Lockdown Economy Lebanon in a Crochet Fashion with Nada Khoury
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Tapasya Das
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Maisaa Sarkis, we meet Nada Khoury, Founder of Crochet by Chaton, Crochet fashion, in Lebanon. With just, a just simple requirement, a ball of thread or wool and a hook to pull one stitch through the other, crochet can fade out the chaos of the daily life and uncertainty in the new normality. As the lockdown gets extended in some countries, including Lebanon, Nada Khoury, founder of Crochet by Chaton, has discovered that her hobby for crafts and art that started a couple of years have turned into a family business during the pandemic. Few handmade items and accessories that were made by Nada for her inner circle, friends and gifts to family members and friends have reached wider a network through the social media and her creations recently have become a personal expression and business opportunity that has a number of clients hooked. A popular item among the creations was a handmade crochet bag that can be customized upon request. As a next step, Nada is looking across Lebanon with young Lebanese talents and skills to collaborate for crochet projects. Today as people stay home more, maintaining social distance, discovering new skills and hobbies communities will begin to recover.
Can you please tell me what you do and how long have you been doing it?
Nada: I make handmade crochet fashion items. And as you said before, I am based in a village near Beirut in Lebanon. I have been doing this as a hobby for a couple of years, maybe less. It started as a business actually during the pandemic.
So your business was a result of many people who were forced to a reality to go back and maybe leave their career and go work from home. And your work started from home delivering fashion designs, which we’ll talk about in a bit, to the people in Lebanon. So how many employees do you have right now and who is helping you in business?
Nada: I cannot use the word “employees” but actually they are. We are five people in the business. Myself, my daughter, my son, Vicky Mussalleh, the village tailor and Hannah, a friend of mine who helps with the crochet work. I taught her how to crochet so that she can help. I sometimes do the base if we have lots of orders and she continues with the crochet. My son installs the handles since they are made of wood and they need hard work. He also takes care of most of the delivery and not all of it. My daughter takes care of social media handles. So we are actually five in the business with two unpaid employees.
So can I say that it is a family and friends business?
Nada: Yes, it is a family business
Did you have clients in the beginning who encouraged you to go on this venture and start the business?
Nada: Actually crochet is my hobby. So it started during the lockdown as doing stuff for my friends or souvenirs for my family members. And then I started getting orders out of nowhere. I had my Instagram page but it was mostly just for posting my creations. And bit by bit I started getting orders. In the beginning, it was a bit weird that I was selling my stuff as I wasn’t used to it. It was scary, to be honest, but eventually, it started evolving. It boomed in September when I started doing the bags and that was a turning point on my Instagram page. I started getting all those orders and the business started without us realising that it’s happening.
So I can say that you tried the business model, that you tried to attract customers without even knowing that it was a design of a bag, which is a crochet hand knitted bag?
Nada: Yes, in the beginning, it was a bag for my mom. I also got one for myself and my sister. Then we posted them on Instagram and I started getting orders from people I didn’t know. So the hardest part was pricing them because I’m not in this field. (So the hardest part was how to price my items.)
How do you try to stimulate the business and attract customers?
Nada: Since September, I have been trying to enhance this business by getting help from Lebanese influencers, models, local businesses who help other businesses, family members and the media. The media was my main way to attract customers. I also attracted customers through sponsors on Instagram and Facebook
So I can say the digital world was behind all that and it played an important role in your business, allowing your designs to reach the clients despite the lockdown. Even though people can’t go out from their home, they would be able to see reach out to you through the social media platforms. There is always a business at trial and the things that we try might not work. So if I may ask, what are those things that worked for you and what didn’t work for the business that you were running?
Nada: Would you please tell me in what sense?
I mean your approach. You might try for example to reach someone by a design. So what kind of design worked for the client or what didn’t work for you?
Nada: I can tell you what really worked and those were the bags. The bags are items that do not need to be bought in-person. They can be bought without being tried on and there are no sizes. Creating the swimsuits was hard as I had to see the client more than once. That was a bit hard on me and on the customers because of the pandemic. So that wasn’t a success in my opinion, because of this hindrance. But with the bags, it was so much easier because there’s no actual physical contact between me and the customer. So they see the bags, sometimes they ask for a short video and I take a video of the bag and of the details for them. So anything that can be done through platforms like WhatsApp is easy for me. But the hard thing is to see the customer in person.
I can imagine that when you don’t have face-to-face interaction, getting to know a person and their style would be perhaps a disadvantage. But on the other hand, the social media platforms have broadened that and have given you access to see the client’s preference from a different lens. So I can say that you turn the arts similar to crochet and knitting to make sense in the chaos of the lockdown around you. So how’s your business going so far?
