How these fashion entrepreneurs won a 4-month competition for a $100,000 investment

CadetCadetCadet cofounders Brad Schmidt and Raul Arevalo.

In 2011, Bradley Schmidt and Raúl Arévalo decided all signs were pointing them toward starting their own retail business.

The couple had been living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, since 2007, and after a wave of gentrification and media buzz around the restaurants and shops that followed, the neighbourhood was becoming synonymous with cool in New York.

The shift was coinciding with the rise of the “Made in America” movement linking American manufacturing with quality and the feel-good support of local jobs. Plus, Schmidt was approaching 40 and Arévalo his mid-40s. “We thought if we want to do something entrepreneurial, we had to do it then or never,” Schmidt said.

They dug into their life savings and with about $US150,000 opened a high-end menswear factory for their brand Cadet in neighbouring Bushwick, followed by a small Williamsburg retail location in April 2012. They have invested about $US300,000 of their own money into the company.

Three-and-a-half years later, Cadet is one of the hottest startup high-fashion labels in the US, with celebrity fans like Ben Stiller, Usher, Nick Jonas, and Anna Wintour. They’re on track to bring in $US1 million in gross revenue this year via online sales and three brick-and-mortar locations, and last week they won a four-month-long fashion startup competition for a $US100,000 investment and announced a special relationship with Amazon that will begin next spring.

The competition, Design Entrepreneurs NYC, was the fourth annual joint venture from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Cadet was one of 25 finalists chosen for this year’s program, which consisted of three crash-course weekends in June about how to run a high-fashion retail business, the rest of the summer to develop a business plan in tandem with industry experts, and then a round of pitching to a panel of experts on Oct. 1.

The panel included executives from companies like giant fashion conglomerate G-III, Saks Fifth Avenue, and HSBC, and judged each company’s potential to grow based on a 10-minute pitch that served as the culmination of the prior four months.

CadetCourtesy of Brad SchmidtCadet’s Williamsburg outlet opened to a line of customers in April 2014.

Schmidt gave a confident and engaging performance that clearly outlined how the company has developed a unique and noteworthy look and why they’d put the prize money to better use than their competitors. He told the panel how Cadet’s military-inspired yet sophisticated aesthetic found an audience with affluent, hip consumers who appreciated that the label was born and developed in Brooklyn and that they were approaching $US1 million in sales this year almost entirely through buzz in the fashion world.

They had established a solid foundation in three of four elements of their business — retail, e-commerce, and off-price offerings — and would use the investment and the accompanying mentorship to make a push into major retailers like Saks and Barney’s. “We want to be firing on all four cylinders,” Schmidt said.

The Design Entrepreneurs competition was just a warm up. Next spring, Schmidt and Arévalo will appear in the upcoming Amazon Prime series “The Fashion Fund,” a reality show competition produced by Condé Nast Entertainment and Break Thru Films where 10 companies compete for $US400,000 under the watch of judges Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg. To accompany the series, there will be a major Amazon Fashion initiative where customers can browse special offerings from each of the 10 competing labels.

Earlier this year Amazon began a strong push to establish Amazon Fashion, the part of its site that sells items from the world’s premier luxury labels, as a premier destination for trendy, affluent shoppers. It hopes that serving as a platform for upstart luxe brands like Cadet next year will help establish its credibility in the fashion community.

When we asked Schmidt about his long-term vision for his company, he said the Design Entrepreneurs NYC program forced him and Arévalo to figure out they wanted Cadet to be. They realised that they want it to be mentioned alongside icons like Burberry and Polo Ralph Lauren, and to grow beyond just menswear.

“We really want to be the next great American brand,” he said.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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