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At Grana’s Fitting Room, the brand’s flagship showroom in central Hong Kong, crewneck cashmere sweaters and silk joggers hang alongside poplin button-down shirts with mother of pearl buttons, nipped and tucked in all the right places. This is not a new scene — plenty of clothing brands sell nice things next to each other in specially-outfitted showrooms — but only few can keep the prices of every single item under $100.
That’s exactly why Grana should be on your radar right now. In a market divided between cheap retailers and pricier labels selling elevated basics, Grana stands out with prices that are 20 to 30 percent lower than similar retailers with comparable — if not better — quality.
“That was our ethos from the very start,” company CEO and founder Luke Grana tells me when we meet at his warehouse, located in one of Hong Kong’s industrial neighborhoods. “Grana is based on three pillars: the finest fabrics, wardrobe essentials, and low and honest prices. Everything we produce mirrors these three aspects. It’s at the core of what we’re trying to do.”
Grana clothing can be described as a more affordable and less serious Everlane, or an upgraded boutique version of Uniqlo. It fulfills the needs of a growing millennial market seeking a casual luxe look. Items are simple with small functional details, like inverted pleats designed to enhance fit. Fabrics and materials span Peruvian pima cotton and Japanese denim, French poplin and Italian Merino. Everything feels soft, and sleek, and super neat. “Expensive,” suggests Grana (the person). “Except it’s not.”
How exactly the brand managed to whip up this almost-too-good-to-be-true formula truly sets it apart: “We deal directly with the mills and fabric makers, and, rather than having lots of different warehouses scattered around, collect all the final products and inventory here,” Grana says. “Same for shipping and retailing: Instead of using distributors and shops, we ship directly to our customers. Everything minus the manufacturing is done in house.” By centralizing most of its operations, the label keeps control over its entire value chain, meaning you get to snap a silk camisole for less than $50.
“It’s a simple business model,” Grana says, “but it’s really working well for us.”
Grana, who’s Australian, first began developing his idea during a trip to Peru in 2012. There, he learned about pima cotton (one of the plushest fabrics ever, FYI), and was so impressed that he decided to establish an e-commerce business bringing this and other premium fabrics to the market in the form of a basic wear label.
He moved to Hong Kong one year after that — “it’s a world-sourcing city, a free tax port and the world’s largest air cargo hub, which helps maintain low shipping costs,” he says — and set up a 500-square-foot warehouse and website in June 2014. He sold out of his debut product, Peruvian pima T-shirts, in three weeks.
Things kept rolling from there; Grana raised $1 million in just a month. He moved to a larger warehouse, expanded his staff, and relaunched the site and brand in October 2014 with Chinese silk and Japanese denim. More products and fabrics followed. So did investment: To date, the startup has raised $16 million in funding with lead investment from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund.
Fans of the brand have soared, too, particularly since Grana delivers to 12 countries. “We’re growing 15 percent month-on-month,” Grana says, “and have an average of 45 percent new customers every month.” This, with pretty much no advertising. “We run some good social media campaigns, but I think word of mouth has really been our main support. People love the value proposition we carry.”
In 2015, Grana opened the Fitting Room in Hong Kong, which practices “showrooming” (where customers try items offline in the store and place an order online), and popped up in the States with a temporary store in San Francisco. The brand plans to open showrooms in New York and Shanghai this May.
“Both China and the US are key markets for us,” Grana says. “American shoppers have actually overtaken all our other markets in terms of online sales. We deliver in two days, tax-free and customs-free, which is a big draw when matched to the quality you get. The showrooms will hopefully offer a chance for more people to get to know the label and touch the products first-hand.”
Indeed: Grana is bringing its entire range stateside. As of today, that also includes Grana Move, the brand’s first activewear collection, made with high-tech fabrics from Taiwan and spanning eight styles for women and five for men all under $45. Lingerie is also on the docket — silk or cotton pieces with touches of lace — scheduled for launch later in February.
“There’s a back-to-basics trend in fashion,” Grana says, “particularly in the States. And a return to quality, too: Savvy shoppers want good things, fair pricing, and transparency. Grana is just doing all of that really well.”