Retail in Asia

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: CEO on Pomelo’s secret to thrive in the pandemic

Founded in 2013, Thailand based online fashion platform Pomelo rose to fame under CEO and Co-Founder, David Jou’s vision. Set out with a global mindset, Pomelo’s diverse offering is not the only thing that paves its road to success, its ability to adapt to the environment while being attentive to customers’ needs is also be to counted for – “New retail is all about micro retail points,” David expressed his plan for the brand the last time we caught up in late 2018. Following the rollout of micro-retail points, Pomelo launched Tap. Try. Buy. in an effort to reconnect with customers in times of pandemic.

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Revisiting our conversation, he concluded the interview on an interesting note, “We are standing in No Man’s Land, trying to figure out our own path.” Now carries over 700 brands and delivers to over 50 countries globally, it is safe to assume Pomelo has figured out their own path, and is determined to reach a wider audience with a mission – with their latest appointment of Kevalin Athayu as the brand’s new vice president and head of sustainability, as well as the launch of the Sustainable Edit line, Pomelo aims to increase their sustainable products portfolio to 40% in 2022 and beyond. 

Retail in Asia catches up with David, together we discussed what sustainability means to the brand, his approach on a new form of working style and what the future holds for Pomelo.

RiA : What is the best part in being a fashion tech startup?

Jou: The best part of being a fashion tech startup is that we can blend the world of fashion and the world of technology together. The E-Commerce and fashion market are very dynamic in SEA which provides us a lot of opportunities to innovate. Fashion is powerful because it reflects lifestyle, value, and culture. It makes our life colorful and changes our life with time. In a way it also adds variety to life, providing an opportunity in trying out something new. 

And as the world changes, the way people perceive and shop fashion changes. That’s where innovation and technology comes to help ensure that the best shopping experience is available for everyone everywhere. And at Pomelo, technology has helped us enable and disrupt the fashion industry. We strive to achieve groundbreaking developments at the focal point where fashion meets tech. 

Source : Pomelo

RiA: What makes Pomelo stand out among a sea of fast fashion brands?

Jou: First thing that differentiates us is that we are on the path towards sustainability. We now have 30 percent sustainability products in line. It started with the edition called ‘Purpose by Pomelo’ which is organic and sustainable from materials to production. After that, we have been continuing many sustainable efforts under the ‘Down to Earth’ initiative. Our commitment is that we don’t compromise in quality in our sustainable products, and we want sustainable products to be affordable for everyone.

Second of all, we are a data-driven organization. With big data and innovation as our backbone, it helps us to create the right products for the right customers as well as help anticipate the upcoming trends which we share with our fashion peers to uplift the fashion tech industry in the region. 

Lastly, we have a localization strategy for SEA including local trends, size for SEA women, materials and fabrics that match with weather in the region. With that in mind, we have built the community of #PomeloGirls and they become the heart of everything we do.

RiA: Do you see being an omnichannel platform an advantage or would Pomelo still be interested in a brick-and-mortar expansion?

Jou: Both omnichannel and brick-and-mortar models have their own advantages. Pomelo started as an app and we have Pomelo brand in it, and now we expand to having over 700 brands on our platform so our #PomeloGirls can have more shopping options. We understand that shopping clothes is not only about how it makes you look but also how it makes you fit and feel, so we have an omnichannel strategy to blend the offline and online world together. 

One of the features that we rolled out during the lockdown, Tap. Try. Buy. at home saw 30 percent higher in shopping frequency of our customers. Having Grab as our partner also has made omnichannel much more accessible and easier for our customers in Bangkok. With an effective returning process, we can ensure our customers that all products will meet high hygiene standards.

RiA: What does appointing Kevalin as the VP of Head of Sustainability mean to the brand? What kind of changes can we expect to see?

Jou: Recently, we have appointed Kevalin Athayu as our new vice president and head of sustainability to reinforce our long-standing commitment to delivering eco-friendly, on-trend apparel and accessories in a seamless shopping experience while striving for positive changes. This is a new role in the company, but we have been building a path towards sustainability under the CEO’s office for years.

Her role will be responsible for formulating and executing the company’s sustainability strategy while driving impact within the industry while working with both cross-functional teams and external stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, experts, and various partners with the aim to accomplish Pomelo’s ambitious sustainability goals.

In addition, she will lead efforts to redefine sustainability in the fashion tech industry in order to develop data-driven sustainability initiatives and manage the execution of various key sustainability projects.

Source : Pomelo

RiA: What is the story behind the Sustainable Edit line from Pomelo? How is it different from other lines?

Jou: We believe that customers should be able to enjoy quality products without having to compromise the wellbeing of the environment. Pomelo recognized the importance of sustainability to consumers and has been on a journey to continue to make more eco-conscious decisions. We kickstarted the idea of having a sustainability line to normalize the sustainable initiatives and drive change within our community to deliver eco-friendly, on-trend apparel and products.