Nada: It is moving steadily. I’m surprised that it is going in that way in this situation. I didn’t think that people would be interested to buy things. Especially now when Christmas is coming up soon, people started comparing the prices on my page to actual prices in the malls. There was a difference. I was cheaper than malls because I don’t have the overheads, a shop or ads on the item. So, the business, I can say is booming now at this moment. But I know that it will go slower in January. I’m sure of this.
I’m sure that with your designs and your creativity, you will be able to present something new. I cannot wait to see the designs that you might have for us after January. So if I am a customer, I would be holding something tangible in my hand while uncertainty is everywhere. Do you know how your customers are doing and how the competition is? How do you reach your customers and the competition in the market? You mentioned a little bit earlier that customers started to compare your models with competitors.
Nada: I must mention the case with online competitors. The competitors on the media had stocked yarn from before. In Lebanon, we are having economical crises and the yarn prices have raised in a crazy way. So crocheters who started this business years ago had stocked yarn and they can sell at a rate cheaper than mine. I’m buying the yarn now at a high rate. So I’m not competing with the Instagram pages. I compete with shops in the malls where they import their goods from abroad. I am much cheaper than those. This is how I compare the market. As for Instagram, each designer has a price. Some are cheaper and some are more expensive. As for how my customers are doing, I must accept that I know very few of my customers. My kids know them more because my daughter talks to them and my son delivers sometimes. But some of them became friends and few of them even became close friends. I cannot tell exactly how they are doing. But when a lady can afford to buy a bag nowadays, one can infer that they’re doing fine, average, below average or above average.
Are your designs still encouraging them to buy and take this accessory?
Nada: I have a few customers who buy every design I post.
So they are fashionistas or they still love fashion despite everything around.
Nada: Yes, I have a lady who told me last week that she has a closet full of bags. She’s going to add another closet, name it “Chaton” and put only my bags in it.
How do you feel after receiving similar comments or feedback?
Nada: I feel so proud and happy. My customer is the world to me. I always ask my customers to tell me their feedback and if they don’t like the bag I’m ready to give them back their money. It means a lot to me that whoever gets my bag, falls in love with it. If the woman doesn’t fall in love with my bag, I’m ready to give her money back and take my bag back.
I want to ask you about your outlook on the coming few months for “Chaton”. What do you have in mind?
Nada: As I told you before we started the interview, I’m looking forward to collaborating with local Lebanese talents. I want Lebanese people to join efforts together and come up with something because I know that we Lebanese people have a lot of potentials. But we are not getting the opportunity to do so. So for the coming months, I’m working on a few projects that I cannot reveal at the moment. I’m working with the artists to come up with something really exciting and artistic. It’s a surprise. I cannot mention it now. Stay tuned to my interview page and you will get to know before Mother’s day definitely. Mother’s day in Lebanon is on the 21st of March. So before Mother’s day, I think “Crochet by Chaton” will be having a big leap.
That’s something to look for. I will be waiting for your new release and for “ Chaton” to reach the world or to grow outside from the village next to Beirut or Lebanon. What would you need, if I were to ask you to name three things that you need help with to move to the next stage and upscale your business?
Nada: I think I told you this before and I think I’m repeating myself. But I’m so interested in meeting new talents and getting to collaborate with young talents in Lebanon. This is one thing. Another thing I think- delivering or exporting goods outside of Lebanon is a bit difficult and expensive in Lebanon. So I would love to find a way to export my bags in a cheaper way. I work with international companies but they are not cheap. So I think it is a bit challenging to reach customers outside of Lebanon. But still, I do send my products to Dubai, to Abu Dhabi and to Sweden.
So you have reached some parts of the world and you need to have a bigger reach.
Nada: Yes I reached those three places actually, with customers from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sweden.
I expect you to reach Barcelona and Europe soon.
Nada: Maybe by next week they will follow my page and I will reach them.
I am sure that all the viewers who would be watching the interview today will be curious to know more about Chaton. Is there anything that you would like to say to entrepreneurs who are watching us and have a hobby, are interested in art and want to make a business out of it?
Nada: There is one thing that I would say, “Believe that you can do it and you can do it.” It took me a long while to believe in myself. I regret the time spent before I discovered that I can do something. When I pushed myself a little bit outside my comfort zone, I discovered that I can do something that people will fall in love with. I wish I had done this before. I have lost many years. So to the young people watching right now, I advise them to go for it.
About the Guest
Nada Khoury is a passionate crocheter who turned a beautiful hobby into a profitable career. Her natural curiosity towards this art is have pushed her to learn from several professionals and encouraged her to venture on a self-teaching journey. Today, she makes handmade crochet fashion products such as handbags, scarves, and hats which you can check out on her Instagram and Facebook pages.