He started a string of espresso bars at the age of 21, founded an electric vehicle infrastructure provider company and then Luke Grana ventured into the world of fashion. We asked Luke about his clothing line Grana, running an e-commerce business in HK and what he's got in store for 2017.
Name: Luke Grana
Occupation: CEO and Founder of Grana
Hometown: Manly, Sydney Australia
Current Residence: Hong Kong (just over 3 years)
Favourite Grana piece and why: My Peruvian Pima Crew Neck tee. It’s extremely comfortable, basic, easy to wear and style.
Can you give a bit of a background story - where did you grow up, how did you come to be in Hong Kong and what were you doing work wise before starting Grana?
I grew up in Manly, Sydney in Australia. Spending a lot of time at the beach and surfing. In my last year at Macquarie University, I started my first espresso bar at 21 and then opened two more around Sydney, selling them all at a profit. I have an Italian background, so making quality coffee was important for me. It was a great experience that taught me a lot about running and operating small businesses.
In 2008, I founded an electric vehicle infrastructure provider and network operator company called ChargePoint after visiting Europe and seeing how developed they were with this quality concept. It was acquired by Leightons Group in 2012 and is still in operation across Australia and New Zealand with over 200 charging stations.
As you can see, I don’t have a background in fashion and focused my early business ventures on introducing quality products and services to the Australian market. This leads to late 2012 when I went to visit my brother living in Peru at the time. That’s where I first discovered Peruvian Pima Cotton for the first time in the local market. It was the softest cotton I’d ever felt and inexpensive. It made me wonder why brands don’t offer good prices for high quality fabrics.
Fast forward a year later, when I developed a solid business plan to start Grana as a direct-to-consumer business, operating as an eCommerce brand with one centralised warehouse for direct 2 day international shipping. Through my research, Hong Kong was the ideal and most strategic location for me to start-up a scalable business to reach a global market, making high-quality essentials accessible to everyone. I bought a one-way ticket, packed my bags and flew over in October 2013 to start the business with US $200,000 in savings.
What drew you to start Grana and where did the idea generate from?
Discovering Peruvian Pima Cotton in Peru was where it all started. I was inspired by the local fabric mills producing one of the world’s finest fabrics and it made me realise that luxury products can be affordable, it’s just how you approach the business model and logistics part to ship globally.
For me, it was a direct-to-consumer model with a lean supply chain - direct relationships with fabric mills and manufacturers + shipping direct to customers, no agents, no wholesalers or retailers, just one point of sale and one centralised warehouse for global shipping.
Was there a moment you knew you were onto something or was it a gradual progression of things?
As an entrepreneur, my previous business ventures gave me key learnings and insights. I realised quality products, market timing and a strong team culture was crucial to starting the foundation of a strong business. To be honest, the Australian market wasn’t ready for electric vehicles in 2008 but that’s ok, it was a key learning and still in operation today as a business with Leightons Group.
Through my research, the global apparel industry reached a market size of US $1.2 trillion in 2014. Online sales made up for 5% and expected to reach over 30% by 2030. This was the market opportunity for me to create a brand that tapped into this forecasted growth. That’s when I knew I was onto something different that not many brands were doing at the time.
The important factors were to make sure we designed a quality product, operating online to reduce costs, being direct-to-consumer, having lean supply chain, lean inventory and having a strong omnichannel approach to reach our target audiences.
Can you describe some of the biggest challenges you faced that you hadn’t seen coming when starting your own business?
Meeting angel investors in Hong Kong for seed funding. It’s quite difficult and that shouldn’t be the case. In perspective, though I was new to town and it was more about getting myself out there, meeting the right people and staying determined to make it possible to make my vision for Grana, a reality. You have to stay committed and be positive, learn from every experience and encounter with potential investors.
Don’t get me wrong, Hong Kong is a great place for entrepreneurs to launch tech start-ups and eCommerce brands like ours. Once you’re in the start-up community, the support you receive is strong and everyone wants to help each other. I was fortunate to meet Invest HK who really helped to start my new life here from finding an apartment, introduction into the start-up community and finding my first 500 squarefoot warehouse.
Grana is very forward thinking in the sense that it's shopping in a way no one else does it. It's advanced in so many ways but still grounded, basic, simplistic and not overdone and I think people are drawn to that- I know I am. Was that always the core from the start? What were some of the defining things you setup up front to achieve this?
Thank you for your kind words! I love hearing how people perceive our brand, it’s a great reminder of why we exist as a brand today and people are becoming with more conscious with the way they consume, buying quality at a fair price.
My vision was always to make high quality modern essentials accessible to everyone, changing the way people shop luxury by choosing a direct way to make it happen. I’m very happy and fortunate that it hasn’t changed. It’s a testament to our team, investors and customers are committed to our vision - saying no to fast fashion and paying high prices for luxury.
What's your daytime schedule like as CEO and what do you love about what you do day in and day out?
Being CEO and founder can be a tough gig but I love what we’ve achieved so far in such a short time and excited for expanding into new markets over the next year.
My day usually involves a gym session in the morning, a coffee and then the meetings begin! Sometimes they’re back-to-back until 8pm discussing strategy, meeting investors, signing off new product and designs, marketing campaigns, finance updates to pranking team members for their birthdays. It’s always busy, a bit crazy but I always try to have fun, make time for the team and squeeze in time for lunch.
What I love, day in and day out? It’s seeing the passion and motivation of our team to brainstorm ways we can be different, cheeky and curious to our customers and making simple, timeless and functional products that we all love wearing (and doesn’t cost that much). I might be bias but my wardrobe is all Grana and I get to tell my friends and family the origin stories behind each piece, where they come from and how they’re made. There’s a quality story behind everything we design here and that’s what I’m most proud of. We made it happen!
What are some of your favourite aspects of running a business?
Meeting new fun, quirky and passionate people joining the team, understanding what drives them and how they create an idea product / campaign / initiative to the quality execution. Culture at GRANA is important to me and I like to think that we have the best team culture in Hong Kong.
You do occasional collaborations with bloggers or movers and shakers in terms of marketing and online stuff but have you ever considered doing design collaborations? If so is there a designer or a company you would love to collaborate with?
We are seeing more fashion brands collaborating with designers or celebrities to launch collections and it’s great to see! For us, we love designing everything in-house but it would be exciting if we found the right person to collaborate with.
Looking forward for the year, what do you yourself and Grana have in store for 2017?
For the business, we’re looking to expand our Fitting Room concept with ‘try offline, buy online’ in New York City in a few months and working on building the team there at the moment, expanding our market presence in mainland China and expanding shipping to 8 new markets by the end of the year.
On the personal front, that’s a hard question but it’ll be more travelling to explore Asia with weekend surfing trips and experience new cultures. I discovered Peruvian Pima Cotton because I travelled and explored, it’s something I want to continue this year.