Today we are moving into a world of sustainable fashion. My female entrepreneur is Shilpi Yadav, a founder of Khara Kapas, a sustainable clothing brand from India.
Khara Kapas is known for beautiful handcrafted clothes, bags and footwear made from pure Indian fabrics. Since starting in April 2015, Shilpi has created a great sustainable clothing brand available in 24 countries across the world and has a great story to share with us.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE BUSINESS YOU STARTED.
Khara Kapas, that literally means ‘pure cotton’ in Hindi, was conceptualized and started as an outlet of my creative energies and the desire to do something of my own without following defined rules or trends.
I have studied and practiced design all of my life. I am a graduate of fine arts from the College of Art and I hold a master’s degree in apparel design from NID, as well as diploma in fashion management from FIDM ( Fashion Institute of Design Management) in Los Angeles.
Being an army kid, I traveled all across the country. I was exposed to our vivid culture from a very young age and I feel it was a major factor in shaping up my aesthetics. It can be seen in the inspiration of working with local artisans and their craft.
After finishing my studies, I came back to India and started working with fashion startups. But within 4-5 years I knew that I wanted to create something of my own. It was the creative restriction of working for someone that pushed me to take the plunge. I think it was the best decision of my career. I had no business plan but just the unstoppable desire to make it happen and that is what made Khara Kapas what it is today.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?
My day starts very early. Being a new mom I am constantly juggling between my two babies, Khara Kapas and my 2.5 year old son, Neil. I start work from home and try getting all my emails and calls done at home before I hit the office.
Office work is hectic and I do routine runs and meetings with various departments. We have our brainstorming sessions with key members and see what new and interesting things we want to do. We work with a lot of youngsters and that brings in a lot of fresh energy.
Work never stops even when I am home but I do not take it as work since it’s just something that I am really passionate about and it makes me happy to make a change through my choices and my constant endeavor to make our brand more sustainable and that is possible only if my personal lifestyle has the same priorities.
That is the same reason why the brand was started in the first place. Minimalistic, zero wastage, lower carbon footprint and live a more sustainable lifestyle. As a mother, I am even more motivated since my son is learning all of this at such a young age and it is his way of life too.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF LAUNCHING YOUR BUSINESS.
As mentioned earlier Khara Kapas was an outlet of my creative energies. I innate desire to do something of my own and to see my creative imagination to grow into something tangible and constructive. There was no business plan or projected numbers and a big investment.
It all started in an extra room with two second-hand machines and one tailor. Khara Kapas means “our cotton” and if there was one thing that I was certain about it was this. I am an army child and I’ve spent my childhood growing up in small towns and cities of India. Indian Summer is harsh and we would mainly wear cotton that was sourced from local markets and my mom stitched a lot of our clothes. My sister and I would often design these for ourselves. My mother often collected local textiles as we moved from one town to the other.
So cotton and other forms of cotton-like Khadi were fabrics that we grew up wearing. I knew that I wanted to make cotton more fashionable and innovate with my designs to make it mainstream and all occasion fabric. Hence the name Khara (Pure) Kapas (Cotton).
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT AND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?
Biggest Achievement: I think one proud moment that I remember is the day one of my workers told me that Khara Kapas is generating employment and means of livelihood for 25 people and that was a new awakening for me.
At that moment I realized that there is more than just me but my entire team’s responsibility is on me and my choices. I proudly say and feel that I have grown to be a stronger, more mature and responsible businesswoman due to Khara Kapas.
Biggest Challenge: I think the biggest challenge for me as an entrepreneur has been to balance out between my two babies. My brand Khara Kapas and my son. My son was born when Khara Kapas was 2 years old. But to be honest Khara Kapas has not only taught me to be a stronger woman but a happier woman as well and that makes me a better mom.
There have been constant challenges at work considering 80% of my team is men and to lead a team and set the right example and ensuring that things are done the right way has not been an easy journey. I need to believe and be honest with myself and my decisions to be able to keep my team to do so.
WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU USE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS? AND HOW?
As mentioned earlier, with Khara Kapas I never had a business plan in mind. There were no numbers or projections. It was just a passion project. I was very honest with my design aesthetics and what I wanted to offer with my brand. Luckily it worked and people could relate to my designs and sensibilities. Our marketing was mainly organic and word of mouth. But as they say that we all make mistakes and to be good at what you do. You need to recognize and fix those mistakes.
In the second stage of the business, we really focused on product improvisation and customer satisfaction. We want to make sure that every product shipped out of our factory is of the best quality. We have set in a very strict quality control process and ensure that all the norms are met.
We are all ears to our customers and though it’s a delicate line between a genuine concern or someone being a little unreasonable we have been able to achieve it so far. At least 99% we have.
Our constant endeavor is to make the brand 100% sustainable. We are always working in that direction. From product development to the production cycle of the product, till it’s finally delivered and even after it has been with a customer for a couple of years and how we can make sure that the customer is happy and can wear the product for a lifetime. We are constantly working to make it more and more sustainable.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS?
We are very happy with what we have been able to achieve so far. It is a bootstrap venture and we have worked very hard to reach where we are. We ship in 24 countries across the world and our first flagship store was launched in Delhi last year. We now plan to expand our international presence and are focused on doing more international trade fairs in sustainability. That is our focus for the next few years.
RECOMMENDATIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
PLEASE RECOMMEND ANY RESOURCES AND TOOLS THAT YOU USE TO RUN YOUR BUSINESS.
We have used Facebook and Instagram from the start of the business and it has helped immensely to spread the word and connect with our customers. The website is powered by Shopify.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
The only thing that I can say is that be honest with yourself and your choices in life.
If you have a desire to start something then please do not wait for the right time. There is no right time.
And even if it does not work out the way you want it to you will know that you have tried.
WHAT BUSINESS IDEA DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?
Right now I am exploring reusable packaging ideas to avoid zero wastage and to come up with reusable packaging. End to end.
Welcome to the Biz Ladies interview series!
If you’re new to these series, I interview women entrepreneurs on how they started their business, what was the idea behind it, how they got where they are, the struggles, the reality and more.
By sharing their stories, we want to inspire other women to get started.
If you are interested to share your own story on the Biz Ladies LET ME KNOW!