'If there is a will, you can win — no barrier can stop you from achieving your goals'
When the coronavirus arrived on this shore exactly a year ago, like all businesses, there were two options for Sultana Nasreen Shumi, the owner of upscale boutique Azaaraz: sink or swim.
“I did not put a pause on my business despite the shutdown,” said the 30-something women entrepreneur.
She rented a space in Mohammadpur, where most of her staff live so that they did not have to brave the risk of coronavirus contagion to travel all the way to Gulshan, where her atelier and showroom are based.
This enabled them to work without having to step outside.
While it was a drain on her retained earnings, it gave continuity to her business at a time when most clothing stores were shut for the shutdown.
And it also allowed her to catch the custom of well-heeled ladies who typically fly abroad ahead of Eid for their shopping, then grounded for the travel ban.
“This rejuvenated my staff’s morale, as they even did overtime to increase sales figures.”
She also began sales through her Facebook page, a prospect she scoffed at before. This enabled her to reach out to her customers who were unable to walk into the boutique for the movement control order.
Her reliance on digital sales also helped her business see a 70 per cent spike in revenue during the two Eid seasons last year.
As the economy returned to a version of normalcy towards the end of last year, she started bringing her staff back to their atelier in Gulshan.
"My team's dedication and hard work enabled Azaaraz to thrive. It is because of them that I was able to pay their full salaries -- something not many businesses can claim amid the pandemic.”
The episode went on to become a turning point for Shumi, who designs all the outfits on display on the racks of her boutique, whose ticket sizes range from Tk 5,000 to Tk 30,000.
She felt emboldened to step out of her comfort zone: in December last year, she decided to give a crack at giving a modern spin to the traditional jamdani by collaborating with weavers.
“Jamdani is a symbol of our culture, art and heritage, a symbol of old school aristocracy. And we at Azaaraz will give it all to not only uphold that same elegance but to surprise everyone with our Jamdani collection,” she said.
The idea came after she chanced upon some jamdani weavers who had fallen on hard times for the pandemic.
“This initiative is supporting the declining heritage of the jamdani weavers as I give them orders with my own design.”
She then embellishes the Jamdani sarees as per customer demand and also transforms them into salwar suits and kurtis.
“I started this business as an independent entrepreneur to support other people, where half of the employees are women -- this, I feel, is my purpose. If there is a will, you can win — no barrier can stop you from achieving your goals,” she added.