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Here's How Local Designers Can Finally Break into the Global Market

by Jam Nitura | Nov 21, 2018

DHL is changing the game for local designers by becoming their gateway into the international market, one delivery at a time. Find out how exactly this logistics company is breaking barriers between local products and global customers.

There’s more to the fashion industry than seasonal trends and pretty clothes. In the hustle and bustle of launching new lines of products amid the new digital age comes a web-based market hoping to easily peruse and purchase them online. What translates as simple enough for buyers comes the age-old, yet glossed over hurdle that designers face of actually getting each item to their respective buyer. While local shipping causes less of a headache, the inability to cater to interested international customers results in a brand’s stunted growth, unable to expand their business beyond their immediate reach. A waste of true Filipino talent and craft.

But fret not; designers don’t have to endure these shipping worries any longer. Deemed as the largest logistics company in the world, DHL has come up with a program of Fashion Industry Sector Solutions in hopes of helping Filipino designers and brands to bring their products to the global market. How does this work? Check out our exclusive interview with Yati Abdullah, DHL’s Country Manager, to find out more!


What made you think to launch this program for designers?

“We see a huge potential in cross model international shipping. I think the potential in terms of revenue in the Philippines for 2018 will be about $840 million, and the growth rate is about 12% every year up to 2020, so that's huge potential in terms of the cross model.”

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What's the process to partnering with DHL?

“What we do is we invite potential customers, even if they’re not a seller yet, or if they aspire to be a seller, so the workshops are open to everyone. We have different workshops like onboarding workshops, and workshops with our partners as well, fully organized by DHL.

"First thing's first, we want to make sure that we educate the customer on how to ship internationally so we have workshops where we invite the customers to join us and then we educate them on how to ship internationally, what are the rules and regulations in each country. Also we want to build the eco system for e-commerce so we partner with E-bay and Paypal for the payment system. They will give talks on how customers can do the e-commerce shipping better through workshops. Customers can open an account with DHL, and usually for start-ups we encourage them to ship to our retail outlets, so they can ship using cash in the retail outlets that we have across the Philippines.”


"We understand the products of the customer, and then we give them advice on how to ship it internationally. Every country that they ship to also has very specific import relations so we also educate them to make sure that the shipments arrive safely and smoothly.”

Is it available to all local designers or is there a criteria that they have to meet?

“All aspiring international shippers, whether they’re micro-SMEs, start-up businesses, they are all invited to join. It’s open to everyone from all industries, not just in fashion. They can sign up on our website, but mostly they’re invited by our sales people. We have a structured process to look for leads, so for example we go into Instagram, we find leads, and we try to connect with them and invite them for these workshops. These are for the start-ups, but for the customers that our sales people visit, then we invite them and give them available dates.”

Is there a fee that they have to pay? If so, how much would it be?

“No, it’s the value added that we provide.”

Does your solutions strategy differ per designer/brand?

“Yes, I guess it’s more by industry. Say for example the fashion industry is all so different, you have apparel, accessories, you have bags. So some of the import and export regulation is based on the materials that they use. Our solutions are very technical by the industry. We understand the products of the customer and then we give them advice on how to ship it internationally. Every country that they ship to also has very specific import relations so we also educate them to make sure that the shipments arrive safely and smoothly.”


"Our people are well-trained to help the customers to ship internationally. They’re not so much selling but more advising."

Could you give us specific details on your services, how they work, and how they benefit local designers/brands?

“So there are a few solutions that we provide that could benefit not just the designers but all our customers. First is the MyDHL, it’s our system where we prepare the shipments, it’s web based and customers are given an ID so they can log-in. They prepare the shipments and they can see the estimated costs. They can also see the estimated tax if there are any in the countries they’re going to ship to. They can also track and trace shipments using the MyDHL Plus system. The second is our On-Demand-Delivery. There are about six options that the customer has. For example, if I ship to you in the US and you’re on vacation, you’ll receive an email from us, and you can actually reschedule the delivery so the courier doesn’t have to go back and forth. It’s very user friendly and very convenient based on customer interest.


