The near-global lockdown has affected almost all sectors of the Indian economy and amongst the worst-hit is the textile and apparel (T&A) industry due to the reset in the retail market as well as the bar on manufacturing and ecommerce orders. Not only was the sector expected to suffer massive layoffs but it also saw many factories and shops shut operations as the spread of Covid-19 plagued the nation.
However, considering the fact that more than 80% of the T&A industry comes under the MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) umbrella, it is expected to see some revival from the INR 3 Lakh Cr collateral-free automatic loan announcement made by the government.
But beyond the government measures, startups are also aiming to contribute to the MSME sector with jobs, tech upskilling and a taste of entrepreneurship through various initiatives and products. Incorporated in 2017, Kerala-based startup eWe — ‘empowerment of women entrepreneurship’ — claims to have helped over 200 women find jobs and over 550 women get training to understand tech and sell fashion and apparel products from the comfort of their homes. It has recently resumed operations after the government removed the restrictions on non-essential products in certain parts of India.
“A lot of women in India are housewives who are in need of a sustainable income but cannot move for a job. Most of these women have the ability to market an item especially fashion and apparels and we believe, with the support of technology, they can make a lot of difference,” said Abhayan P, cofounder, eWe.
The focus of the startup is mainly on items related to fashion and apparel — especially khadi, handloom and cotton ones —, ornaments — made by bamboo, clay — handicraft and kitchen accessories which come under the ethical initiative.
eWe: A Platform For Women By Women
The startup started by conducting seminars in different districts to discover interested and talented women for the platform. Soon enough, with the cooperation of district panchayat, district industrial centres and the Kerala Startup Mission and many other governmental and non-governmental organisations, eWe’s campaign picked up pace.
“We have conducted around 50 such seminars across Kerala to empower women and motivate them to become entrepreneurs. Around 200-300 women registered through these seminars as eWe entrepreneurs to work from home and sell the products using our virtual store,” added Sangeetha Abhay, founder and CEO, eWe.
Post the seminars, eWe’s women entrepreneurs were allocated different categories based on a questionnaire and their understanding of the digital commerce landscape. This also enables the support and training for each entrepreneur. Once onboarded, the startup analyses the performance and gives additional training as the women entrepreneurs progress.
The startup collaborates with women in two primary areas — manufacturing and marketing. In the manufacturing category, it analyses the products, its scope and quality. And then provides them with the required technical training for the quality upgradation with the support of government training centres. One such centre which is working with eWe to provide these training free of cost is the National Academy of RUDSETI, an institute for skill training.
Abhayan told Inc42 that eWe gives training right from manufacturing to final sales, such as finance management training, business management training, digital marketing training. “We provide digital marketing training to help women scale up and reach a wider audience. It includes SMM marketing techniques such as using WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and more. And as the performance improves we host district wise seminars and send a host of videos to the women for them to understand and use digital marketing.” he explained.
Women sell products through the eWe mobile app, which acts as a virtual store for all the home entrepreneurs. Post that, they can start selling and earn by splitting the commission with eWe. Additionally, eWe also conducts periodical analysis and meetings to give these at-home sellers the right feedback and provide special incentives based on their work.
The Covid-19 Effect And Future Goals
With the pandemic forcing the government to enforce a lockdown and restrict movement, the entire textile industry faced the loss of sales and eWe was no exception. While the seamstresses were left without any income, weavers not only saw the loss of wage but also the fabrics they had were ruined stored in the stock room for far too long.
Soon, the startup realised there was an opportunity to make a difference even with the pandemic ongoing. “As the government mandated the use of the mask, we realised that masks made of quality cloth and of fabric that is not harmful to nature after use will be a great necessity. Otherwise, it could result in a major waste problem for our country tomorrow. We also need to ensure the health and safety of our skin and making masks with Khadi fabric can solve all these issues,” Abhay told Inc42.
eWe also reached out to the Kerala Startup Mission and with its support, acquired travel permissions to start making reusable fabric face masks from the first week of April. These masks were then distributed throughout Kerala. eWe worked with seamstresses that had a sewing machine at home within the green zones in Kerala and gave them the opportunity to make such face masks. Abhayan revealed that many corporates and banks ordered khadi cotton masks from eWe, which made it possible for more than 20 women and families to earn an income.
At the same time, as a part of a social initiative — along with six other fashion brands — called ‘Ask For Mask’ to fight the shortage of masks, eWe helped out the economically marginalised sections of Kerala’s population. This allowed any individual, NGOs or other organisations to donate masks through this platform.
Incubated at MIZONE (Malabar Innovation and Entrepreneurship Zone), the startup has notaries such as Shilen Sagunan, chief executive, SS Consulting and P.K. Gopalakrishnan, CEO and MD at WeP Solutions, as mentors and is registered with KSUM.
“We attended many programmes of KSUM and got the opportunity to connect with many mentors from across India. In that, Robert Lobo, former-CEO, Raymond’s India, joined our startup as the official mentor. With his guidance eWe is also under talks to expand operations to Goa also,” Abhayan told Inc42 on the future plans of the startup.