After stints at Gap and Estee Lauder, Aaina Jain of Blu & Blue saw a world of entrepreneurial opportunity in denim. It helps that her family has long owned a clothing manufacturing business.
Fashion entrepreneur Aaina Jain’s mission is “to do denim right,” and she has been on a fast track to carry out that vision for the last 3 years.
Jain is the founder of children’s denim clothing brand Blu & Blue, based in New York City. On the other side of the world in Delhi, India, her family’s clothing manufacturing business is in its 35th year of operation. Over the years, the family firm has worked with the likes of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, The Children’s Place and Armani Exchange — and built the kind of business DNA that offers an invaluable asset for a young entrepreneur.
So when Jain decided to launch her own clothing brand, she didn’t start from scratch to find a factory or source fabric — she already had somewhere to turn. She established Blu & Blue as a subsidiary of the family business so she could take advantage of its manufacturing infrastructure, giving herself a considerable leg up.
And her kids fashion business grew quickly, she says. Since starting up Blu & Blue in December 2015, her dresses, rompers, shirts and more — all made from her “butter soft” denim — have entered more than 200 boutiques across the United States. The brand has won several celebrity fans, including singer Jennifer Lopez and actresses Jessica Alba, January Jones and Naomi Watts. Jain declined to disclose annual revenue, but says the company already has about 100 employees.
And now, she’s embarking on an international expansion.
A Running Start for Blu & Blue
Jain grew up in India, and says she always wanted to work the fashion world. She recalls spending her childhood days studying the work of the tailors in her family’s factories and asking questions about the fabrics.
When she got older, she moved to Boston to study marketing. Then, in 2007, she moved to fashion capital New York City, and for several years worked for famous fashion firms like Gap Inc. and Estee Lauder. But she had inherited her parents’ entrepreneurial bug, and wanted to start something all her own.
Inspiration for a new venture first hit in the summer of 2015, during a family trip through Italy. While the country is renowned for its fashion and craftsmanship, Jain was struck by a lack of imagination when it came to denim clothing. “I felt like it was restricted to jeans and jackets and simple shirts.”
But her “aha” moment came while reflecting on conversations she’d had with mothers she knew in New York, who complained about the safety, durability and versatility of children’s clothing. She realized there was an opportunity in marrying European details like collars and pintucks with denim fabric to make fashion-forward children’s garments. And she wanted to act quickly to turn her idea into a business.
Jain didn’t dally about deciding to launch, and she didn’t want to spend years slowly growing her brand, either. So she turned to her family’s manufacturing plants and fabric contractors to produce her first line. By December of that year, she had a brand name and a line of clothing to sell at the New York Junior League’s Golden Tree market.
Blu & Blue’s stock sold out before the first day of the event ended. Realizing she had a hit on her hands, Jain ramped up production using the profits from her first sales and help from her family’s company. In 2016, she began delivering to New York City boutiques.
Of course, not everything was in place from the start — Jain still had hires to make. “We do have a team in the U.S., besides the one in India,” she says, mostly sales representatives and marketing executives.
Sustainability and Safety
Because her products are for children, she also had to worry about safety standards. Jain says each article of clothing made by Blu & Blue is subject to rigorous testing, to both comply with U.S. standards and ensure that fashionistas of all ages can safely wear her wares.
For example, “we invest a lot in getting nickel-free hardware that’s used on our garments,” like buttons or latches. She also makes sure each garment is saliva-friendly, as babies often put whatever they can reach into their mouths. She even performs tests on the insides of each garment, to minimize scratchiness and maximize comfort.
Jain says she also works hard to make her processes environmentally friendly. She has instituted several plant-wide eco-friendly measures, including using solar panels for power and treating nearly 80,000 gallons of water per day. She also employs fabric-cutting techniques that minimize waste.
“There’s so much wastage in the fashion industry today,” she says of her push toward more sustainable factory processes. “It’s something that we take very seriously,” and intend to continually improve.
An E-Commerce Debut
After launching, Jain focused on getting Blu & Blue’s garments into stores in the United States, and a few in Taiwan. And earlier this year, she debuted in boutiques in Germany, France and the Netherlands.
So far, her clothing has only been available through retailers, and never online. But this May, she is taking the e-commerce leap and will begin selling items on Amazon.com. She isn’t sure what to expect, but “that will be an experience, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The shift is significant for Blu & Blue, and Jain says it will help her achieve her goal of becoming a global brand. “Blu & Blue is such a relatable brand to people across all countries,” she says, because it offers such a variety in styles. “It’s very accepted across different markets.”
But she credits much of her success to the boost she got early on from her familial manufacturing know-how and connections. “Having that infrastructure and resource set up already really helped Blu & Blue get the competitive edge.”
Posted: March 28, 2018