Five Years of Almirah: Aditi Bajpai on Women in Retail
By Aditi Bajpai
Today, women entrepreneurs in retail seem commonplace but it wasn’t so even a decade ago. It’s five years since we started Almirah and even now, I think what we’re doing at Almirah is slightly rebellious, even a little revolutionary, grandiose as that sounds. As a female-led team, our aim has been to challenge notions of gender in the retail space, and even in fast fashion through our sustainable, enduring fashion model that stresses on organic and eco-conscious clothes and bedding for kids.
Almirah was created by a mother-daughter duo — my mother, Divya and I — to produce and promote simple but quirky clothing for children informed by an Indian/ethnic sensibility which is evident in our silhouettes, prints and techniques. My mother has been a garment entrepreneur for almost three decades; she started her own export business that depended on Indian design and handicrafts.
Neither of us has any formal training in business or design; Almirah has grown out of our passion for textiles and a love of indigenous techniques like weaving, quilting, printing and hand embroidery. This helped us lay down the foundation for the brand — at Almirah I want to bridge the gap between sustainable fashion and the handicraft sector.
one of our biggest challenges has been to motivate and guide the artisans with old world skills and encourage them to adapt to new markets
I was 22 years old, with a degree in Political Science, when we began Almirah. Our main objective was to create something that was ‘Made in India’ and conceptualized and designed in India. At the time, Indian design was typecast and pigeonholed into two categories: ‘Bollywood’ or cottage industry. Few designers aimed at the mid-market gap between the two or designed innovative every day, affordable wear that was distinctly Indian and yet had an international appeal. Many months of thought, hard work, trial and experiments later, my indigenous clothing project for children, Almirah, was set up in 2011.
While we have had immense success in our collaborations with weavers, shoe makers, indigo dyers and block printers among karigars/ artisans over the years, one of our biggest challenges has been to motivate and guide the artisans with old world skills and encourage them to adapt to new markets.
Technological limitations along with a ‘beti-beta’ tradition with vendors and suppliers, hinders a professional working relationship, making it a more familial one, which has loopholes of time and delivery. Nevertheless, we have successfully collaborated and brought different communities together – working with over 300 artisans across the country — in our products and designs which now reach over 550 SKUs and customers across the world.
In any start up, setting up a team is of primary importance. In my experience, the textile and garment industry remains largely a man’s world.
Collaborations are one challenge; another is to find the right location for your offline stores. In setting up our stores across India, we’ve faced huge roadblocks from multiple government institutions and a cumbersome regulatory mechanism.
In any start up, setting up a team is of primary importance. In my experience, the textile and garment industry remains largely a man’s world. While leading a team of tailors, quilters, and skilled workers – predominantly male – it is hard to move beyond stereotypes and systematic inequalities. We need more initiatives to counter not just rigid regulations but to help young women entrepreneurs striving for change.
On a personal basis, we need to create a space for ourselves as women and entrepreneurs, find ways to challenge the status quo by doing more with less. Design is my tool and, fabric my medium and as the head of the family at Almirah, I hope our story will open doors for more change.
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Feature Image Credit: www.thealmirah.com