Why should designers/brands partner with DHL?

“I think first thing is that our people are well-trained to help the customers to ship internationally. They’re not so much selling but more advising, and our network is pretty big. We handle 220 countries. We always say that the UN only covers 195, but we’re 220 so we call ourselves the most international company in the world. Any designer or any shippers that want to ship their products, we have an edge. Of course, we also keep up with technology as I described earlier. We also have integration. For example, you’re a designer and you want to sell online, we are able to integrate our system with yours. So, when you’re a buyer and you buy online, you can also prepare the shipment online and it will link the back end to our website. We have some that we already integrated with, like Sunnies, who are using DHL.”


Is this a long-term program or is it only available for a specific time?

“We see the e-commerce potential globally, that it’ll be the trend for the longest time. Everybody’s buying online so, in fact, it’s a long-term plan. And whatever we’re doing in the Philippines is just part of a contribution to the global network also.

"We have quite a bit of e-commerce customers. At the start of the year we had 60+, but now we have 170. Not all of them have an account with us, in fact Albert Andrada also ships with us, not through an account but through cash, through retail.

"[To have an account with us,] you just register locally. You have to have an operating license, and get the necessary documents. But other than that, it’s free of charge. All you need to pay of course are the shipping charges.”

"While DHL’s program sounds simple and efficient enough, we also sought the testimonies of two of their current partners. Zarah Juan gives back to her community by prizing the untapped and undiscovered talents of local craftsmen from all over the Philippines. Much like her products, she weaves a seamless collaboration with them to create statement, head-turning shoes and bags in the form of geometric heels, and wicker horse handbags. Amina Aranaz, on the other hand, has been a veteran of the game, marking her 20th year in the industry this 2018. Her products exude Filipino branded luxury and sophistication, much like their signature pineapple clasp so iconic among their customers that they’ve come to re-invent it every season."



Find out how these two designers are pushing borders and entering the international fashion market with the help of DHL.

On their brand

Can you tell us about your business and how it came about?

Zarah: "The brand actually came from our manufacturing business called Green Leaf Bags, we’ve been doing that for 10 years. Because of that company, even though we were a small company, we decided to have a way to give back. We decided to choose mentorship as our way of giving back and through that mentorship we would go to different communities all over the Philippines, any community that needs help when it comes to production. Because of that after several years of teaching them basic skills like costing, product development, supply chain management, all those basic things, slowly we realized that the communities that we are working with were coming up with items that are beautiful, truly Filipino, but they don’t have access to the market. We decided to come up with a brand to become a platform for the communities to have access to that market, and that’s how the Zarah Juan brand came about."


Amina: "It’s primarily a family business and we are actually gonna be close to our 20th year as a brand. It started because my mom was in the manufacturing and export industry since the early ‘80s. At that time, it was really to sell to foreign brands. She was a supplier to American, Japanese, and European brands. Basically, I grew up knowing that this was what my mom was doing and it reached a point that I started to get interested. I liked the environment of a workshop/factory space. I found it intriguing. I liked watching the sewers create. Eventually me, my brother, and my sister started seeing her business as something that we could enjoy. So, at first, we tried to sell at a Christmas bazaar, and we were surprised because the reception was really good. After that initial bazaar we said we would try to create our own brand. It was more also because we wanted to create a Filipino brand. Because we knew that all of these American brands were made in our factory but they were not Filipino. We wanted to see what we could do in terms of creating a Filipino brand that we could export and sell as Filipino product made in the Philippines and branded Filipino."


Can you walk us through your design process? Where do you get inspiration for your designs?

Z: "As a new designer, my design process always comes from a place of gratitude, my way of looking back and finding out what contributed to my personal growth, and reflecting where I came from, and what are the significant things that matter to me. The inspirations from my collections really come from that place of gratitude, from celebrating what’s important to me.

