In Conversation with Namrata from Myaraa on Starting a Millinery Brand at 52 and the Challenges Faced by Female Entrepreneurs
Join us in conversation with Namrata Lodha, an entrepreneur who went against the norm and started her journey at 52 years old. Her hats have been featured in Vogue India, The Telegraph and are worn by women not just in India, but across the globe. Find out how she successfully built a global sustainable millinery brand and some tips for young entrepreneurs.
1. Tell us about the “why” behind Myaraa. What inspired you to launch a millinery Brand?
My inspiration initiated from my own backyard in Madhya Pradesh where I grew up in Harda. There are many wheat farms in the area and after the grains have been harvested, the local artisans or karigars use the remaining wheatgrass to create baskets, simple tools and handicraft items made from it. When I was travelling to the US to visit my children, I saw many people wearing hats made of the exact same wheatgrass which were molded and styled in different shapes and sizes. Inspired by the natural grass fibre baskets and tools from my childhood home in Madhya Pradesh, I started designing these accessories with the same material- good for the planet. Today Myaraa’s hats are designed in a combination of Indo-Western styles and personalized with your name, message, or occasion.
2. What is the value add of Myaraa, how is it different from the other brands?
Myaraa products are born in India and delivered worldwide. Our natural straw hat gives us the opportunity to reset and return to our roots. Our Hat Collection is inspired by the positive impact of natural and eco-friendly material that is used in making the personalized hats. They may look like a classic hat but are 100% vegan and natural grass products that are wildly popular and eco-friendly. The classic silhouette makes these incredibly versatile and the hats are lightweight as it’s made with natural wheatgrass. Our hats also have a cushy insole inside which will hug your head for all-day comfort. Our pride is in sustainable products with high quality, design, and sustainability.
3. We understand that Myaara is a torchbearer of sustainability and also works closely with rural women, especially those who were abandoned. What pushed you to take that step?
With climate change a growing problem there’s never been a more important time to collectively become more aware of how we – as individuals, corporations and businesses – are affecting the planet. With the purchase of our product, you are making environmental and social impacts in society. Being someone who has firsthand seen what a woman goes through when the family or society doesn’t treat the women equally, I wanted to take a stand on this and help women like me who are going through a similar journey. This production empowers rural women whose families abandoned them for marrying outside their community or being a widow. The company makes work accessible in rural India for these women making sure that when you buy a hat it comes bundled with the social and financial empowerment of a woman.
4. Myaraa is a customisable and personalised brand. How has personalisation become such a huge fad? Do you think it will last?
Personalization is definitely in trend right now and I don’t think it’s going out of style anytime soon. And customers are demanding personalized products that represent their thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is a challenge that also impacts the entire supply chain but is also a real opportunity for brands. The customers now share everything on the internet via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms. Designers and brands like us can see what they want, how they feel which is direct feedback for us to position our product and new releases accordingly. Additionally, we have seen millennials want to be involved in the evolution of the product and feel involved in the process, but brands are hesitant to hand over the reins. Myaraa being a customizable and personalized brand we are able to cater to every need of the customer.
5. What inspires you on the daily?
People inspire me and how they live their lives out loud. It doesn’t always take a Mother Teresa or Indira Gandhi to inspire. I watch my next-door neighbour Sarojini, who has cancer, tackle each day with more fervour and gusto than most people I know; I often forget she’s in a wheelchair let alone stricken with a debilitating disease. She makes me want to be a better person. The question I ask myself next is: what have I done to inspire others lately?
6. What does your work process look like?
My work process is very creative and open-minded. It’s majorly divided into two sections. First is the design session where we are constantly working to innovate and come up with new styles. This is also the part where we collaborate with our customers and give them a chance to be a part of creating their personalized product. The other session is a research & development session where we work in our workshop & training rooms to collaborate with local artisans in designing the hat, employ and train my women team in writing scriptures and doing embroidery work for custom patchworks. We have certain products that are hot sellers amongst our customers, but at the same time, we are constantly working to add new styling options through the design and R&D rooms.
7. What does your target audience look like, is it younger women and men or are older folk also interested in buying customised fashion accessories?
Our target audience is fashion and travel enthusiasts who like to be unique and stylish in the crowd of similar. Our customers love to use hats as an accessory because it protects them from the sun, it’s made with eco-friendly material and makes it a perfect styling accessory for that perfect Instagram shot. The primary audience is females and males who are planning a domestic or international vacation and want that perfect picture at an iconic location with a unique style that resonates with them. Just like the cherry on top, our hats act as a crown on their head for the perfect profile picture and are also very lightweight to carry during travel. We have recently seen our products been a big hit as personalized gifts for bridesmaids, pre-wedding photoshoots, anniversary and birthday gifts. In a world filled with so many redundant choices for the customer to select from, our products offer a unique flavour to it.
