Knit with love

Amrita Prasad
Sunday, 24 March 2019

Gurugram-based mompreneur Kanchan Vaidya, who runs a startup called The Original Knit, is not only making handmade woollen products but also helping women in villages across Himachal Pradesh to knit a brighter future

For every mom, finding the right clothes for her baby is of utmost importance, especially woollen clothes to keep their baby warm on chilly winter nights. Kanchan Vaidya faced similar challenges when her son was a toddler as she struggled to find hand-knit woollen wear for him. Most brands didn’t sell them and it is often not possible for working mums to knit these themselves. Which is why she kicked off her Gurugram-based startup, The Original Knit, a brand that sells hand-knit woollen clothes for babies and toddlers online. For this, Vaidya is working with women from villages of Himachal region.
  
Vaidya, who also works as an HR manager with an Australian company, not only was determined to solve her own problem but also turn it into a business that empowered rural women who are blessed with the skills of knitting. “I am the first woman in my family to leave my home in Himachal Pradesh for a corporate career. I am also the first entrepreneur in the family. But more than that, what makes me happy is the fact that apart from creating beautiful and delicate woollen wear for babies, I am helping create livelihoods for women in villages,” she shares.  

Completely handmade 
The Original Knit offers products that are 100 per cent handmade in soft wool and have different patterns, colours and designs. The range includes sweaters, dresses, caps, socks, booties, and ponchos, and prices start at Rs 250. The products are available online on platforms like Firstcry and Hopscotch, and at a few retail outlets, including Firstcry stores across the country and stores in smaller cities like Bhopal, Bareilly, Palakkad, and Jalgaon. Ever since their launch on Firstcry in 2015, they have become one of the bestselling mompreneur brands. The products are aggregated in Gurugram, where they are washed and finished with buttons and satin embellishments. Quality checks are done in Gurugram, after which the woollens are packed and dispatched to online and offline retailers. Over the last two years, products have also been shipped to the US, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).

Empowering women
Vaidya’s memory of women in her hometown Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, sitting outside their homes knitting woollens, or casually chatting under the winter sun made her come up with her start-up. 

“I was keen on getting these women involved in this process, hence I took a month-long trip to Dhauladhar and Spiti (in Himachal) to connect with them. I travelled to small villages in the interiors of Himachal Pradesh, and started connecting with the women. Initially, I began to tell them that their hobby of making hand-knit woollens could help them run their home, and make their life easier by helping them buy necessities. Most of these women didn’t have their men at home as they were away working in other cities to earn a livelihood. All they were getting every month was Rs 2,000-3,000. I managed to get 10 women on board,” says Vaidya.
 
She started her business with spoke-hub distribution paradigm and employed designers. She distributed designs and drawings of the woollen wear over WhatsApp. The designs were printed to scale and given to village women along with needle sets and wool. The women were paid on the same day of delivering the product. This encouraged more women to sign up. 

Says Vaidya, “It helped us create good quality and beautiful products. The entire process also helped transform the lives of women. They take a lot of pride in their work. Many of these women are also the only earning members in their families.” 

Vaidya used the power of Facebook to share the designs and accepting orders of garments. Within a month her page received 5,000 likes and about 300 prepaid firm orders. “This made me realise that I was on the right track, so I registered my business officially,” she adds. 

By 2018, she had a network of 300+ women across Delhi, Punjab and Himachal. The women operate as self-help groups wherein a group commits to supply an order and some often work extra if a few members default. 

EXPANDING network
Vaidya, who started The Original Knit with Rs 20,000 from her personal savings, garnered revenues of Rs 45 lakh in 2016, and Rs 1 crore in 2017. She’s aiming for Rs 3.5 crore in revenue for the year 2018-19. Her offline sales are bulk B2B orders that get shipped within India and overseas to the US, Kuwait, Belgium, UK etc. 

What makes brand stand out from the rest is not only the handmade woollen products but the way it is helping shape the lives of others. Vaidya has also been trying to convince corporates to partner with her startup as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to create a credible and auditable social impact in the remote villages of Himachal which remain inaccessible for three months when the roads are snowbound.

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