2012 Trade Mission to Brazil: Muubaa

For Muubaa Chief Executive Stephen Sacks, his Santander Trade Mission to Brazil surpassed all expectations

Elite leather fashion brand Muubaa dresses some of the biggest stars on the planet and has a worldwide growth story that would make even its most successful rivals jealous. As you would expect from a business turning over £30 million and selling 25,000 garments a month to 20 countries around the world, Muubaa Chief Executive Stephen Sacks was sceptical about what he could possibly learn on the Breakthrough programme’s Trade Mission to Brazil.

But Stephen was pleasantly surprised when expectations were swept aside and replaced by what he describes as an “impressive” understanding of his business. He was also delighted by the amount of work carried out on his behalf in setting up useful meetings that resulted in a range of strong strategic contacts.

“I think the Breakthrough programme is the most innovative idea which I’ve seen a bank come up with in many years.” Stephen Sacks, Muubaa

Founded in 2007, Muubaa sells jackets and accessories that have been spotted on the likes of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and Charlize Theron, exactly the sort of people upon whom newly affluent young Brazilians want to model themselves. The fit was therefore perfect.

“It was an enormously positive trip,” says Stephen. “I appointed a showroom and we got stock out there immediately. We started a sales campaign and within a week-and-a-half we had already secured nine retail customers in Brazil.

“Brazil is a growing market, when many markets in Europe are not. But another huge benefit is that autumn happens for them at a different time during the year compared to the UK, which means we can sell frustrated inventory later at the premium price, which is a key profit-driver for us.”

Breaking in

Sacks had visited Brazil before and wanted to solidify some leads he’d created on the previous trip, including establishing a sales conduit for his brand. He also wanted to smooth out logistical problems implicit in trading with a developing nation thousands of miles away.

“The market has very high levels of import duty and is quite protectionist,” says Stephen. “I thought there was some clever way around this, but that wasn’t the case. I already had a very strong view about what I wanted out of the trip, so I didn’t expect to have my hand held throughout.”

Stephen was introduced to the Breakthrough programme through a business networking group and in no time at all was touching down in São Paulo. After meeting the other delegates and orientating himself with the city, what followed was a whirlwind of meetings with potential partners, suppliers and customers.

Stephen visited the showroom where he is already displaying products to Brazilian retailers along with other brands. “It’s a meeting place where we can all sell to retailers together,” he says. He also visited a number of logistics businesses and advisors who could help Muubaa deal with Brazil’s complicated customs rules. Then there was a PR company and a marketing agency, and a consultant working in the high-end fashion sector within Brazil who could help promote Muubaa across the country. He also met an e-commerce business to help sell duty-paid products to Brazilian consumers via the internet.

“If you get the opportunity to go on the Breakthrough programme I suggest you grab it with both hands, because it’s not often that someone will give you this opportunity with no downside.” Stephen Sacks, Muubaa

“I learned some new things on this trip that I hadn’t picked up from previous visits to Brazil,” admits Stephen. “They included the reality of the tax system affecting products being brought into the country. It turns out people do pay those prices! You have to charge considerably more for your product in Brazil, but consumers will pay it because that’s what your competitors are charging too.”

Understanding business 

“The Breakthrough trip exceeded my expectations in many different ways,” says Stephen. “I was impressed with the attitude of the other delegates on the trip and the people from the Breakthrough programme. They displayed an unusual level of understanding about entrepreneurs, and I was impressed by the level of work that was carried out on my behalf by the Consulate and UK Trade & Investment.”

The trip gave renewed impetus to Stephen’s business and he was inspired to plough forward with Muubaa’s international expansion, especially in developing markets where premium fashion is ever-more in demand.

This has opened Muubaa up to a vast number of new sales channels in Brazil and elsewhere, potentially elevating the company’s sales track record beyond its already impressive origins in Europe. “Going forward I have picked up contacts in South Africa looking at a similar deal there,” says Stephen. “I think it’s given me a renewed sense of ambition with regard to exploring other BRIC markets, specifically China.”

A positive contribution 

Stephen believes the Santander Trade Mission made an “enormously positive contribution” to his business in Latin America and that the Breakthrough team were forward-looking and brave in supporting his and other businesses. So would Stephen recommend the Breakthrough programme to other businesses, even those on his scale and with his scope for stellar growth? “I think the Breakthrough programme is the most innovative idea which I’ve seen a bank come up with in many years,” he says. “Banks sometimes create obstacles where entrepreneurs look for solutions. For a bank to come up with opportunities and present them to the entrepreneur and then leave the entrepreneur to follow up is really impressive. All I can say is that it’s enormously innovative.

“I would say to entrepreneurs if you have an opportunity to get off your backside and get into foreign markets then you should do that and you should be brave. If you get the opportunity to go on the Breakthrough programme I suggest you grab it with both hands, because it’s not often that someone will give you this opportunity with no downside. There’s only upside; just get out there and do it.”


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