Six months into 2020
March 17: We launched our website and our ‘Aamchi Mumbai’ collection.
March 18: I posted a whatsapp status, asking for Netflix/Amazon Prime recommendations, and announcing a 3-day (March 19 – March 21) break from work.
March 22: Lockdown was announced.
Little did I know that my 3-day break would extend to 3 months.
On December 31st, 2019, I had a sense of foreboding and awaited the arrival of 2020 with dread. Which is very uncharacteristic of me because I am an optimist and have been consistently excited on New Year’s Eve these last three years. But 2019 was a very difficult year for me so I was probably afraid that 2020 would also have nothing better to offer.
January 2020: The year started with good news. On January 6, we learned that our design patent application for our product -- the instant wear pocket saree – was approved a full nine months after application. For a day, I felt relieved and thought maybe I was wrong about 2020. My relief was short-lived. January was far more stressful and depressing for me than the lockdown has been. Thankfully, it passed and from February we continued with our work towards launching our website. Launching the website and our first collection was something we have been working towards for the last two years. Infrastructure, training, team, product, funding, everything to get to the day of launching our first collection.
March 2020: When the website was finally launched on March 17, I thought it was the best time to take a break and relax, which I needed and deserved so much. I spent the next three days watching Netflix, ticking off all the shows/movies on my list . I had switched off my phone and enjoyed what I love so much – Cinema.
Lockdown 1.0 was announced. At first, we didn’t realise the gravity of it but slowly we understood that the lockdown would only get extended and so would our overheads.
The immediate natural progression for clothing brands and businesses with a garment manufacturing set up was to make masks, PPE kits (for bigger players) and work from dresses.
To enable the production of all of this, the business needs to have an access to its team and factory. Here’s why we couldn’t do it:
- We are based out of Mumbai. Both my house and our factory are not just in a containment zone but also the highest risk zone. The lane in which we have our factory was repeatedly sealed. No access to the workplace.
- The two most essential people in a garment manufacturing unit are the master and the production manager. Both couldn’t travel to work because of the lockdown.
- As I mentioned, highest risk zone. It was just not wise to continue working and put everyone’s life at risk even if we could.
April 2020: Since there was no work, that meant no revenue, which meant no wages for our beneficiaries. Because we couldn’t pay wages, it was our responsibility to see to it that they have ration in their homes. We tried to arrange for this with the help of our friends. Along with the women who work with us, we were able to arrange two months’ dry ration for 70 families and also distributed masks to the BMC.
Along with this, we also tried to look for bulk orders for masks to generate revenue during the lockdown. We planned to route it through a friend’s unit who was able to continue his production work because his workers lived in his factory and he was not in a containment zone.
May & June 2020:
The busiest months of the lockdown. Let me elaborate on all that came out of it:
1- New Team Member - We had posted a recruitment ad and after a month of scanning through applications and multiple interviews, on-boarded Prachiti, as our core team member, thus continuing our ttradition of choosing a great team member. She fit in like a piece of a puzzle.
2- Partnership with Enactus – Enactus is a student-run organization which takes entrepreneurial action to create a better world. This partnership added ten more talented people to the team. Having a team accelerates the work so much. Our social media looks better than before and there are more people to pitch new ideas. Earlier, it was just Simone and I managing everything and things would get delayed. That doesn’t happen any longer.
3- Partnerships with NGOs – This has actually helped us scale. What would probably had taken us 5 years to do can be done in the next 6 months. Why didn’t we think of this before?!
4- Fashion Assistant Service – This initiative will again help us scale. This was inspired by the live online classes which schools are forced to take because of the lockdown. We were providing doorstep measurement services in Mumbai and aspired to provide it in all major cities. We thought this would take us at least three years but not anymore. We are hoping to do it this year itself. Women anywhere in India can take up a 50-day online course with us and become certified fashion assistants with Aseem. They can also generate leads and earn as much as they can. We can create our own sales force. This project is big and perhaps merits its own article. . Again, why didn’t we think of this before?!
5- Online retail partnerships – We listed our brand with Myntra, Flipkart, Amazon, Nykaa etc.
6- Brand Collaborations – We collaborated with some brands which help us reach out to each other’s customers, create awareness about our brands and add value to each other’s customers lives. My most favorite partnership is with Inaayat and Revastra which we will soon be announcing. Stay Tuned 😉
We were working on some more government partnerships which did not convert because of lack of funds. Surprised to know that government partnerships too require a huge fee to be paid.
7- Individual Collaborations: We got in touch with some awesome people who actually made points 3 &4 possible rapidly. A BIG THANK YOU TO THEM.
8- Logistics- As our business model changed, our logistic requirements changed, too. As now we have a team we have been able to find a logistic partner who suits our unique requirements.
9- Bio-degradable packaging solution – Being a sustainable brand we struggled to find an eco-friendly packaging option which would be suitable for the monsoon season as well. Our awesome team from Enactus solved this problem for us. Yay! I would highly recommend all the social enterprises with a small team to get in touch with an Enactus near you.
10- Designing Next Collection – Yes, we are working on our next collection. Told ya - optimist!
11- Resuming operations-On June 8, Unlockdown 1.0 was announced. On June 14, when there were no new cases in our factory lane, I went to see the unit and met some of our women who lived nearby. They were asking me to start making masks because that’s all that we can make without our master and production manager. I was not in favor of it but after seeing how badly they wanted to come back to work and after they convinced me not to worry about their safety, I arranged for a no-touch sanitizer stand, thermal gun to check temperature every day, gloves, face shields, disinfectants etc. so that they can take all the necessary precautions and follow the WHO guidelines. They cleaned and sanitized the entire unit themselves. On June 22nd, I was surprised to learn from my production manager that the women did not just make designer masks which they learned from YouTube but also made some six dozen masks and SOLD THEM in shops nearby. They divided the designing, sampling, production and sales work among them. We are all so proud of them!
12-Investor Hunt – Last but not the least, the mother of all. This takes most of my time. Working on the pitch deck, projections, and looking for investors. I would really like to apologize to all those I might have spammed last month asking for connects. I am sorry, please don’t block me. :P #startuplife
We have something exciting going on here but it is too soon to talk about it. Let’s just hope for the best. That being said, if you’re reading this and can help us with raising funds or connect us with those who can, please get in touch. The hunt is on.😊
That’s all. There are still six more months for 2020 to end. Hope to come back with lots more exciting stuff. Till then, stay safe!