Starting a new business and breaking through the competition to establish your brand is one of the most challenging uphill battles every entrepreneur must face. In order to get the attention of, capture and then convert your target audience you need to take calculated risks with your business capital and think of creative solutions to your marketing challenges.
In this article, female entrepreneur Juhi Jain, the designer and founder of ZarsaLife explains how she discovered and capitalised on a gap in the market for handcrafted designer juttis. Through clever positioning Juhi has created demand for an upmarket alternative to an otherwise common and low-value product.
We asked her some questions about her businesses’ journey; let’s take a look at what she had to say.
In your opinion, what makes juttis so appealing as footwear?
We, humans, will always have a special place for handmade things in our heart. The labour and care that goes into making a product are what makes it special. Juttis are no different. They are handcrafted flat shoes, with traditional roots, aesthetically appealing and very comfortable.
Since juttis are culturally Indian in origin, how do you market them to a broader audience?
People who have an interest and taste in finer things need no explaining. We have an Instagram account and a website – most of our clients see our products on Facebook or Instagram and order via our website.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business and how did you overcome it?
Although every stage comes with a new set of challenges; my first biggest challenge was literally ‘how to start a business’ because I had no experience.
I am a first generation business owner in my family – which means there was no mentor, no guidance; plus it was a new category with a newer set of problems; hence the experienced businessmen/women couldn’t help me either. Even people in the garment industry could not understand or help as this is a very different and unorganized sector.
In juttis, we majorly rely on artisans and these artisans are not as organized as we’d like them to be. From sourcing material, getting the perfect embroidery to finding people who could deliver proper finish – it was a challenge.
The only way to overcome this was to start small. I took the time to source right material, found right artisans and got my first pair of juttis. Wore them for 2 months straight to do a quality test. Only once I was satisfied I started with my production of the first lot.
What do you use to inspire your designs?
My inspiration comes from the rich heritage and culture of Medieval Asia. The beautiful staircases that have worn a thousand footsteps, the intricately carved design on walls that have protected generations of dreamers; the well-loved hand embroidered shawl that has graced a dozen shoulders. There is inspiration everywhere.
That’s why each of our product has a name and a short description which makes it special. You’ll know what inspired the particular design and it’s not just a pair of shoes anymore, it’s a piece of art and history.
You have worked hard to associate your brand with quality and authenticity; how difficult was it to set yourself apart in a market full of mass-produced products?
It’s a constant battle. The fashion industry is one of the most competitive spaces. One wrong move or product and you risk losing your credibility.
I make sure all my products are well made – I believe in quality over quantity. I keep my quantities low and check each pair myself before it is dispatched.
I have seen copies of my products being sold at half the prices but when customers come back to me saying ‘we saw cheap copies of your designs’ – it restores my faith that quality will always triumph over cheaply made copies. People will always make copies. You can find first and second fakes of almost all big brands. So when I see copies of ZarsáLife, I take it as a compliment.
What are the most effective ways you have marketed your business?
It’s an era of social media marketing. I still feel word of mouth is the best marketing tool and then comes Instagram. We believe in proper organic growth. Influencers definitely bring a lot of traffic but we don’t collaborate with an influencer unless we feel she too will respect and understand the essence of our products. So, word of mouth and Instagram have been good.
What plans do you have for the future growth of your business?
I’d like to see every girl own a ZarsáLife product. It is an affordable luxury and I hope to achieve ‘a-new-shoe-a-day’ for every girl who likes slipping into the happiness of handcrafted luxury.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking at starting their own brands?
Fail small – learn fast. Most entrepreneurs feel it’s important to start with a bang to get noticed or create their space in the market. Unless your investor (in family or angel) doesn’t care about money – it’s better to try things on a smaller level first. Learn from your mistakes fast and use resources well.
Second, always do a clean business – which means keep your papers in order and consult a lawyer before making changes in firm or signing contracts.
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