Swara – Voice of Women enables women across rural India to achieve financial independence by selling sustainable fashion to consumers in the urban market. Through the pandemic, we have thankfully been able to expand from Rajasthan to 3 more states – Kerala, West Bengal and Assam by pivoting our model.
Instead of running a garment business from end to end, through COVID and many learnings prior to COVID, we realised that there is no dearth of garment businesses in India where rural women take part. However, the real gap is not in the ability of rural women to stitch, but the gap lies in relevant product development, sales and content about the process of making ethical garments and content about various issues faced by women which stop them from earning! Swara, immediately saw this as an opportunity for us to expand and bring greater value by focusing on our core competencies of sales, product development and content, while we tie up with various women collectives across the country including but not limited to NGOs, SHGs and women collectives. In the last few months, we have experimented with this new model and seen great success with SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) and Ekal Foundation to name a few! Simultaneously, we have been able to build a significant following on social media with more than 18,000 followers on Instagram. We have also been fortunate enough to be featured in the top 15 Indian small brands being endorsed by Priyanka Chopra this year. Swara’s Founder, Asha, was awarded Google – SheThePeople’s Social Impact Entrepreneur in 2020.
Through COVID, we also explored other kinds of partnerships with brands similar to us, who we considered as collaborators instead of competitors. We tied up with Tamarind Chutney, a zero-waste fashion brand that is on a similar mission to celebrate artisans and earn them a fair wage. Discovering our complementary skills, earlier this year we jointly launched “Tote-ally Irresistible” a collection of 6 unique tote bags each of which tells the story of an early Indian feminist. We chose inspirational women from different walks of life, such as Anna Chandy (the first female judge in India), Ismat Chughtai, an Urdu writer and Sarla Thakral (the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft). This comes at a time when India has managed to have the highest proportion of women pilots compared to any other nation!
Learnings we want to pass on to other entrepreneurs on how to stay relevant in times of crisis (read: COVID):
- Reflect deeply on where the real problem lies and assess if you need to pivot your model/approach to solving a problem.
- Collaborate and build partnerships with others who are complementary to you. We have found that the best way for small brands to grow organically is to do this.