When A.C.F’s CEO, Alexandra Foster, moved to Hong Kong in 2016, she came with a clear goal in mind: to launch her own sustainable fashion brand.
Behind the Brand
From when she was a little girl, Alexandra has always had a love for fashion. Cutting up her mum’s bed linen to make doll clothes, and with a great-grandmother that was the dressmaker for The King of Egypt, her family knew the then little girl was destined for a career in the fashion industry.
It was to no one’s surprise then when she decided to study design & business, and took a job as a Fashion assistant. For the first 8 years of her career, Alexandra worked for various fashion brands in her native Australia in various roles such as retail, wholesale manager and designer.
While she never lost her love for fashion, reality hit when she first visited China on a work trip. Alexandra was of course aware of some of the negative aspects of the fashion industry, but it was in the fabric markets that she really got confronted with the true cost and dirty side of the industry and decided she no longer wanted to be part of the problem, but part of the solution.
Less than a year after that first trip to China, Alexandra packed her bags and left her family and friends behind to move to Hong Kong. While it wasn’t an easy move, she felt that to have the best chance of success, she had to be close to the supply chain.
Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
“Over ten million pounds of textile waste goes to landfill each year. 95% of that could be recycled. And it takes 10,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans. It’s insane, this has to stop!” Alexandra exclaims with passion.
These are some of the shocking facts that motivated Alexandra to launch A.C.F in 2016.
To tackle the normally wasteful practices of the fashion industry, A.C.F decided to mostly work with deadstock fabric. This is fabric that would otherwise be discarded because it hasn’t been sold, or fabric that for instance has small color discrepancies and the original buyer does not want to use it anymore.
What’s more, the brand aims to be as efficient as possible with pattern cutting to produce as little waste as possible, and leftover fabrics are even donated to animal charities for dog beds!
Another interesting element of A.C.F’s is that all pieces are gender-neutral. While not Alexandra’s original intention, she quickly came to realise at her pop-up events, that customers weren’t so interested in whether a piece was male or female, and she decided to use this feedback to her advantage.
With both gender and sustainability being hot topics, the brand has gained traction amongst today’s conscious consumers and trendsetters. It’s no wonder that A.C.F has seen most uptake in fashion-forward urban areas, such as New York, LA and Chicago. Of course, they’ve also seen a fantastic following in their home market of Hong Kong.
“Consumers are ready for change. They want something different. It’s the right time for this”, says Alexandra.
Running a business is being a Chief Problem Solver
While A.C.F is now sold globally, and also has several B2B clients, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Alexandra jokes her title should be “chief problem solver”, as new challenges arise time-and-time again, with the novel coronavirus being just the latest.
The most challenging time, however, was when Alexandra just moved to Hong Kong. She moved to the city by herself, and without a network of friends or business contacts in the city, life could feel very lonely at times. Add to that the financial pressures of starting a new business, and we can all imagine the isolating experience Alexandra describes going through.
But being a true entrepreneur, Alexandra preserved through each challenge. Via her pop-ups, she started to meet like-minded founders and Hong Kongers to share her experiences, frustrations, failures and successes with, and Alexandra stresses the importance of having a strong support network.
Hong Kong’s banking nightmare
Aside from the initial isolation the entrepreneur felt when starting the business by herself, banking turned out to be another unexpected nightmare.
When she first moved to Hong Kong, Alexandra expected she could walk into a branch and open a business bank account easily.
As Neat hadn’t yet launched their business accounts at that time, this turned out to be far from the truth, all-in-all it took her almost a year to open the first business bank account.
However, the challenges didn't end there. After going through the troubles of opening a business bank account, it turned out A.C.F couldn’t get a credit card for their business. Being in eCommerce, paying for items such as Facebook Ads was crucial, and Alexandra ended up paying hefty FX fees by using foreign cards.
When she was complaining about this to one of her friends, who happened to be an accountant, he recommended her to check out Neat.
“Neat’s corporate cards perfectly suit my needs to pay for online subscriptions and digital ads. I use the card for all my corporate card expenses.”
What’s next for A.C.F?
Recently, A.C.F started to make custom sustainable uniforms for hotels, restaurants and stores. They’ve already worked with Ce La Vi, Maximal Concepts, and are in talks with one of the most well-known luxury hotels.
They’ve also created uniforms for Allbirds, a sustainable footwear brand from the US.
At Neat, our mission is to enable the entrepreneur economy and nothing excites us more than to see our customers grow. So, we were really pleased to hear of all A.C.F’s successes.
Alexandra’s proudest moment?
Visiting a Allbirds store in central New York, and seeing all the staff wear their custom A.C.F uniforms: it’s seeing my dream come to life.