Founded in early 2015, in a small village at the foot of mountain Olympus – the home of the gods, the brothers, Leonidas and Charalampos Souras has decided to use their father’s woodworking technique and combine it with contemporary design and artistry. This unique and unusual combination has brought to life the startup Exallo, meaning “wood in different ways” in Greek, that set to be the latest disruptor in the fashion industry.
Their wooden bow ties, cufflinks and phone cases, all cut and finished by hand, are for now, the only three products that, with their timeless designs, innovate the contemporary men’s style.
This startup takes pride not with only their innovative way of transforming men’s fashion, but most importantly of their eco-driven way of crafting the products. All their products are made through sustainable sourcing of materials. This includes re-appropriation and recycling of wood and other natural materials.
To date, they are already present in Germany, UK, Belgium, and Iceland, but also in U.S. and Australia. But with their agile on-line marketing and through e-commerce, as their main channel of expanding their brand abroad, slowly they are expanding all over the world.
In this exclusive interview, made with one of the founders – Leonidas Souras, Superfounders is bringing to you this startup story about the very beginnings of Exallo, their challenges and successes, and of course their plans for the future.
Can you briefly describe the story behind Exallo? When was the idea hatched?
Exallo was founded in the early start of 2015 by me and my brother Babis. We really had the idea and the passion for creating something unique and unconventional at the same time, that will be in accord with men’s lifestyle. We noticed that quality products did not exist in the market to combine with our clothing, so we decided to create our own stuff. We combined our father’s woodworking technique with contemporary design and artistry in order to achieve it. Our first materials were some abandoned pieces of oak wood that we found in our local forests and some vintage silk ties and with them, we created our first bow tie. After this, the first orders started coming in.
Can you tell us about your beginnings and the challenges you faced then?
We established our small business in our father’s existing wood workshop, outside our small village which is located next to Olympus mountain, Greece. We were, and still are, far away from the big city lights, but we had to show our first products to a wider audience. So our first big challenge was to set up an effective on-line store in order to boost our sales and receive the first customers’ feedback. Another other challenge was the lack of initial funds in order to invest in different tools and machines that we needed, beyond the conventional woodworking tools that were available in our father’s workshop.
Setting up aN EFFECTIVE on-line store and lack of initial funds were the first challenges that Exallo faced – says Leonidas for Superfounders
Your products are already sold internationally. Is it hard to conquer foreign markets and what does it take to make this possible?
I can’t say that we have already conquered foreign markets but we are on our way. We are still working very hard by promoting our brand in foreign media and channels through online marketing and through our physical presence in international fashion and design trade fairs/events. The big milestone that we achieved over the last year was to sell over 60% of our products outside the Greek borders, both in b2b and b2c markets.
Can you be more specific on how you promote your brand and what are the markets that you have already covered?
The main channel that helps us expand our brand abroad and boost our sales is definitely the online marketing. We use online ads in social media, Google and different fashion/design online blogs and magazines, we collaborate with a lot of influencers and brand ambassadors, and we finally work the email marketing to round off our strategy! Moreover, we’ve recently started participating in international trade fairs that are targeted to our audience. The first one was a couple months before in Berlin (the ethical fashion show), and we plan to participate in 2 trade fairs every year from now and on.
So the last 6 months, we managed, with all the above practices, to sell our products in physical stores mostly in Europe (Germany, Uk, Belgium, and Iceland), but in the b2c market, we expand our geographic horizons internationally with a lot of sales in the USA and Australia. We promote our eCommerce more that our physical presence, and that is why we try to redesign carefully our website in regular periods. However, we hope to cover more physical stores in those countries in the future!
In general, these are our most used tactics. We try to learn constantly about our audience in order to become gradually better and to target them mostly through online marketing. It’s more productive and easy to get to your audience and to your targeted market in this way if you have developed the right team of course. This is called, as you possibly already know, niche marketing.
The main channel that helps us expand our brand abroad and boost our sales is definitely online marketing. We work with online ads in social media, google and different fashion/design online blogs and magazines, we collaborate with a lot influencers and brand ambassadors, and we finally work the email marketing enough!
At the moment your portfolio has three main products: bow ties, cufflinks and phone cases. What is your plan for the future? Are you considering adding other products?
Our products belong the category of men’s accessories and we intend to create some other lines in order to complement the classic with a touch of modern luxury men’s outfit. Also, we try to combine every existing product line with every new product that we add to our future collections, both in the design and the typology. So, after bow ties, cuff links and phone cases, and before the end of the summer of 2017, what is going to follow is the tie clip collection as well as some initial designs for men’s belts. Finally, for the start of 2018 we are preparing a really exciting collection as a surprise for our 3 years anniversary!
A Tie clip collection, men’s belts and A NEW Surprise Collection are the next products that we should expect from these young entrepreneurs
What do you think is your strength, your best suit, that special thing that makes Exallo better than the competition?
Exallo has to face the direct but mostly the indirect competition, that produces the same type of accessories applying conventional materials and techniques in the production process. Our basic strength beyond our competitors is based on the next fundamental principles: sustainably sourced materials for the production process, high aesthetically driven design, and craftsmanship of the highest level. So we try to use our business in order to provide handcrafted products that last a lifetime, made out of materials which would otherwise go to waste, preserving the story of the raw material on one hand and protecting our environment on the other hand. We also use 2% of the revenue from each product to organize environmental actions (such us reforestation projects, environmental beaches cleaning etc), hoping to organize these actions nationally and, why not, globally?
What about investors? Are you in contact with some VCs, business angels? If yes, what does it takes to convince investors to invest in your business?
In the beginning, we had some conversations with a couple of angel investors. However, we couldn’t enter into an agreement with them due to lack of team members and a well-designed business model. Now, since we have organized our team and achieved good sales, we intend to open these conversations again with more investors that are mostly focused in the fashion industry business. What it takes to convince all of them, is our mission behind the numbers. Consumer behaviors towards the fashion industry are changing and they want to know who is on every label. Exallo supports this movement by providing sustainably designed products that last a lifetime and by empowering all those people who want to find something exciting to do as an occupation, by working in excellent conditions and educating themselves through their jobs at the same time. We believe that we could create a big community that believes in our concept (from individual consumers up to the big retailers and enterprises) and with the assistance of some investors it would certainly be possible to achieve it internationally.
I encourage other younger entrepreneurs to start something new in their life, but the most important is to do it for the right reasons. Not about the money – is Leonidas’ advice to the young entrepreneurs
What would you advise the other young entrepreneurs who are either considering or have already taken the challenge to open their own startup?
As a not-too-old entrepreneur (I am in my early 30s), I encourage other younger entrepreneurs to start something new in their life, but the most important are to do it for the right reasons. Not about the money, the lifestyle, or because they want to stop working for somebody else. Essentially every time we work for somebody else – for customers, investors, shareholders etc. So, before they start, they have to make sure that they do it for their passion and the problem that they really want to solve with their business. Moreover, my advice is to sleep less and work more! I’ve been doing this for a couple of years and it’s so easy and addictive when you have big dreams and goals.
Is there anything you would like to add?
What I want to add is that anyone who has an idea must share it with other people. Ideas are for sharing and not for wasting. So I personally invite all the people; makers, woodworkers, designers, business owners, etc, to share any thoughts with us, in case we can develop and discover something new in cooperation with them. They can reach us through our website or directly via phone. Our team is open to any new idea or collaboration that could be profitable for us and the final consumer as well!