by Huma Zafar
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a talented young woman from Parachinar who was interested in helping her community that had been at the front-end on the war on terror since 2012. During one of our long chats, she mentioned the widowed women in Parachinar, whose spouses had been killed by terrorists and were now struggling to raise their children.
In a small town like Parachinar that borders with Afghanistan, what opportunities do women have? Perhaps a few can set up small “tuck shops”, others can teach, but the access to jobs is limited. There is a school of thought that women in remote areas aren’t allowed to work or don’t leave homes to work, but when tragic events lead to poverty, one will fight barriers to feed her child. Hearing this story, moved me- I admire these women- I don’t wish to be in their shoes, but I admire their resilience. Stories like these always make me grateful for every blessing I have. I believe, that those of us who are in a more fortunate position to help, should. In the past, I’ve often started up small ventures to help those in need, establish themselves or align them with opportunities for growth. It is better to teach a person to fish so he/she feeds themselves often, versus feeding them a fish, once.
Malana was conceived with the help of a friend and together the three of us, planned for a small business opportunity to help the widowed women of Parachinar send their children to school. Malana – or a mother’s love, incidentally is a source of water in Parachinar as well – we designed the logo to reflect the Mother in the M, holding her child and began work in July 2016. Our friend from Parachinar is a talented knitter and in a town where there is no electricity for 18 hours a day, and to keep costs low, we opted to start a hand knitted scarves and sweaters line.
When starting up a small business, it is important to equip employees with the right tools, materials, training and guidance. We made a guide book, weighed out the wool that each employee would need and distributed work amongst workers and relied on a few people who frequently made trips between Islamabad and Parachinar to take the products back and forth.
When developing the concept, we focused on the art of hand knitted woolen scarves and took inspiration from high-end European brands that reflect quality craftsmanship and intricate design work. In present day, where you can purchase a machine made scarf for under $10 dollars, who would want to invest in a handmade scarf for $30 or Rs. 3500 for a child’s sweater? How is this any different from the hundred other small brands, selling the same story of the same type of women in need?
The trick to all of this is understanding your market. Who are you catering towards and what will they purchase. Eight years of marketing experience in corporate America has taught me, you can sell anything as long as you can sell a benefit and not a feature. What will entice a consumer to invest in a scarf? Is it the sales pitch of helping widowed women? Is it the quality of the product? Or is it how you brand and market these? At the risk of sounding too “corporate,” the consumer is mostly focused on what good it does them – hence we sell the benefit of the product.
To sell any innovative product, you need an approach that is relatable to the consumer – Our pitch was different- we touched the heart of the consumer with our stories of, “not only will you be warm in these high quality, European looking products, but you will also be an example of a man/or a woman that supports women empowerment.
The campaign was unique – although I personally do product photography as a hobby I opted to use a basic phone camera to take pictures – The product is high end, I didn’t wish for the marketing campaign to look high end –I wished for it to look relatable to an everyday consumer – there was no posing, no models, no lighting – it was everyday people, my friends, who shared their purchase in a picture and the tag lines we used were , “ He/she supports the widowed women in Parachinar” and “ With this scarf a child will go to school.” This is what made the cause real, the product real, the women of Parachinar real. Although I manage 8 social media accounts for friends and family, I refused to make one for this cause. There were no facebook pages, no instagram accounts , no snapchat – there was one photo album on my personal facebook, which I later learned was shared over 1400 times.
We sold out within 3 weeks of launch.
The women had been paid their wages when they delivered their product – all earnings, including our investment, was put towards the education of the children of Parachinar. In a course of 6 months, and with a lot of effort, we were able to make a small dent in the lives of these women and children.
Through this small project, we learned what persistence and resilience truly is, but we also learned and taught how the “buzz” is needed to sell. Unless there is a buzz, people won’t remember why they bought from you and is it a fashion to buy charitable goods? In either case, the objective was to help the women and children and use the power of communication to create awareness that led to transactions. The key word: transactions. What good is awareness, if there aren’t sales?
The buzz got out there so much, that 6 months later we are still asked, will Malana sell scarves this winter?
It is the power of communications, telling the story, marketing the product , packaging it in a certain way, being in the right place –the image you portray that sells. Never underestimate the power of visuals and words.