Many of our community members at SUSS run small businesses. They’re entrepreneurs who chose to start sustainable fashion businesses because they want to change the fashion industry from the inside, for good. Trying to run a business with purpose and sustainability at its core, is itself a humongous, complex task.
As COVID-19 takes an unprecedented toll on our lives and businesses, we turn to them and ask — “How are you coping?” “What is at the top of your mind right now?” “What lessons can others draw from your company?”, and above all “How can small businesses build resilience?”
In this blog post, we highlight themes that emerged from conversations with five such entrepreneurs from our community.
First, check how you’re doing.
At the beginning of our conversation, Zoya expressed the shock she went through when Covid-19 struck and all plans “vanished.” And how this shock was felt at a deeper, individual level too.
According to Apurva, “You have to be okay yourself before you can help others.” For Apurva, this means looking inwards and coming face to face with one’s anxieties, and embracing FUD. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.
Then check how your business is doing.
Unsurprisingly, everyone spoke of declining sales, in worst cases predicting zero sales for the next six months. Liquidity continues to be the biggest challenge. According to Yuktie, banks are hesitating to give loans as they’re not sure when brands will be able to pay, despite fixed collaterals. Their suggestion?
Cut down non essential costs, such as advertisements. See whether rent, if any, can be waived off for your store or any other physical location for some time.
Tap into your loyal customers with pre-buy and gift vouchers.
Asha is asking customers to pay in advance for orders and also thinking of digital products (such as magazines and online events) to raise funds to pre-pay her employees’ salaries. Kosha has launched shopping vouchers, valid for the next 24 months. No Nasties and Aslee have been actively asking their followers on social media to #prebuylocal as much as possible, including their own brands.
When other avenues seem shut, turn to your customer base to help you raise funds.
Be open with your employees and prepare them for the future.
Swara paid an advance salary to all six women they employ in Dungapur, Rajasthan for the next one month.
On day 1 of the lockdown in India, Uma told her team of 50 that their salaries will be fully paid. However after an extension of the lockdown, they all had to take a 50% salary cut. Laying off though is not an option for Uma and her team knows that.
Yuktie too shares similar principles. Kosha’s store staff is taking online classes to upskill their knowledge of materials used in Kosha’s products. She’s also asking them to reimagine their role as the company prepares for a predominantly e-commerce sales future and frequently checks in with them.
Support your supply chain and community partners.
Kosha made goodwill calls to 300 online customers to ask how they’re doing and is going to use the money raised from their shopping vouchers to support their team and 350 factory workers. Similarly, to ease their factory (Rajlakshmi Cotton Mill) and Fabric Supplier’s (Chetna Organic), cash crunch, No Nasties pre paid for all their orders. Upasana gave some advance money to anyone who needed it in their team or supply chain.
See what you can do to help, now.
The women’s collective Swara works with in Kerala is already making masks in partnership with the government, and Asha wants to explore this for the women in Dungarpur as well. Upasana is making “healing masks” as an alternative to single use medical masks. Aslee too is working with their community partners to repurpose the Hemp and Bamboo fabrics and make masks that are naturally bacteria-resistant. These are organic and reusable masks with neem dye and silver threads. No Nasties is using their reach to raise funds for Goa Outreach — an NGO feeding migrant workers in Goa.
Go back to your ‘why’ and use your brand voice to do good.
In Apurva’s words, No Nasties started “to create consumer awareness and give a practical solution to the sustainability problem in fashion.” And today he has asked his team of six to go back to the drawing board and use this time to reflect on this purpose. Think of ways for No Nasties to fulfill that purpose in this new normal. Strategize now for the future.The ultimate goal of Swara has always been to support the women who make our clothes, which is why prepaying the women who work for them is a no brainer.
Upasana is participating in The Gratitude Cake project where the people of Auroville are making cakes for healthcare workers. Kosha is organizing online Yoga and home composting classes. They see Yoga as an extension of the meaning of the word Kosha itself (discovering the self) and home composting as an extension to their clothing repair shop and low waste e-commerce packaging.
In Zoya’s words, “It’s not just about fashion and lifestyle. We want people to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and part of that is to build a better life for everyone around you.”
This is why Aslee is organizing a month of gratitude, asking people to share what they’re grateful for and also highlighting issues exacerbated in this lockdown such as domestic violence.
Above all, be genuine, be kind (including to yourself!)
Be authentic in your communication. Make your mental health a priority and put mental health at the center of any conversation with your employees. Think through how you can stay relevant and contribute to the conversation. In Apurva’s words, “Every small business is in a different position. Find a place where you can help and do whatever small bit you can.”
SUSS is a community to move the needle on sustainable fashion in India. You can learn more about us at here.
This article is written by Lavanya Garg, Co-founder, SUSS. The visuals have been designed by Muskaan Gupta, Design and Communications Co-ordinator, SUSS.