Namrata Lodha

Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations, says Namrata Lodha, founder of Myaraa. She claims that her inspiration came from her own backyard in Madhya Pradesh where she grew up, in Harda. There are many wheat farms in the area and after the grains have been harvested, the local artisans use the remaining wheat grass to create baskets, simple tools and handicraft items made from it, she shares with S&A in an interview.

You are operating in a very niche market. What was your source of inspiration?
In a culture obsessed with measuring talent and ability, we often overlook the important role of inspiration. Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Similarly, 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 wheat grass 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 moulded and styled in different shapes and sizes.

Give us a picture of your journey since the beginning. Also, share with us some of the challenges you have faced and often face.
To achieve success in this niche market we had to start at the beginning, just like in the alphabet you start with the letter “A.” Success was not an event for Myaraa, it is a process. To finish any great endeavour you must first start. It was not the start of a new business but it was the start of a new idea, a new path of creating personalized hats for travel and fashion connoisseurs. To be a standout success we had to take a new beginning and follow it through to the end.

This journey wasn’t easy and we faced many challenges during the process. First one being able to achieve high quality standards when designing the hats, especially because we are not working with polished raw materials. We work with straw grass that starts from the surface of the ground. It had to be soft, lightweight and of the best quality. Sewing personalized names on the hat brim is an additional challenge. These are all handmade writing and we can’t use a regular needle, as it breaks when tried to sew on the brim of a straw hat. Finding unique ways to write on each hat without breaking needles was very challenging. Another challenge was teaching my women team english alphabets and curves. These women are rural women who have never stepped out of their homes for work in their life. That being said, they haven’t ever written anything in English. When they were customizing the hat the text would look all over the place, ‘u’ would become ‘o’ and sometimes ‘a’ as well. I took the challenge upon me to train them basic English alphabets so they could read and write.

Lastly shipping international orders was the biggest challenge. Harda (Madhya Pradesh) does not have an airport or any major shipping company to send our products overseas. We had to rely on the local post office (Speed Post) to send packages overseas. In the time of 1-2 day shipping, this approach takes longer than expected, but our customers have been very patient and loyal to us. Their purchase helps in running the house of many rural women who work in our team.

What make/s your brand unique, in terms of the materials you use, the designs and the details?
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 collection is inspired by the positive impact of natural and eco-friendly material that is used in making the personalised hats.They may look like classic hats, but are 100% vegan and natural grass product that is wildly popular and eco-friendly. The classic silhouette makes these incredibly versatile, and this is because the lightweight design is made with natural wheatgrass. Inside, the hat is a cushy insole which provides comfort.

Who is your target audience? Give us a brief profile of your target customer.
Our target audience is fashion and travel enthusiasts who love eco-friendly products. Our customers love to use hats as an accessory because it protects them from sun, it’s made from eco-friendly material and is also stylish.
We have recently seen our products been a big hit for personalized gifts for bridesmaids, pre-wedding photo shoots, anniversary and birthday gifts. In a world filled with so many redundant choices for the customer to select from, our products offer a unique flavor to it.

How is the brand positioned today? How much of its operation has been impacted by the pandemic?
We are just getting started in terms of our product positioning. Since our products are made from natural straw and wheat grass you could say it’s ‘farm to 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 salaries 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 staff to support their household expenses even when their partners have lost their jobs by impacted factories or nearby stores. 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 takes double the normal duration for shipping

What retail strategy have you adopted to reach out to your target audience?
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, 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 for online shopping. That said, we are seeing increased website traffic and sales through our online channels.

In the next few years, how much growth do you think the segment will witness, and where do you see your brand in it?
In terms of growth, it feels like we are just getting started. History speaks for itself that India is known worldwide for its art and culture. Our heritage and craftsmen have been applauded globally for centuries. That makes my job easy, if we continue to focus on quality, the product and the craftsmanship involved in personalizing the hat it will sell for itself. So far, our products have been shipped in 50+ countries and everyday we strive for perfection.

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