to make friends, meeting venture capitalists - who are fairly easy to track down."
While customers don't think NuOrder has killed the lookbook entirely – printed and online lookbooks show fashion buyers the look for the next season and come with order forms – they agree the platform has the potential to revolutionise how they do business.
"It is particularly useful during trade shows, which can become quite frantic," said Leith Testoni, of Australian label Zanerobe.
"If my sales team are doing a showing in New York, I can be reviewing a store's selections as soon as they finish while sitting at Balmoral Boatshed [in Sydney] having a coffee. Everything is centralised and can be accessed and reviewed from most devices globally."
Wells and Skuza believe their idea became reality quickly but could only have eventuated from their blind move to the US.
"Something that America has going for it is that people want to believe in ideas and, if you believe in your own idea enough, people get behind (it)," he said.