"The recent collection are all wicker bags, you would see a pedicab, jeepney, a sorbetero ice cream, kalabaw, and a horse. I grew up riding the pedicab going to school and going to work. The jeepney as well, for me, is very important because it’s very iconic, an item that we can truly say that is truly Filipino. The horse and kalabaw are my way of giving back to my grandparents. I always remember my lola would encourage us to go to church every Sunday and would tell us ‘If you go to church with me I will give you a takatak horse, or that paper machete horse that you will find outside the church. It’s very nostalgic in a way because you don’t see that anymore. Those childhood memories became my inspiration for my new collection."


A: "It really varies. I always start with our brand positioning, our brand story. I try to see what mini stories I can create that can communicate our overall story. Our brand story’s really about celebrating a leisurely life and the different ways we want to communicate or express that leisurely spirit. It’s not only about the beach, of course that’s one aspect of it which is a strong area especially in spring/summer season but it’s not only anchored in that. Obviously, a lot of it is nature inspired and then we see what mini stories come out of that."


What materials do you use and where do you source them from?

Z: "We always try to source locally because the brand foundation is all about collaboration with different Filipino communities. So, they come from different places in the Philippines from the Northern part to the Southern part, from the Inabels of Ilocos to the Yakan of Zamboanga. We even have fabric woven by weavers from Camarines Sur. There are some items done by the wood carvers of Paete, so we try to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to sourcing. Our number one criterion should be Filipino made. There are times that we can’t avoid to get imported items like beads because we don’t have an industry that makes glass beads or plastic beads. But I can say 90% of our items are all locally sourced.

O"ur recent collection is all made of woven solihiya and wicker, which are made by a group of men in Las Pinas. They’re local weavers who used to make for Kate Spade, but because of time and export is down, nawalan din sila ng work. So, when they found me they asked to work together, and they have real talent so that’s why I decided to collaborate with them and that’s how nabuo yung recent collection ko. In every item that we have we want to have at least two to three communities working on them. That’s part also of my design process. I don’t start with a sketch book and draw. Before I do that I really start with calculating on who are the communities that can participate in creating the item."


A: "They’re all Filipino materials sourced from different parts of the Philippines. Because my mom has been in the manufacturing business for over 30 years she has so much exposure and knowledge about what materials are available in the Philippines, how we can use them, what their characteristics are like, and what environmental factors they can withstand. But then we also find new ways to use these traditional materials. Right now the past few seasons have been about abaca which is from Bicol because of the quality and characteristics abaca has. It’s been a favorite and we use it in different shapes and different kinds of weaving."


What challenges have you faced in mounting your business?

Z: "We face a lot of problems every day. Number one, of course we have very limited funding. Whatever we’re spending here just came from my company, so I have to use it wisely and make it grow. So now I can’t say we’re a social enterprise, I think we’re a design company that has social impact. That’s what we tell the communities that we work with also, that we’re not here to dole out money or as charity work, we teach the communities how to be entrepreneurs and how they can also deal with others so they can also have business with other designers and companies. Two, since we work with different communities the challenge of distance is also very tricky because one community lives from Mindanao, or Bicol, or Norte, to put it together is also a challenge. But there’s always a way like communications technology, local couriers and logistic companies. Another challenge is now that our brand is somehow getting attention from the international market, the challenge of shipping our products is there, it’s hard. Good thing we met DHL. They’ve been very helpful in creating solutions for us."


A: "One challenge is because they’re all hand-made, there’s always a supply issue and because it’s also made of natural materials, it’s not something that you can continue creating whatever the weather condition. Another would be how to reach the international market. Like how does a small brand in the Philippines communicate themselves to let the rest of the world know that we’re around."


On their partnership with DHL

"Shipping abroad entails different price points and there are lots of customs and quarantine rules that you really have to follow. DHL mentored us on how to do it per country. They’re very hands-on."

How did you hear of DHL's program?

Z: "Actually the country manager, Yati, is our client. She’s really our best client. She’d visit us during shows and she’s very appreciative of local products even though she’s Malaysian. Because of that we developed this relationship with DHL. She was our client first before we were able to transact as business partners. Yati and her team are very hands-on. Even though we’re a small account, they really go here and mentor us. Our goal is to come up with our online platform to sell locally and abroad. We don’t have it yet, hopefully this December, if not early January. I thought it was easy to come up with an online platform, but it’s not that simple pala. You really have to find out the cost of shipment. Shipping abroad entails different price points and there are lots of customs and quarantine rules that you really have to follow. DHL mentored us on how to do it per country (the documents to prepare) they’re very hands-on, even though they know we’re starting pa lang and we’ll probably only give them small business. Even in building our online platform talagang nakatutok sila which I appreciate. I never experienced that with other companies."


