In our first ever installation of our #socialenterprisestories, we hear from Umang Shridhar about the ups and downs of managing a social enterprise, and what keeps her going when the going gets tough.
Umang is the founder of apparel brand KhaDigi and has been volunteering regularly at NGOs since she was 19. At age 21, she had already started a successful food preparation business that provided meaningful employment to Indian women who lived in rural areas. At 27, she was honoured by Forbes on the 30 Under 30 - Asia - Social Entrepreneurs 2019 list for her phenomenal work at KhaDigi.
Growing up, Umang never understood the injustice and inequality around her.
Blessed with a privileged background and quality education, she was taught and believed strongly in human rights and equality. She often wondered, if everyone was equal in the eyes of God, then what brought about these vast differences between herself and the people back home? When she started studying at the University of Delhi, her volunteer work with NGOs opened her eyes to all the reasons why – the lack of job opportunities, class struggle and so on.
There was a problem at hand – and she took it upon herself to fix it. At just 21 years old, she strived to empower women with financial independence by helping them monetize skills they already had, such as cooking, stitching and embroidery. Her first venture was a food business where local women prepared festive snacks to be sold. She learnt quickly along the way and managed to persuade them to invest in the business instead of holding kitty parties. Acquiring the many food certifications and having to deal with perishables proved to be complicated. At the height of its success, taking away the lessons learnt, she packed up and pivoted to the clothing industry instead.
Identifying a huge market for making petticoats where traders would supply cloth and the skilled craftswomen would produce the finished petticoats (skirt wear under saris), she quickly rallied the same group of women to work. Despite the sense of pride that came with their financial independence, Umang felt it was unfair how the women made only Rs 100/- per day in exchange for producing 50 petticoats in addition to their household duties. This was incredibly difficult due to how time-consuming it was, even for experienced tailors.
“I decided I would study fashion from a good institute then I can understand the industry and help these women,” said Umang. “In just 2 months of my studies, KhaDigi came to me. It was very important to me before I became an entrepreneur that I understood the industry.”
Thus, the idea of KhaDigi was born. After much rigorous market research and development for 2 years, KhaDigi came to fruition in January 2017.