It really did fit well for three females whose unique problems with the Pakistani shoe market gave them the idea of launching their own collection of designs.
The three entrepreneurs, in their last year of undergraduate in 2011, launched 3 Footwear, aiming to tap into the growing market for high-end women’s shoes. Backed by an investment of just Rs100,000, Kanza Naheed, Mahrukh Isa and Saba Magsi ventured into a business segment dominated by their male counterparts, proving that women can successfully break the status quo and make a contribution to the country’s economy.
Pakistan has a huge population but a low growth rate. With the number of jobs created each year less than the requirement, emphasis has been put on entrepreneurs launching their own start-ups.
Fast forward to 2014, the trio’s business has grossed over Rs1 million in sales during the first 10 months of the current calendar year. It has seen them sell 1,000 units a year on average – a number they expect to improve by 200 this year.
The numbers may not be huge but, given that it’s a start, they indicate a reasonable start for the three women who have pursued their graduate studies at the same time, while staying away from conventional marketing tools. The 3 Footwear’s Facebook page and their presence on an online shopping portal are the platforms currently being used. Additionally, standalone exhibitions give them an opportunity for exposure as well.
Naheed, currently in her final year of the MBA programme, said the idea behind 3 Footwear was to cater to the need for trendy-looking shoes with a “minimalist feel”.
“I have large feet and my size is usually not available in the market; Mahrukh didn’t like costly shoes and Saba didn’t prefer the designs prevalent in the market,” Naheed told The Express Tribune. “We felt there was a need for shoes with a minimalist feel to them at an affordable price in sizes 6-13 and thus, we decided to make our own shoes.”
With prices ranging from Rs1,000 to Rs2,000, the business targets the upper middle class women between the ages of 18 and 35, Naheed says.
The start-up not only survived the challenges facing the country’s business community in general – and women entrepreneurs in particular – but also made it to the finalists in a startup competition. They have been competing for Angel investment at the Business Startup Launch (BSL), a joint initiative of NEW-G and INJAZ Pakistan that provides a platform for startups seeking funds to expand their business.
“We are hoping to expand online by launching our own website next year with an e-cart option and simultaneously expand the scale of our exhibitions,” said Naheed, enrolled in the Lahore University of Mangement Sciences’ MBA programme.
Expanding their sales channels may attract new customers, but they may need to do more to make it really big. Some of their customers feel the trio needs to scale up its production capacity and introduce more variety to get more business from the existing clientele.
If we increased production, it would be difficult to manage studies and business at the same time,” said Naheed.
She added that the journey has not been without hiccups.
“Even generally starting a business isn’t easy and for women the challenges are slightly more as you need to deal with suppliers and a predominately male market,” Naheed said. “Pakistani society does not take women seriously,” she said, summarising issues they faced as women entrepreneurs.
“When we approached some suppliers and asked for quotations, they asked us if we were lost and suggested that we should go home.”
The trio, however, remained persistent and made multiple visits to the market till they got quotations from at least 10 suppliers. They finally realised that “we meant business”.
Their business is a good case study for the country’s aspiring women entrepreneurs willing to explore new business opportunities. It is also a testament showing that one can pursue a business venture while studying as well.
“We study during the weekdays and work on the weekends or in our spare time.”
THE WRITER IS A STAFF CORRESPONDENT
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2014.