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2 May 2017 - Merle Burghart

ACSK Clothing: The cosmopolitan clothing company taking a stand against fast fashion

Startups
How a group of students at Bremen’s Jacobs University found their way into the textile industry

Ahmed Cheema and Stefan Kuzmanovski, co-founders and co-directors of ACSK Clothing OHG
Ahmed Cheema and Stefan Kuzmanovski, co-founders and co-directors of ACSK Clothing OHG © ACSK Clothing oHG

ACSK Clothing’s self-proclaimed mission is to bring about a revolution in the textile industry. Together, the young entrepreneurs Ahmed Cheema and Stefan Kuzmanovski want to make sustainable manufacturing and the use of ethically sourced materials standard practice.


Three continents, four countries, and Bremen at the centre of it all – a start-up could hardly be more international. Its two founders got to know each other as students at Jacobs University in Bremen. Nowadays, they are separated by a time difference of twelve hours, managing a company that has sites in Macedonia, Pakistan and Germany. Ahmed Cheema is responsible for the manufacturing operations in Pakistan. Stefan Kuzmanovski, on the other hand, is currently studying for a Master’s degree at Yale University in the USA. From there, he oversees the company’s premises in Macedonia, aided by another staff member on site. Their colleague Franziska Pohle, the third managing director of the business, is based in Bremen.

“It’s a great challenge, albeit a very interesting one, to operate across multiple continents,” admits Cheema. Particularly so for a start-up that has to make a name for itself in an industry dominated by some long-established companies. Nevertheless, the time difference can be an advantage. “We’re in business 24/7. There’s always one of us who’s awake and can be reached – any time, any day of the week,” he quips.


There’s no place like home

Jacobs University’s campus in the north of Bremen has played host to ACSK Clothing since January 2016. The decision to base the company’s operations here was no accident – after all, the campus had been home to the graduates-turned-directors for three years. In other words, this is where it all began. “Setting up an office here just felt like the natural thing to do,” Kuzmanovski explains. Germany’s increasing interest in sustainability was another good reason for basing themselves here.

By establishing company sites in their home countries of Pakistan and Macedonia, Cheema and Kuzmanovski have been able to personally monitor the quality of the goods on the premises themselves. They guarantee their customers clothing that has been sustainably produced from ethically sourced materials.

Creation of merchandise for Jacobs University’s campus in Bremen
ACSK Clothing’s operations began with the creation of merchandise for Jacobs University’s campus in Bremen © ACSK Clothing oHG

When Stefan Kuzmanovski and Ahmed Cheema began their studies at Jacobs University, they had no idea that they would soon become business managers in the textile industry. As they recall, the idea came about by chance, while they were working for their residential college’s administrative team. Looking for a creative way to promote their college, they ended up creating their first hoodie. They didn’t have much in the way of previous experience, although Cheema had some prior knowledge of manufacturing that he’d gained from his family’s offset printing business in Pakistan, plus the analytical skills he was also developing through his studies in computer science and electrical engineering.

We were incredibly fascinated to learn about how clothes are made. You could say we literally ‘followed the thread’ all the way to the finished article of clothing.


                                                 Stefan Kuzmanovski, co-founder and co-director of ACSK Clothing OHG

Hats off to Bremen’s support services

How do you go about creating a company from scratch? A little help and advice goes a long way, as Kuzmanovski explains. “We had a tremendous amount of support from our mentor at Jacobs University, Alexander Ziegler-Jöns, who is a businessman himself and has considerable experience in the field of technology transfer. He kept an eye on our progress while we were developing our ideas. Manuel Kühn from Bremeninvest’s welcome service was also a great help to us.” The welcome service supported ACSK Clothing throughout the company registration process, guiding them through the labyrinth of German company law. Whether at the tax office or the chamber of commerce, the service was always able to put them in touch with the right people. Among other things, they had to create a business plan, sort out tax issues and apply for work permits.

Bremen is a brilliant place for start-ups, offering an excellent range of resources for young entrepreneurs. All you need is an idea and the perseverance to see it through!


                           Ahmed Cheema, co-founder and co-director of ACSK Clothing OHG

Bremen’s welcome service assists international entrepreneurs looking to start a business
Bremen’s welcome service assists international entrepreneurs looking to start a business © Bremeninvest/Jens Lehmkühler

ACSK Clothing’s products are not available at retail outlets, as the business manufactures and sells items of clothing used in merchandising and corporate branding. Examples include personalised hoodies for university shops, sportswear for company marathons, and uniform polo shirts for medical practice personnel.

The start-up has already managed to attract a number of significant customers. In addition to undertaking various merchandise contracts for Jacobs University in Bremen and Yale University in the USA, the company has produced items for the international IT corporation Nimble Storage, which made use of their corporate design service for its exhibition wear. “We mainly work with pioneers in the field of sustainability, who are conscious that the clothes their employees wear make a clear statement about their business and their brand,” Kuzmanovski explains.


Fair trade instead of fast fashion

ACSK Clothing wants to take a stand against the fast fashion industry, and the culture of disposable fashion in general. “The core competency of our business contrasts with these approaches, in the way that we use sustainable production methods and ensure our materials are ethically sourced,” says Kuzmanovski. Since June 2016, ACSK Clothing has been a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which guarantees that the products and manufacturing processes fully adhere to ethical standards. In addition, there is full disclosure of the lifecycle assessment of the goods. “This allows our customers to see how much they reduce their ecological footprint by choosing us as a partner. The carbon footprint of our products is around 10 to 15 per cent lower than that of our competitors,” Kuzmanovski proudly declares.

Once the business has been fully established, the two plan to return to Bremen and take up permanent residence there. No more time difference, no more business trips to Germany – just working from Bremen, 24/7.

Bremen welcomes you, ACSK Clothing!


Follow this link for our additional article on ‘Cutting through red tape with our welcome service’.

If you’re looking to find out more about the welcome service and the support it provides, click here for all the information you need.

For any other questions relating to the welcome service, you can also contact Manuel Kühn, Tel.: +49 (0)421 163 399 477.

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