Interview with Anton Babich, Founder of Anton Alexander Menswear
Entrepreneur: Anton Babich
Company: Anton Alexander; http://antonalexander.com/
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Anton Babich launched the Anton Alexander line in 2011 for men seeking an edgier look. His shirts are bold and vibrant, yet top quality – incorporating innovative materials that keep the body dry. The custom clothing is handmade at his Fort Wayne production facility and ships within one day of ordering. Anton recently funded 130 percent of his operations by submitting his apparel ideas to Kickstarter.com, the world’s largest crowd source funding website.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the fashion business?
I was working in the corporate world as an Internet marketing manager for Mercedes Benz and became familiar with the luxury market. Every day, I wore a suit to work and eventually felt like it was a must or a uniform. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy dressing for success, but my options were a black or grey suit with a white or blue dress shirt. I went shopping for more unique dress shirts but found the solid shirts weren’t bright enough. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some shirts were infused with embroidery and embellishments and appeared gaudy. Since I wasn’t able to find what I wanted, I decided to brainstorm to see if I could create a business idea out of it.
What was the inspiration for your company?
I wanted to create an excellent quality shirt that would be made of the most unique and innovative fabrics that would push classy to the edge. I decide to travel and do my homework; for three years, I concentrated on the R&D phase of the business. I learned about men’s fashion, fabrics, pattern design, and even researched and studied photography, graphics, and web design to be able to launch my business online. I spent endless days and nights brainstorming how I could create a clothing company would separate me from the competition.
What were some of the challenges you faced in launching your brand and how did you overcome them?
The first challenge I faced was on the production side, as I wanted to create my shirts in the USA. Initially, it was hard to learn what specialized equipment I needed, since so many fashion companies outsource production overseas. Once I learned what equipment I needed, I found a dealer in Chicago and they ordered the machine heads from Japan and assembled them in Chicago. I picked up all the equipment with a box truck.
Kickstarter.com was my first marketing/sales challenge. I told myself, “If there is a market for my shirts, this will show me.” The campaign launched in January 2013, and in 30 days, I hit 158% of my goal by selling 88 shirts in 22 different countries.?
What are the benefits of running a company like yours from a place like Fort Wayne, Indiana?
The Fort Wayne market may be small, but consists of very loyal customers. A clothing line like this is nowhere to be found near Fort Wayne, led alone Indiana, or the Midwest! The cost of living is so inexpensive here verses larger cities. I am able to do fashion shows and produce here – and sell all over the world online. I am a big fish in small pond here, and have lots of great support.
How does your brand stand out in the marketplace?
The shirt patterns are similar to a European fit structure, which are very trendy. The designs are unique with the brightest possible cottons in the world on some. Our most unusual designs include glow-in-the-dark fabrics for nightlife and premium holiday shirts for Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day.
We can do custom sizing and design, and turn a shirt around in 24 hours. (The average lead time for custom shirts is 2-3 weeks at best.) This aspect is keeping me really busy, especially with weddings, a market I didn’t foresee initially.
I create a few other neat elements, such as our Active Collection shirts. These shirts weigh less than 10 ounces, are wrinkle free, stain proof, and the sweat wickers off the shirt. It is fabric innovation at its best, similar to sports shirts made by Under Amour or Nike, but in a dress shirt.Lastly, I partnered with a local Fort Wayne artist named Terry Ratliff. He painted canvas and I digitized it and turned it into silk, creating Artist Collection Dress Shirts, which are all one of a kind.
What are some of the ways you’ve been successful in marketing your brand?
By choosing to sell my product online, instead of going the traditional route of markups through retailers, I can sell directly to my customers for a less expensive price. Customers are happy with the products and become loyal customers and share with their friends. The rest is all organic with Google. People search the shirts styles and purchase through our website or through Amazon.
With 2015 just around the corner, what’s next for your company?
More styles are coming in 2015! I am also developing shirts for women. Next year I will launch a new, more interactive website. The site will offer live chats, a blog and will facilitate more communication with our customers.