Article by Kelly Chen
The fashion industry was greatly affected by the lockdown due to restricted social gathering and widely adopted work-at-home practice. Recently, the Lockdown Economy Initiative interviewed four business owners from Nepal, the Philippines, Indonesia and Lebanon, respectively. These interviews revealed how they took effective strategies to survive during this pandemic.
The first interview is with Rajeshwor Raaz Shrestha from Nepal. Rajeshwor is the co-founder of Ratna Raaz Luxury Tailoring, a company in Kathmandu providing luxury, innovation, and excellent tailoring for men since 2017. The company is targeting high-end customers by offering personalized services to meet their particular requirements. They successfully cultivated the local market and had a booming business before the pandemic. However, their clients dropped by more than 70% during the lockdown due to fewer formal occasions and group events occurred than before. Some existing orders were also in trouble. For example, a big order of 90 bespoke suits was put on hold due to the cancellation of a destination wedding. The company quickly sensed the change of dressing requirement and launched a new brand for elegant casual wear that he and his business partner had already been planning for a while. This new style proved to be the right choice as it was very successful. They also tried an idea of making T-shirts in bespoke style, which is relatively new to the market, but it turned out to be a big success. The first one hundred pieces were sold out in five days. The company is now moving forward to work on collections for this winter and next summer.
The second interview is with Anna Escalona from the Philippines. Anna is the CEO of Aesca Designs, a fashion brand in Manila incorporating local Filipino artists’ art or artworks into their products since 2017. The company provides a platform for Filipino artists and creative individuals to showcase their artworks in different forms such as on scarves and mules. The products were sold in a lot of bazaars and events. Due to the unique designs of her products, her business was good. But all of this came to a pause between March and June/July because fashion scarves and mules are not essential during the pandemic. After some brainstorming, the company then decided to put artwork on essential items, for example, abaca masks, which are sustainable, eco-friendly and made from abaca leaves; these masks were very popular at the time. The company placed the artwork of an empowered local artist on abaca masks and the products were sold out in 3 hours upon the initial launch. After this success, the company tried to identify other essential products by close communication with customers so that the company could constantly evolve to meet their needs. For example, she mentioned linen clothing for Zoom meetings or family events at home, and multi-purpose towels that are recycled from plastic bottles for relaxation or workout at home. Of course, Anna did not forget to put artworks on these items.
The third interview is with Siti Maunah from Indonesia. Siti has been in the women’s fashion business in Magelang since 2016. Currently, she sells clothes, cosmetics, bags, and shoes that are new and upcoming for the models online and offline in three stores. The customers are mostly young women who enjoy fashion. The income has dropped by 70% since the start of the pandemic. Seeing the great impact on offline stores, she made the decision to prioritize online sales. The first strategy is to do online promotion. By getting endorsed by local artists such as a TikTok influencer, the sales in Shopee, an online shopping platform, increased by 50 times. The second strategy was to sell other products not related to fashion but essential for customers such as face masks, face shields, hand sanitisers, and personal protective equipment to increase the total sales. In addition, Siti has a culinary business selling Korean food. She used a TikTok influencer on social media, besides other traditional media, to promote this business as well. The diversified business is helping her to keep the main fashion business and survive during the pandemic.
The fourth interview is with Nada Khoury from Lebanon. Nada is the founder of Crochet by Chaton, a crochet fashion business located in a village near Beirut. She has had crochet as a hobby for quite a while. The lockdown enabled her to spend more time on this hobby. The post of her designs, initially for her friends and family members on Instagram, caught people’s attention and she started getting many orders. Although Nada had not initially intended to turn her hobby into a family business, she took the first step in starting the business. Among the products she posted on her Instagram, she figured out that the most popular items are those that do not need to be tried on and have no strict size requirement such as bags. In addition, there are a few customers who bought every design she posted, suggesting the recognition of her brand by the market. Regarding price, her products have an advantage over those sold in places such as malls, but no advantage over many other established online competitors due to the recent spike of yarn price. Therefore, it was the unique design of her products that won her business. Moving forward, Nada is planning to collaborate with local Lebanese talents to keep adding new designs to her products. For marketing, to expand her business, she is trying to get help from Lebanese influencers, models, local businesses who help other businesses, family members, and the media. She also attracted customers through sponsors on Instagram and Facebook. Additionally, Nada is looking for ways to lower the shipping cost to be able to reach customers outside of Lebanon.
Overall, one main lesson we can learn from these interviews is that people should be able to quickly identify the needs of their customers, especially in a dramatically changing market. After that, you can choose to make a new product like Rajeshwor did or to put some unique features to a known product as Anna did. In this way, your products stand out with clear identity. On the other hand, if you don’t have the ability to design the product, you can always rely on the traditional strategy, i.e., investing more on effective and efficient digital marketing ways as Siti did. If these strategies are not enough, you may consider a diversified business at least temporarily to get by the difficult time, again as Siti did. Finally, one should always try to set a time to rediscover the resources around you. Nada’s experience is an excellent example demonstrating how a hobby can turn out to be a great business during the pandemic.
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.