This week, Iowa-based entrepreneur Russel Karim celebrated his graduation from the Nasdaq Milestone Makers program in New York City. The 2022 cohort of Milestone Makers focused on sustainability and climate action, issues that are important to Karim and central to his new company, Dhakai. Karim was honored to represent the Iowa startup community on a national scale, as well as get the chance to advertise Dhakai’s sustainable sourcing approach in Times Square.
It’s not every day that you find a CEO as personally invested in their company as Karim. Growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Karim’s childhood was centered around clothing production. His parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, and mentors were all involved in the clothing supply chain. Home to over 6,000 textile factories, Bangladesh is one of the world’s hubs for fashion production, and Karim grew up seeing not only the incredible scope, but also the immense harm that was caused to his friends, family, and home from the exploitation and mistreatment of workers in the fashion industry. The formative experiences made in Bangladesh led Karim to form Dhakai, an online marketplace that helps brands match with sustainable and ethical manufacturers.
Under Karim’s leadership, Dhakai has set an example in the industry for how to identify and connect compliant manufacturers to small to midsize clothing brands. Dhakai uses a four step process to vet manufacturers, and then works with companies to match needs and desires to find the right factory for them. Its compliance process includes collaboration with international textile associations, sustainability initiatives, and workers’ rights non-profits. Brands working through Dhakai can be certain that their clothing is being produced in an environmentally conscious way, at no personal expense to factory workers.
While a central principle of Dhakai concerns the conditions of workers on the production side of things, the company also wants to ensure that brand owners have the most empowering and straightforward experience possible. The Dhakai team works closely with clients to ensure that the owner’s vision is fully understood. Brands with niche markets such as Erica Cole of No Limbits and Stephanie and Kameron Brooks of The Charlotte Letter are drawn to Dhakai due to this attentiveness.
“Dhakai is more than a company,” said Brooks, “they truly believe in your vision and want to help you become as successful as possible.”
It’s common for small to midsize brands to feel lost in the fashion industry. So many intermediaries have popped up between brands and manufacturers that it's hard to find a factory to work with at all, let alone a sustainable one that treats its workers well. Dhakai’s goal is to streamline and simplify—brands can follow a simple set of steps to find the right materials, methods, and production needs to bring their product to life. On top of this, by standing in for intermediaries, Dhakai reduces cost by up to 30%, allowing brands to get a better, more sustainable product for less.
Karim acknowledged that trying to make the fashion industry more sustainable is a daunting task, and he doesn’t claim that Dhakai has it completely figured out. Dhakai’s mission is to bring equity, transparency, and sustainability to the clothing production process, and Karim hopes that through these goals his company can become a part of the change in the industry. Karim invites brand owners who are looking to be a part of the sustainability movement to work together with Dhakai, and join him on the path to change.
In 2018, Erica Cole was involved in a car accident that resulted in the loss of her leg. After her accident, she embarked on a journey to create a pair of stylish jeans that fit over her new prosthetic leg. After working with Dhakai, she now has two lines of jeans for amputees, with much more on the way including a sensory sensitivity and wheelchair-adaptive line. Check out her shop HERE.
Kameron and Stephanie Brooks are parents to a daughter diagnosed with cerebral palsy who requires a feeding tube. The parents found normal children’s clothing inconvenient when managing their daughter’s feeding tube, so they founded The Charlotte Letter, an adaptive clothing brand for kids. With Dhakai, they were able to make a specialized clothing design that allows easy access to feeding tubes and diapers, and takes into account children’s fashion and style choices. Shop adaptive rompers, jackets, and much more at HERE.