8. You started this brand at 52, tell us your journey, what pushed you to launch this brand and what made you persevere?
Your environment is one of the biggest factors that determine whether or not you’ll be successful, achieve the goals you set for yourself, or even try to achieve your dreams. For me, more influential than the things that you have or don’t have in your life are the people you have in your life. Whether they are friends, family or simply role models, it’s critical to find a “tribe” that uplifts, inspires and encourages you. At 52, I found my ‘tribe’ in my women artisans in Harda (Madhya Pradesh) and I wanted to build an opportunity to empower them and eventually empower myself as well.
9. What were the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur at this age?
An entrepreneur of any gender needs a determined belief in what they’re doing and a cast-iron resolve to get things done if they’re to succeed in a highly competitive marketplace. Unfortunately, the evidence still seems to indicate that if you’re a female, you need that little extra something to break through the proverbial glass ceiling. As women, explaining the importance of my business to men has been incredibly challenging. I had to be 110 per cent ready when I talked about my business to men. Additionally, learning to do business through social media channels was a new concept for me, as I grew up using the old fashioned in-person shopping experiences. This has been a rewarding learning experience as well. Starting my workshop in Harda, my first official customer was from Portugal through Instagram, I would have never thought that in the wildest of my dream.
10. Female entrepreneurship: roadblocks you faced?
We (females) have made positive progress in recent times when it comes to equality in the workplace. Still, the adversaries and struggles a woman has to contend with, particularly while growing a startup are very high. As a woman, we often think we need to be 110 per cent ready before we apply for our dream job, ask for that promotion, or in my case, launch a company. Having said that, I’m a firm believer in the adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I am taking it day-by-day.
11. Do you have a story- why or why not? How has online selling and marketing changed post-COVID-19?
We are riding on the Digital India transformation wave when it comes to retail strategy. In the past few years, all the efforts and transformation made in digital payments, cell phone network, internet connectivity and faster shipping across the nation, our retail strategy is perfectly suited to operate from our digital platforms. Our primary source of sales is through our website, Instagram, Facebook and Google. During this pandemic, all retail stores and malls are closed and we are seeing a change in customer behaviour where more people are now opting to online shopping. That said, we are seeing increased website traffic and sales through our online channels.
12. How are you navigating the COVID crisis as a business?
We are just getting started in terms of our product positioning. Since our products are made from natural straw and wheatgrass you could say it’s ‘farm to table fashion wardrobe’. Our production demand and capacity has increased in the last few quarters. People are pre-ordering for their future travels or for unique personalized gifts on birthdays and anniversary. At our workshop and design studio, we have continued to pay a salary for our team even during this pandemic. We have made arrangements to work remotely on the orders that we are getting during this pandemic. The work that we do at Myaraa has empowered my women to support their household expenses even when their partners have lost their jobs because of COVID. Things that are in our control we are doing everything we can with the highest possible safety checks. But there are things that are outside of our controls such as delayed shipping durations. Especially for international orders, it is taking double the time than normal duration for shipping.
13. 5 tips for young people looking to venture into accessories, and especially personalised accessories?
“Whatever you do, be different – that was the advice my mother gave me, and I can’t think of better advice for a young entrepreneur. If you’re different, you will stand out.” Here are some of the tactics that I have used to establish my credibility as a founder, and grow my business in spite of my age: Show others that you’re committed to the venture. Find visible ways to demonstrate your willingness to serve the company. I was always the first person at the design sessions and workshop. The signals founders send speak louder than their words. Present yourself as the most successful people in your industry and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Do your research about the niche personalized segment that you want to venture. Learn from others mistakes but at the same time don’t be afraid to make new mistakes. Someday these mistakes and the solutions you have implemented will be the best thing ever that happened to you. Find creative ways to inspire confidence. My team was fired up when well-known celebrities and influencers such as Tahira Kashyap Khurana, Hina Khan, Sash Gray flaunted their Myaraa product on social media. Having support from leaders in your industry segments helps improve your credibility in a very noticeable way. Set and deliver on objectives. Goals and guidelines will go a long way towards establishing momentum and lifting team performance. Develop your character. While nothing builds trust faster than delivering results, nothing destroys it faster than a failure of integrity. As you see your dream grow from an idea to an enterprise, your opportunities to cut corners will multiply. Grow your character as you grow your business so the latter doesn’t crush the former.