I am so excited about this interview with my friend, Katherine Zabloudil, who is the owner of the Vertical Collective. Yours & Our’s manufacturing partner.
Katherine and I actually went to high school together. So we go way, way, way back and we have stayed friends and in and out of each other's lives over a couple decades now.
In this interview we will discuss Katherine’s entrepreneurial story & amazing career that's led her to owning the vertical collective and helping other brands start and thrive.
How did this start for you? What does your career path look like?
My first job actually was in finance. I was working for a hedge fund up in San Francisco right out of school. I was a retail analyst, junior retail analyst. I got to go to all these like junkets and shows and look at companies like Victoria's Secret and all these global brands, literally pick apart their businesses, understand what's working, what's not working and really got an early introduction into global trade commerce and fell in love with product.
I got my first opportunity at Kate Spade as a production assistant on the production team, there I had incredible mentors that I'm still close with.
From there, I got into product development at Coach in and then I pushed my way to Ralph Lauren as a product designer there. I learned about the apparel side of the business because I had always been in accessories.
Then it just became time for me to come back to our native Southern California. I needed to break from New York and I was given an incredible role as a fashion director at Guess up in Los Angeles.
That's actually where I met my current business partner, Morgan. We started our own clothing brand, C.Z. Falconer. Making all the mistakes. We had some incredible losses and it was brutal. We had some amazing wins.
I appreciate that you guys bring that knowledge because you have so much respect for what it takes to actually build a brand. What did you do after you stopped producing C.Z. Falconer?
Just Fab. They were looking to build out design, development, factory direct so they could have an entire in-house design team and control they didn't have to buy from these third party vendors any longer.
So I came on board. I was there for a couple of years. My mission was just very, very clear cut, build out this vertical integration, build us out an entire Asia division, do it quickly, help us get to margin and profit as quickly as possible.
So after a couple of years at Just Fab, I, I guess I think I was just done with corporate. I was just done with the politics. And it was so funny because really a couple of weeks after that I was on the phone with Morgan, we were just catching up. She was still based in Hong Kong. And we were just like cracking up of like, if you think back over the last 25 years, how many people have we made billionaires? And like, are we ready?
Could now be the time that we're like, enough. It's time for us. Like it's now our time. Now with a mask over two decades of tool kits, the entire tool kit, right? The from product design, creative direction, fashion direction, marketing, branding. Again, that's not our specialty, but an understanding of a what we know well, how to do and what, what maybe are not our strengths.
How would you sort of describe the journey so far with that over the last nine years running The Vertical Collective?
We tested it on a few startups.
We were constantly morphing and understanding what can we could bring to these companies, Whether they're startups or established brands.
You're constantly building your own personal business model, your own personal sort of it's all, it's all moving.
And we never really stopped doing that, early on in the market,I would say the first year, year and a half, we kind of went down that path of, what we know best is, private label, white label… let's start selling to retailers, let's do things in our comfort zone, we're not ready to kind of take some big leaps and some big risks.
We've got to remember what we love to do most, which is, take risks, take leaps, do things differently, disrupt. That forced us to find these micro niches of companies selling product, making product, but in a different way.
And we kind of stumbled upon the subscription box sector and really became the formation of us truly working with brands only and direct to consumer companies that are data algorithm, marketing driven brands selling product and getting product into people's homes in a different way.
We're now to date in over 40 categories of product. Standing from apparel, home, lifestyle, you know, sporting goods, training, performance training all the way over to tactical. And we represent just over 150 factories globally.
And that number is constantly we're adding, we're adding all of the time.