If someone had to curate a list of the things that are considered taboo in Bangladesh, women’s undergarments and lingerie would make it to the top tier. SHAPE, an intimate clothing line for women in Bangladesh, provides lingerie and innerwear that caters to the distinct body features of South Asian women. We at TINDS had the amazing opportunity to sit down for a one on one session with Monoshita Ayruani, owner and founder of SHAPE, to discuss her story of breaking the taboo and stereotypes associated with innerwears in Bangladesh.
When did you start SHAPE and what inspired you to do so?
Monoshita: I, along with my partner, started SHAPE in September 2019. If there’s one thing lacking in our country, that is the lack of inclusivity in the sizes and shapes of undergarments. Most products available in local markets are of the few sizes that are mostly catered to the body shape of western women. There’s this pattern where you either have to fit in to whatever is available on the shelf or you have nothing to offer yourself. I noticed the huge waste of investment every time when women buy their innerwear without any proper knowledge of their sizes and shapes. It is a necessity not a luxury. I decided to start a brand that will cater to women by not only selling products but also educating them to understand their right fit. Having dealt with these very struggles, being frustrated as a customer, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started SHAPE.
Since you started a little before COVID hit, how did that affect your business?
Monoshita: COVID hit just within a few months we started. The lockdowns hampered the supply chain of almost every business globally, and ours was no different. We had to face several problems because everything was stuck, imports were not possible. However, I feel there were pros and cons of the lockdown for our business. Since everyone was home at ease, we were able to work on educating the market phase very efficiently. We were also very prompt to pivot towards introducing items that were manufactured in Bangladesh. Later with time, the supply chain issues resolved automatically as things started to settle down slowly.
Tell us a little about your journey so far.
Monoshita: I started working very early during my A’levels, as an intern copywriter. I studied journalism along with working in a digital marketing agency, where I worked for 8 years before starting SHAPE. During my tenure, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of local and international brands and NGO’s. Imagine completing your undergraduation and being involved with working in a very fast moving industry and suddenly having the urge to go upto your parents and tell them you want to start selling bras. The journey definitely wasn’t easy, it usually never is when you are starting something new from scratch. Three years down the road, I would say it was definitely worth it because we started off solving problems for five women and now we are able to solve the same problems for fifty thousand women. People could not initially make sense of what I was trying to achieve, they were probably not supportive of the idea but however was supportive of me that I’d make a good choice. I still believe we have a long way to go.
Tell us about how you managed funding for SHAPE?
Monoshita: We have just recently got the funding, I have had to bootstrap for almost the initial two and a half years. The growth of our company was a rather good one which I believe helped secure the funding that we got. I, on the other hand, did not know much about funding or how to get them, however I knew what not to do. The moment someone realizes we are not a tech company almost 70% chances of investment fades away. It came with a lot of perseverance and problem solving mentality, because not everyone would be willing to invest in a company operating in an industry like innerwears, however there were some people who thought we’d be able to make it and here we are. Initially in the two years of our operations, I did not think of getting funding, however going along the way, I figured in order to grow fast within the manufacturing space I needed a lot of liquid cash. It wasn’t possible to be a one man show in an industry like this, so the two viable options we had were bank loans and investments, out of which investments sounded like a better choice.
What struggles did you have to face?
Monoshita: One was navigating a product business, it’s very hard to bring what you have to offer to the end consumer especially during the COVID phases sitting at your home. On another part, was educating the customers. For example, when we started posting ads on facebook, they would right away lead to removing it because it wasn’t allowed to post something regarding innerwears. In that scenario, how does one sell something that he/she can not advertise? Facebook algorithm, however, improves over time so we started off with contents that were more related to health care and well being of innerwears. After a certain point when the algorithm realizes the legitimacy of the business, it allows you to promote whatever you have to offer. So, we had to stick to organic contents and audience for the first year on facebook.
What are your plans for the future?
Monoshita: I see SHAPE present in different parts of Bangladesh. When we talk about brands, their presence is only seen in the cities. However, when we are talking about innerwears or comfort wears for women, I believe that it should be available for everyone since it’s not a privilege, it’s a necessity instead. We are currently available in Dhaka and Chittagong, within a few years time we also want to be available in places like Rajshahi, Khulna and other districts.
What would your advice be to upcoming entrepreneurs?
Monoshita: I would advise people to start right away when they think of starting a business. I always believed in the quick try quick fail method. If one’s idea doesn’t work out, they’ll know sooner how or why it didn’t so it would be easier to adapt. A good entrepreneur specializes in making new mistakes only.
|Where to find SHAPE
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