On a Thursday afternoon I sat with a chilled glass of rosé on my hand, a bottle I shared with a guest who knows the world of fashion in many ways and down to the minor details.
l sat in the lounge of PRADO restaurant at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia to hear the stories, the history and the future of a fashion-based company built in Brazil by a family who always had the vision of delivering the best to their clientele. I had the chance to converse with the mind behind RIACHUELO, Mr. Flavio Rocha, current CEO of the Brazilian company, who was visiting town to attend the annual “Google Zeitgeist 2015“. A man who defines his business specifically as an “apparel manufacturing and retail company”.
He was attending a Google summit while in the city and through my good friend, Brazilian supermodel MICHELINE, her family and Flavio’s family have been acquainted, have business together, and have been friends for almost 40 years – celebrating the 40th friendship anniversary this year (even Flavio’s daughter attended MICHELINE‘s daughter wedding earlier this year in Arizona, all the way from Brazil – a family tradition indeed – both families were business allies in the past in Brazil and made the business connection a huge family, friendship and business connection all in one. Trough her, I was able to get a few valuable minutes to become more acquainted with a department store, which also produces their own brands. They have experienced an incredible resurgence in the last decade, and a revival that is tracing the lifestyle of one of the biggest countries in the Americas.
When I asked how he would describe or compare his company with what we know in the U.S., as Flavio describes it, RIACHUELO is very affordable with great design and of a quality that allows one to keep the garments purchased for a long time. His answer was very clear;
- “If you want to compare to similar companies, perhaps ZARA would be a good example, but to make a difference, we go one step behind ZARA and one step after ZARA, because our business starts with the yarn. We have all the textile mills and all the steps of the textile industry itself, the apparel manufacturing logistics, and retail.”
This is a great response for a term used in the fashion industry – one that exploded widely during the 1950’s – ‘Democratize Fashion’ or ‘Fashion for All’, as they say. These phrases date back to 1943 when New York rolled out the so-called “Press Week” as an attempt to divert attention from Paris Fashion Week.
Well, the term “Democratize Fashion” is applicable to this company widely due to the addition of their own credit card; they own the largest private label credit card portfolio in Brazil with more than 26 million credit cards. Adding to the process of owning fashion’s two key elements: Low price + Speed (Fast Fashion). As Flavio describes:
“We go from the yarn, until the last installment.”
90% of their brands are designed to fulfill the interest of anyone with different lifestyles. The company produces their own brand with their own styles, and keep a close eye on the look and focus of their own editorials, their own fashion shows, their own visuals, and this is perhaps the success of what is called ‘Fast Fashion’. With ‘Fast Fashion’, the audience expects what is new for the next season or actually sooner than the next season, as the premise of ‘Fast Fashion’ is to shop when shipment arrives. they want to purchase continuously what the designers are currently working on – now.
The family started the business about 70 years ago, when Flavio’s father Nevaldo Rocha and his brother Newtown opened with a small store in city of Natal, located in the North East of Brazil, and began with manufacturing men’s apparel. But it was not an easy road.
Decades later, as recent as about 10 years ago, mentally exhausted, Flavio chose to take a year of sabbatical, took classes at Harvard and and made important decisions that created what the company is today. He decided to invest in its people, the company workers, and changed the structure from a sequence and department-to-department (virtualized) type of administration and business management, to an integrated one, where all levels of company have insertion and there easy exchange of information, collaboration and limiting the amount of outsourcing. In other words, the entire manufacturing, design, marketing, merchandising and even distribution process is made ‘in house”, limiting expensive outsourcing.
That integration of the company empowered the speed needed to create “Fast Fashion” (term created by the Harvard School of Business based on the ZARA phenomenon), where it is fundamental to have the control of production and test the needs and requirements by the consumer.
With a basic line that is utterly inexpensive (based on the model of UNIQLO) to a fashion line (that looks to ZARA fas a model) where the design is the attraction, RCHLO (and its 40,000 employees) is creating a mark and positioning itself above and beyond other brands in Brazil.
When I asked about the importance of design, he stated:
- “The important part of our business is communication.”
What he meant was to “hear” the customer, to hear the changes, requests, aspirations and dreams from the customer before the design process starts. A good design leader of product development is key (for the past 8 years and currently, it is Luis de Maio with 60 team members) and it is admirable to see how their ideas are transformed, and how “themes” are designed to satisfy client requests. With only 20% to 30% of the product imported, the rest of the manufacturing is done directly in Brazil. All prints, all knits, all assembly of the pieces are done in the country, helping the local economy by creating jobs and promoting a MADE IN BRAZIL image.
Recently, a new digital printing process is currently underway and this will help to create unique designs only for the brand.
Basically, with all the acquirements and all the innovation, the brand is creating a lifestyle, and creating an aspiration market that responds to it in terms of design really fast, to an eager customer. All this is concentrated in five defined departments (spread out in 800 smaller departments) that are part of this synchronized and well-executed fashion symphony. To this thought he proudly added:
- “90% of our products are part of our own brand and they are created internally.”
One of those ventures that created a “fashion fever” for their brand in Brazil (and those who knew about this around the world), was the historical moment when RCHLO invited an international fashion designer to team up with them to produce one of a kind collection – that designer being the latest talent with the house of VERSACE.
The marketing was built to be thought out and to reinforce the Brazilian sense of the brand, so they enlisted Adriana Lima (the most notable Brazilian model) to editorialize the brand’s latest high style fashion collaboration.
And here are some of the looks from a fantastic and incredible multicolored editorial the company used to promo the new collection, all with the Brazilian supermodel;
The result was a pret-a-porter line with distinctive VERSACE branding and a high quality that can only be purchased at this price at this time. It was a one-time opportunity only, and fashionistas understood the historical moment and hit the stores, “buying to collect”.
The launching of the line was within the days of Sao Paulo Fashion Week about a year ago, and with the presence of Donatella Versace, the creative director and mastermind of the design firm after the death of her brother, the entire collection produced for RIACHUELO had her signature unique vision.
Success was immediate, and not to be delayed, the entire collection, available behind black drapes was ready to be purchased. It was sold onsite and took only days to be out of the stores, so it was a full success! This was perhaps their most successful partnerships, but I am sure other partnerships are in the works – I am sure!
Unfortunately, in the States, we will not be able to see this fashion/lifestyle department store (85% family owned with only 15% Brazil stock market share holders) anytime soon, as they are geographically focused. But soon, we will be able to purchase online, once all e-commerce programs are ready, and I will be announcing it here for you to shop, of course! RIACHUELO fashion!
So, this interview is one you find in guides like Women’s Wears Daily, or Style on Time or perhaps the Daily Digest, as they are portals to the understanding how the entire business of getting humans dressed and express their individuality is one that is needed everywhere. It is an amazing story and I wanted to share this incredible sit down conversation with a very interesting man, Mr. Flavio Rocha, with all of you.
After all, fashion could be an addition.
Stay tuned for part 2 (Parte dois) with an editorial with some of their latest fashions modeled by Brazilian Super model MICHELINE, so start tuned here on my blog, as it is coming!
Always in Style,