Mass Customization, Mystery Developers, and Men’s Shirts: Blank Label Returns to Boston

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Blank Label’s suppliers. Wong and Harrison followed suit, moving to Shanghai last June—and essentially moving the company out of Boston. These guys are all in their early 20s (Wong is just 20) and have been living the frantic startup and expat lifestyle, with the added wrinkle of building a company with remote people around the world.

“We were all on really wacky schedules, but were still able to catch each other when we needed to talk,” Wong says.

Fast forward to 2011, and the business is still a work in progress—but it is making progress. Over the past year, the company has had weekly revenues between $1,000 or less and $100,000, depending on the week (I’m guessing a lot more of the former than the latter). Blank Label has nine employees worldwide—four in Shanghai, two in Pakistan, and three in the U.S., including Bi, the CEO, who’s back in Boston. He is currently on a one-year U.S. visa, and is waiting to see if the proposed Startup Visa Act gets signed into law—though the controversial bill requires foreign-born entrepreneurs to raise a certain amount of venture capital or angel investment in order to stay in the country.

On that front, Blank Label is looking to raise a seed financing round from U.S. investors over the next few months, Wong says, but the company is “not pushing aggressively” yet. More important, he says, is to “build out the product experience, both physical and online” and to acquire more customers through word of mouth and marketing.

This month the company rolled out a luxury brand called Thread Tradition, which is geared toward corporate businessmen who are willing to pay more than the $50 or $60 per shirt typically spent on the site. Blank Label is also looking at future directions such as branching out into selling suits, pants, ties, and possibly women’s dress shirts; up to this point, the site has been geared to men only. But for now, Wong acknowledges, “We need to find a way to make the [core] business really work.”

So what will become of this plucky startup? If nothing else, there will be some important lessons learned by a team of young, ambitious entrepreneurs who have a truly global perspective—and who think the Boston area is worth coming back to if you want to build a successful company. You can hear more from Fan Bi tonight when he speaks at an MIT Enterprise Forum event on mass customization—a cluster that is well represented in Boston.

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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