Lockdown Economy Nepal in Fabrics & Tailoring Industry with Mr. Sumeet Dhanuka

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Megha Shyamili Purushothaman

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, we meet Sumeet Dhanuka, the proprietor of Monalisa Exclusive Textiles, a clothing brand in Nepal. They strongly believe in meeting their customers’ expectations and providing superior quality at an affordable price with impeccable craftsmanship. We talked about the problems Monalisa Exclusive Textiles faced during the lockdown. The first week of the lockdown was very overwhelming. Then for the next five weeks, there was no clear direction for Monalisa. They were following the government directives. After two months of the lockdown, they came up with an idea of making readymade clothes. This idea has taken shape of its own brand. Now, Mr. Dhanuka and his team have found new energy and are very optimistic about the near future of the company.

Let’s get started with the introduction of Monalisa Exclusive Textiles. So Sumeet ji, when did you establish this company, what services do you provide and where are based?

Sumeet: Monalisa was established in 2007. Previously, we traded with a lot of different fabrics from all over the world. The market was growing and people were demanding newer fabrics and we were wholesaling the fabrics for shirtings and suitings to shopkeepers all over Nepal. So there was a need for more emerging fabrics, better brands, better quality but then there is where we saw a ceiling that we had our own limitations because we were not able to sell those better quality fabrics to the shopkeepers and other retailers. At that time, we thought of starting to build our own brand and come up with our own showroom where we do exclusive fabrics and brands under one umbrella. At that time, malls were emerging as well so there was the United World Trade Centre which had just finished construction and was about to open to the public. That was when we thought of taking space here and establishing ourselves as retailers as well. That was when we started- from ‘Monalisa’, we became ‘Monalisa Exclusive Textiles’ and that is when we made our own showroom and introduced good quality fabrics to the Nepalese market. We started with shirting and suiting and then entered into bespoke tailoring as well. So in 2007, we started our retail business.

Perfect! You said you started in 2007, it has been a very long time! We’ll get into the lockdown situation in a while but I was going through your social media page and you provide your clients' suits with the finest fabrics and the most immaculate designs and you’ve been doing it for almost 13 years now. What was your business like before the whole coronavirus situation? How was your business performing?

Sumeet: Thank you so much Sujan, for going through our pages and you saw our different designs.

Before coronavirus hit- let us get back to 2007. That was the time when people were mostly wearing black, blue or grey suits, mostly for official wear. Even if they go for a wedding, they wear the same suit. Gradually, we started by introducing something new to the market. We bought lots of colour, designs, we even introduced checks, stripes, jacquards- it took us almost 3–4 years to make people understand that men’s fashion can be more than just black, blue and charcoal grey. So that is the time when we also introduced different styles of men’s fashion. We started with small sherwanis, kurtas and different kinds of blazers and overcoats. It took us 2–3 years to establish ourselves and give something new to the market but later on, people started catching up.

Then we got our major breakthrough in 2013 when people actually started understanding the concept of colour in men’s fashion as well. Before lockdown, we were doing pretty good business where we were getting lots of orders for men’s attire and with the growth of Facebook and the need for people to share stories and photographs, people started liking our variety. That is when we got lots of word-of-mouth publicity and that is how we started growing our brand and image. Before lockdown, we were doing a decent amount of business but covid-19 was a major setback for us and we are trying to cope with the whole scenario.

You were actually trendsetters in your business! Now going into lockdown, a lot of your clients use your products and wear them to events like weddings and formal business events and meetings but coming to 2020, these events are not happening anymore. So what kind of problems did the pandemic poses your business and what strategies did you take to combat these problems?

Sumeet: Sujan, to speak frankly- so when the pandemic happened, we didn’t know what was happening around us. At that moment, we were all doing whatever our government was asking us to do. We were inside our homes and locked down. The first week, we were panicking and thinking ‘What is happening, what is life going to be like?’ But then from the second week, I won’t lie, we started enjoying time with our family. I have a young son. So with my wife and parents, I was spending time. I really enjoyed the first two months.

