Alumni Entrepreneur Profile of the Month: Jamak Kharzra '01
What is Bluesuits and what makes it unique?
Bluesuits is a collection of ready-to-wear career line for professional women. The collection includes Jackets, Pants, Skirts, Dresses, Tops and Coats. Bluesuits merchandise is sold both direct to consumers through image consultants, our website www.bluesuitsonline.com, as well as on location sales at colleges and universities.
Our approach to design and fit of the garments is unique. Instead of chasing short lived high fashion trends we focus on our customers needs. Our decisions are informed by our thousand of successful, influential professionals from all over the world who shop for style and quality and look for classic, timeless pieces. Having first hand knowledge of the challenges women face when they are looking to purchase business attire from fit, fabrication, quality and value, Bluesuits collection translates our customers’ wish list into a collection of classic, tailored, high quality and sophisticated career wear. The result has been stellar sell rates for our stores and an ever growing roster of very satisfied customers.
Did your musical background and MBA education play a role in your developing the concept for Bluesuits?
Bluesuits as a concept developed entirely by my interaction with my customers prior to entering Columbia Business School. I started selling designer professional apparel to women from my Upper West Side Apartment in 1986. Although I was offering all high end designer suiting none seemed to meet the needs of all my customers. There was a need for office appropriate, tailored, clean and sophisticated ready-to-wear garments that would fit the unique body shapes of women, specially the mature woman. I launched my first collection in 1998 a year before I entered CBS.
My musical training as a concert pianist required taking risks, discipline, dedication, hard work, attention to detail, problem solving and pursuit for perfection all of which are essential for any entrepreneur not to mention creativity which is off course where it all starts if you are a fashion designer. My MBA education provided the tools to grow my company and access to Columbia alumni network who I would tap into through the various mailing lists for advice or recommendations.
What challenges did you face launching a retail business? Do you think launching a retail business is more of a challenge today?
It is challenging to start any business and the apparel business is no exception. I was very lucky since Bluesuits grew organically and I never set out to launch a retail business. I started designing at a very early age and sold my first creations to stores when I was 15 years old and all through my musical education I was involved in making garments. When I launched the Bluesuits Collection I already had a customer base, knew who I was designing for, my company was profitable and I had all the necessary industry contacts, from suppliers to factories. Bluesuits garments are made in New York City so any comments I make reflects my knowledge of the local garment industry.
With that in mind I would say that launching a retail business today is very challenging as production for the larger companies is almost entirely moved overseas and the local factories are diminishing quickly. In addition access to capital is not easy in the current environment.
How has your business changed in the past 10-20 years?
The internet has brought the biggest change to Bluesuits. Our website has become a real destination for career women shopping for business suits as well as men who purchase gifts for women. On our website we not only sell our own brand of clothing but also high end European lingerie and accessories. Apart from selling the Bluesuits collection directly to women through on location sales and image consultants which we have done since inception, Bluesuits is also selling in high end specialty stores. Watch a video where I appeared on "Good Day, Houston" to feature my collection.
What MBA classes were helpful to you as an entrepreneur?
Corporate finance, accounting, management and marketing classes have all been very helpful.
What advice would you give to an incoming Columbia student entrepreneur?
My advice would be to try and gain some expertise in everything you think your company will ever need. This may sound like a tall order, but unless you start out as an organization with all your experts in place, you will need to be able solve problems yourself.
What’s next for Bluesuits?
We will probably focus on growing our market for the next few years but eventually we would like to expand our collection to include men’s career wear as well.