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Kalaneca not just survived but thrived. Here’s how?

Ramya Rao & Kavea R Chavali, Twin Co-Founders of  Kalaneca share their loom tales of the pandemic, steering their brand through the complex roadblocks of the new world order to stay afloat. 

Life is divided in two parts these days and no cookies for guessing. It’s before Corona and after Corona. The silent enemy has pushed the global economy into a new world order and migrating online has been the only mantra for survival. It’s only in 2020 that we learnt that we are not a very important part of the economy as we don’t qualify for ‘Essentials’. The excruciating lockdown characterised by deafeningly silent lanes and closed shutters, was certainly a jolt for us, a young and niche brand like Kalaneca and moreover to live with the heartbreak of being tagged as ‘non-essential’. Once the shock settled, we accepted our status as another cog in the wheel, but a cog that represents young India’s spirit of entrepreneurship.

Digital emerged as the lifeline for anything and everything. Early adoption and clinging onto this new world order gave us some wind beneath our wings. The pandemic has for sure changed consumer behaviour, every country around the world has witnessed this phenomenon. The second wave cemented our belief in the new normal. Delivery services, e-commerce and stay at home orders is what we have to live with. Period.

As the consumer behaviour changed so did our business model and module. We had to learn, unlearn and revisit the drawing board every other day to survive. A lot of effort has gone into studying and training. Our immediate response to crisis was to ramp up our digital presence, especially social media as people were browsing a lot during lockdown. Initially news and then anything that helped escape. Luckily ours was not as drastic as going 100 % online from 100 % offline. Kalaneca has harnessed the power of its online presence right from the start.

However, with the onset of Covid, our sales indeed took a massive hit with supply chain rules giving importance only to the essentials. It was around this time we decided to not spend on marketing ourselves and instead focussed on stronger narratives & creations. We realised the buck spent on acquiring a customer wouldn’t yield fruitful results due to global lockdown last year and decided to invest in creating new designs, photoshoots and narratives to keep the artist in us alive and to keep the skill of the artisan running. While Sales came down to bare 23% for close to 4 months, our production amped up from July onwards. We didn’t own machines or didn’t have to source silk from china unlike many other designers and hence working with the weavers with precautions became the new norm. We renovated our website and our storytelling which helped boost sales by upto 65% by December 2020.

Our challenges were different. Based on our niche. Moving the supply chain to an automated online programme seemed a tall order where grass root level artisans are concerned. While they are highly skilled with their fingers on the loom, they are still slow with the digital capabilities that their mobile phones can lend them. We introduced to them whatsapp business and Gpay/Paytm as the payment modes to ensure smooth operations. We had their children help them out as they are more mobile savvy. We would organise small digital crash courses for them. It felt strange how the food chain iinterlinked.  Our designs would be discussed via whatsapp calls as they were more comfortable with it. Design discussions would go back and forth, initially the process has been time consuming but it has become smoother over months.

As a team we were always agile and adaptable which is why it was easy for us to innovate our working styles along with our interns, employees and artisans. One skill that we feel helped us during this period was Change Management. The entire team imbibed this skill to pivot the business operations to make it run smoothly from November 2020 onwards.

Amidst this whirlwind one thing that we are proud of is being to get closer to achieving sustainability. Our sarees are on a manual loom and we collaborated with a team in Madurai- The Yellow Bags to have their team create cloth bags which are 100% handmade. We used recyclable plastic for shipping out our sarees and seed paper to share our handwritten notes too with the customers. We started operating from two locations instead of one to ensure faster deliveries to customers and we partnered with an aggregator to fulfil the deliveries seamlessly all across India and abroad.

Simultaneously the team underwent training in SEO, online marketing to leverage on the existing marketing tools available to market the products on various channels. The marketing team also trained our interns on the usage and benefits of Shopify, the platform on which Kalaneca is hosted.

The journey has been fulfilling with learning experiences every single day. Decisions for short term and long-term adjustments were taken keeping not just the current sales target in mind but also what we intend to achieve in the future.

While the weaving of sarees was on, we needed to ensure safe delivery of the sarees. Visibility for our products was a huge challenge. Anything in fashion need Avant Garde visuals and photoshoot. We turned our homes into mini studios and procured equipment for photoshoots. Innovating and adapting on a continuous basis for every little thing helped by swim with the tide. This involved us take up many more roles amongst the team and demonstrate agility to ensure safety and sales.

Understanding the changing customer behaviour and altering our communication plan is another key component of adapting to the change. Constant communication with our customers and though various online polls and surveys we can understand our customers better I feel and catering to their tastes and preferences accordingly.  Our brand positioning and promise is far more defined today. We are now more vocal about our vision through our work, social media and involvement with PR. Every communication of ours is scrutinised to see if it conveys the ethos of our brand and the story behind every creation.  In terms of advertising, we have increased our spend towards ads to ensure maximum reach in India and International which wasn’t the case in the previous years and it has yielded results.

We envisage Kalaneca to be one of the most preferred brands in the online space by giving the customers high quality authentic handwoven creations.  Online has been our mainstay and will continue being so but we intend to open a retail channel only after 3 years considering the current circumstances. Offline has its own charm and a far elevated brand value, as far as fashion retail is considered. By leveraging on the available tool, we wish to market our story to a larger audience thereby increasing the reach and the sales. We also see ourselves focussing in the gifting segment of social celebrations as well as personalised creations thereby creating exclusivity and expanding business volumes. All of this and much more to keep weaving newer experiences and create bigger impact.

The loom must keep running.

 DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and does not necessarily subscribe to it. 


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