But then gradually as this got stretched, we started panicking again- “What should we do, our business is getting hampered along with our daily life and fitness”. After six weeks, we thought this was the time to react and do something. At that moment everywhere people were talking about coronavirus, covid. We had our tailors waiting for our command but we had nothing to say. Lots of people were asking if we could make PPE suits, we also wanted to do the same but then, as I said, it was not our portfolio to make PPE suits and we did not have knowledge about this. So we thought ‘let’s wait and watch and let this time pass’. Then we will do something creative again.

At that time, we were pretty much all sitting doing nothing but after two months, we started calling our staff back and as lockdown eased off a bit, we started having meetings. It was kind of a situation where we didn’t know what to do so at that time we came up with the solution to make readymade clothing, We started small- we started making t-shirts, jackets, raincoats, pants. That gave us a really good opportunity and now by God’s grace we have also established a brand called ‘Glow- Express Yourself’ and we are now coming up with a full-fledged readymade range, completely manufactured in Nepal but designed in Korea. So we have our friends in Korea who are sending us designs and we are procuring fabrics from them and we are designing our whole range in Nepal itself. So yes, this pandemic came with new ideas for me so that was good.

That is great! And like you said you have introduced new services in your company, What has been the consumers' response to these services?

Sumeet: Oh, we got very good responses! In our retail business, a lot of readymade clothing was not being imported right now. But we were able to order fabrics from abroad because we were getting samples from DHL, looking at these samples and asking them to send lots of samples and fabrics to us. So that gave us a new opportunity and we got to make garments in Nepal itself. By God’s grace, our quality is so good that our customers were not able to figure out if it was made in Nepal or imported from China or Korea! We have also started our ready-made manufacturing.

That is fantastic! And talking about the lockdown again, there are several other players in the market so do you know how your competitors approached the lockdown?

Sumeet: First of all, we all were going through the same pain. All my competitors are more of friends to me than the competition and we did have a couple of Zoom meetings with them to discuss what and how to tackle this situation. We were communicating with each other and the pain was so similar that we were all empathizing with each other rather than seeing them as competition. We were looking at ways to help each other. Moral support was also very necessary at that time which got from each other so I think competitors can be your best friends because we share similar pain.

That is incredible because I have asked this question in every interview so far and I’ve got this response about collaboration from a lot of interviews. It is really nice to hear that companies are sticking together during the lockdown period and helping each other out and that is great. So now in Nepal, the situation is that the lockdown has been eased. How is your business performing in this situation?

Sumeet: I have a story to share. Immediately after the lockdown, when things were moving ahead, I, myself, was affected by covid. So I was in this covid situation for a good month. Normally people take around 14–15 days to come out of covid but I took 18–20 days. The period after that isolation period was an eye-opener. I am only sharing my personal experience now, it may not be related to your question. But I’ll get to that.

So, when that was happening, for almost 16 days I was on my own. At that time, I felt like something had changed me. The fear, the limits that I had constructed for myself and I thought “Everything is crap, everything is bulls**t, Sumeet. Now after this covid situation, you will make sure that you are going to do whatever you want to do.” With everyone’s help and love from everyone and being able to break the barriers that I had previously made for myself, now I am moving ahead. So as I am saying this, I am promoting everything- see, selling clothes or selling anything is very easy but branding it, giving it a name and face and making that product tangible is what our job is. Because fabric will not talk, nor will suits. Or any product will not talk but it is our job, as entrepreneurs, it is my job to make sure that people can communicate with my product.