The major difference from our normal new arrivals are the materials, process, and fabric sourcing. This includes water neutrals, BCI cotton, and more. At present, 30% of our new arrivals are sustainable and we aim to increase our sustainable products portfolio to 40% in 2022 and beyond. 

RiA: Can you tell us a bit about your partnership with Suuchi? How is Pomelo going to benefit from this?

Jou: As we are growing we need the best people and technology in the game. That is why we partnered with Suuchi to execute a game-changing digital supply chain strategy. The GRID has both a robust supply chain operations software platform, and a digital global sourcing network consisting of hundreds of factories, suppliers, mills, and freight companies. This partnership will help drive process efficiency and data visibility so that everything is tracked and measured from mood board & collection development through purchasing, production, quality, and logistics. The GRID will add firepower to Pomelo’s tech infrastructure to strengthen our core businesses and empower the overall fashion tech industry in Southeast Asia.

Source : Pomelo

RiA: As a startup brand, what kind of changes do you wish to bring to the workplace as opposed to a traditional working style?

Jou: At Pomelo, we aim to build a Dynamic Hybrid Workplace for the future where we can achieve the right balance between employees who desire to return to the office and those who prefer to work elsewhere. The Dynamic Hybrid approach allows each employee to free from “where” and “when” to work. It will allow us to become an inclusive workplace that provides our people the ownership, enhances flexibility and resilience, empowers collaborative culture, fosters relationships while continuing to drive business productivity and our people’s wellbeing at the top priority.

We also understand the challenges of the remote workforce where some human connections are missing as well as the organization engagement . That’s why we designed Pomelo Workweek to be a framework for our people to ensure that they can be productive, collaborate and stay engaged. 

This is how Pomelo Workweek looks like, 

  • On Monday and Tuesday, we call them Productivity & Effectiveness Days where we dedicate our time for work productivity. 
  • Wednesday is Focus Day where we invest our time in learning where we partnered with Udemy to expand our people’s learning experience, and reduce distractions by minimizing meeting, email, or instant messaging. 
  • Thursday is Ideation Day, it is a day to get together with their teams to solve problems, arrange workshops or brainstorm for new ideas.
  • Friday is Mingle Day. We believe in building relationships that go beyond work. It’s easy and no rules, networking and partying is the core.

RiA: As a fashion tech company, what changes has Pomelo brought to the traditional fashion retail industry?

Jou: We are proud of the work that we do as we believe that it matters to the community and industry as a whole. Understanding the pain points in shopping experience, our Tap.Try.Buy. concept truly changes the way a consumer shops for the better. Our teams offer seamless online-to-offline experience for our customers. This is not only the game changer for the customers but also for the industry to rethink the way to win customers’ hearts.

 Data and personalization on our app and website interface is truly unique and customer-centric for the end-user. As fashion is all about content therefore, we have to present them, with the right style of clothing as quickly as we can. With big data as our backbone, we can curate and deliver the perfect style for our customers as well as forecast the upcoming trends to share with our fashion peers. 

Lastly, we are on the path towards a future-ready working culture including an inclusive community, dynamic hybrid workplace, Pomelo learning and work that matters; which will ensure that we are ready for new business goals, and new changing needs of our people. 

Source : Pomelo

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RiA: What is the priority in terms of brand development for Pomelo right now? 

Jou: Pomelo’s unique and future-ready business model is the secret sauce that differentiates us from other companies and pushes us to the leadership position in the fashion tech industry. Our journey started humbly in 2013 as we aimed to be an on-trend, online, on-the-go brand driven by technology and innovation. Every design is crafted with love and made exclusively with the Southeast Asian woman in mind. Soon after that, we became the #1 DTC brand for our #PomeloGirls community where our products come in feminine and colorful style. However, we currently want to explore more universal products where we can provide gender inclusive clothing that everyone can wear, something more basic in terms of style. 

By 2018, we opened physical stores to integrate our omnichannel strategy for a more seamless experience for our customers as we understand the pain points in shopping experience where customers need to try before buy. That is the beginning of our Tap.Try.Buy. feature that truly changes the way a consumer shops for the better. And we now also have Tap.Try.Buy at Home powered by Grab for our customers to shop thousands of brand items online and try for free at the comfort of their home and only pay for the items they love. 

In 2019, we were on the journey to transition from being a brand into a digital platform where we joined hands with the coolest local designers, IG faves and international must-have brands to curate exclusive brand offerings & collaborations to wow our #PomeloGirls no matter what their occasions, styles, budget, and sizes are. Currently, we have over 700 brands on our platform. So we’re now looking for brands and designers to join the platform. 

Last year, we launched Prism Brand Services as we aim to create values for both our customers and brand partners. Especially, during the pandemic where we see our supports are more crucial to our fashion peers than ever. On top of that, Prism also offers solutions for brands who are ready to thrive in the path of sustainability. With years of knowledge and experience in the omnichannel market, we were honored to share what we learned to help our partners grow with us in this challenging time.