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The Vision and Story Behind SA VA's Growing Success

Sarah Van Aken bucked the trend and moved her entire clothing business stateside--and it’s paying off.

  • By Jordan Shapiro
  • June 13, 2013

Do you do your own manufacturing?

We cut all of the garments in-house and make samples in our own facility. We outsource our sewing to other local factories that specialize in different products. 

What have you learned along the way?

My current favorite saying comes from one of my new investors: 'No sales, no chance.' So true. 

Also: Don’t underestimate the importance of experience and maintaining institutional knowledge. Turnover can be very expensive. Long-term employees have a knowledge of my business that is hard to teach through training. I’ve learned that the value of that knowledge is very high.   

Another lesson is that having great mentors is crucial. I tend to find people who are experts on what I need to know at the moment. Then I rope them in. 

What financial lessons have you learned?

It's better when I'm not the bookkeeper! I’ve learned a lot about cash flow, financing deals both through debt and equity investment. The most important things I’ve learned are the small things about the impact of inventory turn and margin. For instance, we did a lot of private label work at one point. We designed and manufactured stuff that was branded and sold by a small independent retailer. It brought in cash rapidly but, capacity-wise, it took up a lot of production space and we made smaller margins on it. It works best when we sell our own goods.

Is SA VA profitable?

We were approaching break even and then raised almost half a million dollars in capital from private individuals and angel investors. I tend to hand-pick investors I want to be actively engaged in the business. I want more than just cash. I want mentors. 

What does success mean for you?

Sometimes it is just about designing a stunning dress that people love.

Or, creating customer loyalty: Last Saturday, this woman was hurrying by the store with her family. Suddenly, she stops and drags them all inside just to tell them that SA VA is her favorite store. That kind of validation is awesome.

But success ultimately means the brand and company continue grow, which in turn, also means that we’re creating jobs, doing good, and having an impact.

Visit SA VA here: http://shop.savafashion.com