We are coming up with excellent marketing programs that we have made for the next 6–7 months, we are coming up with new concepts where we have made a ‘royal optima book’; it shows the volume of where we have covered more than 40–45 people from all the fields. We have also done a photoshoot and we are going to come up with a coffee table book soon- a lookbook. So that is going to give people a different perspective of what Nepalese men’s fashion is all about and that is what we are working on. Then we have new fabrics that everyone is so energized about. They have come up with so many samples in the last two months, I have received more than five thousand samples from all my suppliers and they want me to come up with something new. We have already started ordering new varieties. I think everything looks good up until now. Covid-19 is a setback for us, for everyone, we are trying to figure it out; how to increase our sales, how to get everything back on track but I think within a couple of months, we will be right back on track and we will not be walking but flying this time. And for a good sixty more years, as long as the market runs, we will do what we are best at.

That is really nice to hear because like you said, this whole pandemic situation has been terrible for everybody but I am very happy to hear that you and your team have been able to find the positive energy during this time and take your company to greater heights and all the best for that. But with all the things you have said right now, with the services you are adding to your business and the situation we are in right now, what is the outlook for Monalisa Exclusive Textiles for the next 3 months?

Sumeet: I must say that first off, I will thank all my landlords, all my bankers, financial partners, customers, staff members, family members for understanding the importance of supporting each other. We have got immense support from our landlords. There wasn’t even a single phone call to us asking us to pay rent. In fact, our banking partners were very supportive and asked us to let them know if we faced any problems and if there was anything we wanted. They said that they believed in us and that we would come out of this. And even as I said, we are a very small to the medium-sized organization where our staff members are more like family to us. Their problems were ours and ours were theirs. They were understanding and taking our calls and we were taking theirs. So everything is teamwork and more than teamwork, once you understand each other emotionally, everything just falls into place and gets in line.

So I would also like to share this with my friends, whoever is into retail or manufacturing or trading- the professional relationship will be there but if you are able to take that one step further if you want to really grow, you have to take that one step further and make your professional entourage your personal entourage as well. That is how you will grow. I think we were talking before as well when you asked me what were the problems I faced and I was really thinking about what I would like to change. I couldn’t think of anything because I know everyone is facing problems right now and I cannot tell my landlords that the rent goes to zero or my banks don’t charge me interest, I know everyone is in pain. I would just say that if everyone is patient with this phase and give everyone time to grow and time to come out of this phase, that is what is needed at the moment- to be patient with each other, to understand each other’s needs and to accommodate each other’s problems and to be a little empathetic.

That is a very incredible statement you made right now, to make your professional entourage your personal entourage. I think it is a message a lot of our viewers will also enjoy and that’s a very good statement. So Sumeet ji this is my final question to you- if you could point out 3 areas in your business that you require some assistance or help with, what would they be?

Sumeet: So definitely we need lots of love and support from each one of you.

So why clothes? Why fabrics? Clothes are not only about showing off to everyone, it is about making yourself better, about feeling, about how you feel. If I am in my pyjamas and if I am sleeping all day, if I get a chance to go to a party and if I get a chance to wear a nice outfit, I feel so much happier. Going to a social gathering is just 25% of your happiness. 50% of happiness is you getting up, wearing good clothes, wearing nice attire, making yourself happy and getting to that point is 50% of happiness. And 25% is meeting new people and them acknowledging your work and yourself. So I would really need love and support from everyone and if I could control my expenses a bit, but I am a little generous on that side as expenses are a part of this. But if I can control my expenses that would be a really good thing.

And third is definitely acknowledgement. If people understand the brand, they give it time and they come to us, I think that is what I would require from everyone now. These are three major things.

Great! And I hope that this interview itself is very helpful for you to accomplish the things you just said right now and thank you Sumeet ji, these are all the questions I had for you! This was a very fun conversation, I can feel your energy from here and thank you so much for doing this for us!

Sumeet: Thank you Sujan, this interview has actually motivated me more to work harder and accomplish my goals. And I hope my friends, family and well-wishers do feel that!

About the guest

Mr. Sumeet Dhanuka has a positive outlook for life. He is enthusiastic and is a problem solver. He likes to take unknown roads which usually take him to a beautiful destination. He is creative and loves marketing and sales.

https://www.facebook.com/MonalisaExclusiveTextiles/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.