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With an impressive background in e-commerce roles at Macy’s, eBay and Walmart, Jill Ramsey became the CEO of AKA Brands in 2020. Founded in 2018, AKA Brands is a global platform that aids in supporting and scaling brands while enhancing their profitability through an asset-light operating model. AKA Brands currently has five distinct portfolio brands: Princess Polly, Culture Kings, Petal and Pup, Mnml and Rebdolls.
“We invest in digitally native direct-to-consumer fashion brands and accelerate their growth through the synergies harnessed as a group,” Ramsey said on the latest episode of the Glossy Podcast. The company IPO’d in September 2021, raising $110 million, which “was a big opportunity to share our story with the world,” she said.
“There’s a generation of young brands born on social media and are good at [producing] front-end content. They know how to create inspirational content that resonates with their end customer and spot the right fashion to connect with their audience. On their own, these young brands can struggle to scale, which is where AKA comes in. We support them in scaling and networking with the other brands,” said Ramsey.
Glossy spoke to Ramsey about AKA Brands’ unique business model, including its strategic acquisitions and digital-focused strategies, and the challenges and changes the company has experienced throughout the pandemic.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
“On the sourcing side, we have a diversified set of suppliers we’re sourcing across several countries. One thing in common [with our competitors] is that we source from suppliers with rapid design and production processes. We can get our fashion to our customers within 30-45 days, and we’re dropping a constant stream of new fashions. We test and learn to see what the customer likes and doesn’t like. We don’t buy through a traditional buying cycle [where you] buy nine months out and take big inventory bets three quarters in advance. We are doing much more real-time buying, which allows you to be more efficient with your inventory because you know exactly what the customer likes, and you only replenish and buy deep on the styles that your customer likes. You’re getting trends to customers faster. You also don’t have to take as many markdowns, so it’s much more advantageous from a profitability standpoint. There’s also [a lesser] environmental impact and a lighter carbon footprint, in that you’re not producing huge amounts of inventory that the customer may not even want.”
Building authentic relationships
“We’re focused on micro-influencers and have grown our brand by building a vast network of relationships with smaller influencers that appeal to the end customer. The advantage of a broad network of micro-influencers versus fewer mega and celebrity influencers is that the end customer perceives micro-influencers as more authentic. They’re also much more affordable. We have a vast, growing and dynamic network of these influencers. We have over 17,000 partnerships, and we’re doing 1,000 collaborations a week. We can track exactly how many customers we’re getting from our influencers. We can constantly optimize that network by testing new ones and taking unproductive ones out of the program. Today, everyone’s an influencer. It has gotten smaller and smaller, such that we’re even leaning into just college students. We launched an influencer program in the fall with college students and got 20,000 signed up immediately. The future is tiny [follower counts] when it comes to influencers.”
A growing portfolio
“A big part of our model is constantly shopping for new brands with great potential to add to the group. We shop the world for the best of the best, and we have an in-house M&A team that’s in constant conversation with prospective brands. Now that we’ve had more traction and visibility, we’re getting more inbound [interest] and brands reaching out to us that want to be a part of the group. Our strategy is to add 1-2 brands a year. We look for smaller brands that might be different or additive to our group, like an athleisure or performance athletic brand, an overtly sustainable or mission-driven brand, or a brand that might diversify us in a new market like Europe. We have some great brands in the pipeline.”