A: "Doing direct sales internationally was always something that we wanted to do and we were always trying to figure out how to do it. So we were really looking for a partner to help us reach the international retail market. We did our research and fortunately we were able to meet people from DHL. Opening our own online international store was a long-term wish that we could never really do because of that shipment challenge. We weren’t really sure how to go about it. Shipping is always one of the main challenges for any brand that wants to export, so when we met DHL we said  ‘Finally! Maybe this is what’s gonna help us pursue this wish’ and so there. We opened our international store on a trial run. Until now we’re only on a soft opening from September this year for direct sales to international customers."


What was the process in partnering with them like?

Z: "Very easy. They would give us success stories of local companies shipping already abroad, of course we got inspired with that. Their approach is very hands-on and practical and easy, especially with start-up companies like us. They even have workshops that are very informative. Kasi ang dami mo palang kailangan malaman if you want to export or ship abroad even in small quantities. Yung mga workshop nila will tell you how to do it step-by-step when it comes to pricing, documentations, etc."


A: "It was painless, really. It was basically asking them what their offerings and rates are like. That was it! When we said ‘ok let’s give it a shot’ it’s really easy because they sent us some boxes, then when we have an order they just book it and there!"

"Being partners with them [DHL] gave our brand good credibility with our international buyers."

How have their services helped your business so far in terms of distributing your products globally?

Z: "Being partners with them gave our brand good credibility with our international buyers. Nawawala yung doubt especially if it’s an online transaction or from Instagram pa lang. If they inquire from us and ask who our shipper will be, we would say it’s DHL, the credibility is already there and they would be at ease already. They’re also very accurate with her scheduling and computation of price. Wala na yung nagse-second guess ka kung tama ba yung computation na binigay mo sa client. They also have a system where you can track your products when you ship them. You’ll know exactly where our products are, and the buyers also, they would know kung nasaan na siya. We have cleints in Europe, Paris Greece, Scandinavian countries, Hong Kong, lahat yun DHL."


A: "They’ve given us, I would say, preferential rates to help us and really makes it not so heavy for the customer. They do assist when we have questions, even if it’s about our whole-sale buyers. What’s great is that there are also real people behind DHL and they’re accessible. Because with some you’re always waiting, but for this one it’s instant. We have a direct line so you’re never worried about being unable to reach them and being left hanging."

Have you experienced any difficulties?

Z: "So far so good. They’re very easy to deal with. They’re honestly very efficient. Wala pa kaming nakikitang problema, even delays, wala pa. Since we’re putting up an online platform their IT team is even teaching my IT team. They believe in the potential of our products and the products of other Filipino designers also, that’s why they’re investing talaga on us, to really help us grow our business."


A: "They’ve been good so far."

Would you recommend DHL's services to other designers who want to take their business globally?

Z: "Definitely! I’ve recommended them already to a lot of friends and designers, even without them asking."


A: "Yes! It’s always been a grey area when it comes to shipping. There are so many designers that I know that want to do online selling because we all know that online is really the way to go. Every business needs to have an online retail platform. Many of us Filipino designers have that challenge. When it’s local it’s not as scary but when it’s international that’s when it gets scary. Prior to working with DHL we were always comparing notes like ‘what do you do’, ‘how do we do this’. And there are many Filipino designers that have not launched their online store internationally because of that fear of the unknown. Working with DHL gave us that confidence. That at least we know that there’s that comfort level, that someone I can talk to and call because before you couldn’t really get straight answers and that’s the scary part, because you don’t want to sell and then you’re charged this surprising ginormous fee and that’s what we want to avoid. Now we feel like we have an ally that can help us scale our business in the global context."


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