What happens when you plan world domination with your little label, and a pandemic hits the world? Launching a new brand is a mean feat any day, but throw in a complete shut down with a life-threatening, infectious disease, and it’s a whole different ball game. We talk to three young and dynamic entrepreneurs about launching a label amid the pandemic. The trials, tribulations, and achievements are all a part of this journey, alongside entrepreneurial lessons that can help others in years to come. As a part of our #LSAforLocal campaign, we also talk about the brand’s approach and support to their artisans.
Take a flight of fantasy with Funky Maharani, a jewellery label that believes in creating uninhibited pieces. Founded by Hansika Jethnani and Steven Jhangiani, all products are made using 80% recycled brass by ethical suppliers and local artisans. Steven Jhangiani shares his pearls of wisdom from the launch.
Launch: Funky Maharani was conceptualised in January 2020. By March, I was back in Singapore, Hansika was in Mumbai, our jewellery designer in Ahmedabad, the karigars in Surat, and our packaging from Delhi and the world was shutting down. We had no idea if our little business would ever see the light of day. So, the biggest milestone for us was getting the business off the ground, but we pushed ahead.
Learnings: It has been hard to market a product that is so fresh and out of the ordinary. The opportunities that may be previously available to small businesses like us, such as pop-up events and fashion events, are non-existent now. We are trying to overcome those difficulties through online marketing and social media. However, nothing can replace in-person interactions. The greatest learning is that perseverance pays off.
LSAforLocal: Since we are not with our artisans, our support has been from afar. We have a coordinator on the ground looking out not just for brands but for the artisans’ well being. During the pandemic, many of our artisans were unable to work, but we did not look for alternative arrangements as that would deprive them of their livelihood. Furthermore, our artisans are all experts in precious metals (ours is not, it’s recycled brass), and during festival times, we have purposely taken a step back to ensure that they have time to work on more lucrative projects.
Lessons: You have to be 110% convinced of your product. Entering into a business is always risky, and, statistically, you’re more likely to fail than succeed. But failure mustn’t be the end; it is merely a stop on the way to success.
Born into a family that has led the handicraft movement in India, it was time that Vasundhara Kumar jumped onto the bandwagon. A former PR professional, Kumar created a home decor label in a bid to support the Indian craft legacy she has grown up in. Each piece at Eartthry tells a story and is created to preserve ancient craft, techniques, and livelihood of artisans with a modern, minimalistic aesthetic.
Launch: Starting a brand is a challenge on a regular Tuesday, but during the pandemic, it created a whole new world of challenges. For a brand like us, whose USP is upcycling handicraft items into a modern design, our biggest challenge was finding the right vendors to work with. We couldn’t travel to the places where you have to feel, touch, and see the items, so everything had to be done over the phone, on WhatsApp with images. I had to resort to drawing a lot as it was the only way to make my vendor understand what I wanted. Delivery was also an obstacle during the second wave. We are lucky to have clients who were extremely patient and waited for their orders to reach them.
Learnings: The only way to overcome obstacles is determination. Being an entrepreneur, I’m always learning from accounts to social media to production. The greatest learning is don’t give up. If something doesn’t sell immediately, it’s okay. I have an example of this moment, we created an entire range of boho-esque cushions inspired by Bali, the colour palette was neutral, but we launched them when the site launched in October, and not one sold. Even in home décor, there are seasons and come summer, we are almost sold out. Patience is key!
LSAforLocal: EARTTHRY was born out of the dire need to support local artisans, heritage, and encourage centuries-old craftsmanship that is now on the verge of extinction. This is our core mission and vision. We work with the same artisans whose family has worked with mine for generations. From supporting them financially to getting their families vaccinated and in general, showcasing their craft, we try and support them in every way we can.
Lessons: Only advice I can offer is don’t give up. Yes, it is hard, we have been hit badly, things are slow but at the end of this pandemic, we will all bounce back stronger. So maybe, use this time to put management and production in place, so that when the market really opens up, all your processes are smooth and efficient. Also creating strategies during this time is a good idea, the pandemic has taught us how to pivot.
In today’s fashion climate, it’s perhaps easier to launch but difficult to sustain. A fashion label taking space with its ‘less is more mantra’ is SP A C E that was started by designer duo Richa Mittal and Avni Behl. Contemporary, minimalistic, and tailored to perfection, we talk to Richa Mittal about claiming her spot.
Launch: Our agenda was to create awareness and acceptability for this new brand that has a different sense of fashion. When you start a concept-oriented brand, customer response is the foremost thing you look forward to evolving your business. Next, we had to have faith in our brand values. And we worked and will continue to work to keep the essence of the brand alive. ”This too shall pass” and touchwood, we have been getting a great response from our customers ever since the market opened.
Learnings: My learning so far is not to take a big leap and dilute your brand identity in the process, young brands come and go but what’s important is to work within your capacity and grow organically and sustain the brand for it to evolve.
LSAforLocal: We have a team of designers, tailors, helpers, coordinators working for us. And we continue to employ them and pay salaries with more effective measures, so we are sustainable for both the brand and its employees.
Lessons: When someone decides to launch a brand, it should serve to fill a void and a purpose, which needs to be encouraged. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself before starting any business. What’s Your Story? Who is Your Ideal Customer? What Pain Points Do You Solve? What Kind of Personality Do You Have? What is Your Competition? How Do You Make Your Clients Feel? How Are You Different? Why Do Your Clients Trust You?
All images: Courtesy brands.