There are brands who create fashion for the masses and those who target the elite. Somewhere in between, two handsome and business-savvy men decided to focus on the artisans and one extraordinary product: cashmere. By infusing the two together, they introduced MONK.
It was during their travel to Tulum, Mexico while at The Wharton School when Rabindra Shrestha and Harris Atmar met. A couple of mutual friends and two cocktails later, they eventually ended up co-founding MONK Collection, a new way of wearing cashmere, sourced straight from Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.
Back to B-School
Rabindra’s upbringing in Nepal surrounded by pure cashmere or “Fabric of Emperors” made him want to start a company that celebrated the renowned craftsmanship. After graduating with an undergrad degree in Economics from Stanford University in 2008, Rabindra was ready to take on the world as an MBA grad. On the other hand, Harris was brought up in Dubai and graduated from University of Pennsylvania with a double major in Economics and Consumer Psychology in 2011. His work stint at McKinsey & Company took him to Dubai, London and eventually landed him a post-graduate sponsorship.
“We write stories about the process of making the product.”
Rabindra tracks back to where it all began, saying, “being in school gave us some time so we started off doing research and brainstorming the branding and ethos. Although neither of us have design backgrounds, we both have a similar style and aesthetic so coming up with the initial designs was easy.” During the months that followed, they realized that the brand’s ethos was that everything was made by hand.
Indeed, that is what differentiates MONK from other direct-to-consumer brands. Everything you see and touch is hand made. The collection is hand woven or hand spun, the product tags are hand-printed on handmade paper, the buttons have carvings and the packaging is constructed by hand with handmade paper. “We tell stories of the people who make our products and their processes, that have been passed down generations.”
“We wanted to make a business case for the brand in terms of messaging, branding, and economics.”
Like many post-grad students who are trained via real-life case studies, Harris and Rabindra wanted to make a case for their own brand. So, they started by bringing their vision to life. Harris tells us, “we created digital mood boards to streamline our thoughts. This was helpful because it made us realize what we wanted our focus to be. Then, we worked with 2-3 fashion designers in Philadelphia and New York to bring the vision on paper. We had a lot of learning upfront. For example, the basics of communicating with the designers. They thought we were crazy sometimes because of what we were asking them to do.”
As part of an entrepreneurship course, the two founders set out to actually bring MONK to reality. While there were traditional (think grandpa type sweaters) and modern (think Club Monaco) companies incorporating cashmere and knitwear in their lines, no one was solely working with good and modern cashmere. Boom, MONK became economically attractive and officially launched in October 2015.
Authenticity Goes Far
MONK has witnessed many hurdles such as visa issues (Rabindra proudly speaks about his Nepali passport and how it’s ranked as one of the last passports that is accepted worldwide) as well as emergencies (when Daily Pnut ran a promo ad making the team work till last minute to get the website running). Don’t worry, they celebrated at a bar right after the email went out!
“You have to deal with the ups and downs in a way that b-school doesn’t teach you.”
As Harris returns to McKinsey & Company with a slight touch on MONK, Rabindra reflects back on their learnings. “At Wharton, they told us about collaborating with international profiles. But, it wasn’t until we started our company that we realized how important it is to understand the nature in which you deal with people. How you manage long-term relationships and deal with the highs and lows of your business is learned by actually doing the work or in our case, carrying boxes of inventory across workshops.”
The key takeaway, per Harris, was “knowing that you have to prepare yourself that something may not work out. There were days when we were certain that ‘it was over!’ yet, we decided to move on and try something different. While we were taught in b-school that there is structure to everything, we realized that when you get down to business, it’s tough to keep that structure.”
For the Love of Cashmere and Craftsmanship
The collection today includes both menswear and womenswear. The price ranges between $130-$150 for scarves, $195 for V-neck sweaters, $380 for cardigans and $400 for hand woven and hand spun throws. Interestingly enough, they thought their target audience was the new generation of shoppers who wouldn’t really care to buy a Brunello Cucinelli sweater. Yet, their recent customers include a woman who bought a MONK sweater for her 55-year old husband. Lesson learned: it’s hard to do target segmentation.
Another realization was the fact that the most important aspect of purchasing a MONK product was to feel the quality of the product. “Ecommerce by definition means that one has to be comfortable with buying online. But, we kept hearing from our friends and family that they wanted to touch the material.” In response, Monk hosted an intimate event and began retailing at Public Factory in New York. The team will be soon be introducing a home collection, more women focused products including a one size fits all sweater and expanding their retail presence.
A perfect way to say hello to the fall season, here’s your chance to celebrate craftsmanship with MONK. Use promo code: radiche for 30% off on all orders. Happy shopping!
Photo courtesy of MONK.