Monday Motivation with Tania Chackumkal, Co-Founder and COO of WESTxEAST
Mondays can be rough, and sometimes we can use some motivation. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from industry leaders and some of the most creative entrepreneurs out there.
Today we’re chatting with Tania Chackumkal, Co-Founder and COO of WESTxEAST, a contemporary South Asian apparel brand focused on a fresh and modern approach to the area’s culturally-driven silhouettes. Tania shares the pain point that inspired her to start her business, the challenges and rewards of creating a global company, and the importance of self-care.
What inspired you to start your business?
A personal pain-point in my life. I am a South Asian-American woman and, like many first-generation Americans, I’ve had a foot in two worlds. As I grew older, my dual identity became more and more prominent in my personal style, but I kept encountering a problem: I couldn’t find anything [to wear] that represented my South Asian culture and wasn’t “over-the-top Bollywood” or “costume-y” without an expensive trip to India. I believed silhouettes of the subcontinent should be more [accessible and fully embraced globally], not only in India, so my co-founder, Liya Samuel, and I decided to create WESTxEAST.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Over the past three years, we have pivoted several times, but thankfully we are a resilient team and found our niche market.
In 2015, we tried to work with established designers who showcased at Fashion Week in India and Pakistan. They were not prevalent in the U.S., and we wanted to market their brands here. However, it was very difficult to work with designers, and logistically it was not going anywhere. We had to operate in a consignment model and often times the price point was too high. We had not identified a target market and realized we need to be more niche. It was a learning experience for us. We did not have a lot of sales and incurred a lot of expenses.
In 2016, we shifted our focus to selling affordable products to South Asian Americans. We attempted an e-commerce model selling ready-to-wear blouses and sarees while working with wholesalers in India. The problem was our branding. We did not establish ourselves as a brand and did not have a way to easily convert customers.
In 2017, we narrowed our vision with an emphasis on the bridal market. We knew if we captured that market first, that same market could help us with the cross over into mainstream culture. After searching for a year, we found a production unit in India that fit our needs. Our first trial was to create custom bridesmaids outfits for my co-founder’s wedding. It was a massive success and soon after, we received so many requests to do custom bridesmaids outfits. This is our current status, and we hope to release an in-house line with ready-to-wear options next year.
What’s been the greatest reward?
Turning our clients’ visions into reality. Many of our clients are South Asians living in the U.S. They would normally travel to India to get this done, but they come to us because we solve a lot of the challenges they normally face. We have more in common with our clients and understand the masala of South Asian culture and Western persuasions.
Our clients truly enjoy the process of bringing the outfits they dream about into reality. We provide customized bridal wear for our clients, and everything we do is remote. Clients send us pictures of what they want and return their measurement forms to us. We send them digital sketches of how the outfits will look and fabric swatches for them to pick exactly what they want. We do consults in person or through video chat depending on the client. Once we have all the measurements and sign off on the sketches and fabric swatches, our production unit works its magic. Clients usually receive their outfits within 2-3 months. It is a process that is quick and efficient.
What is the biggest thing you’d like to see changed in your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?
Majority of the time, our core customer base travels to South Asia for one thing: shopping. However, the customer service there can be horrible. I had a friend who went to India to find outfits for her bridesmaids; she told me she had a grueling experience trying to find enough fabric of the same color for eight bridesmaids’ sarees and getting it all stitched before she had to leave the country. I believe it should not be this difficult; there shouldn’t be a need to travel across the world for wedding shopping.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Results motivate me. Seeing the genuine happiness we provide to our clients makes all the stresses of our work worthwhile. I personally know how happy I am when I can visualize something and make it a reality. Sharing that same experience with our clients on an important occasion like their wedding day is all I need to know the challenges we face are worth it!
Running a startup has its own trials and tribulations, but when I do need that pick me up or reassurance, I lean on my co-founder, Liya Samuel. My weakness is her strength and vice versa; we make a great team.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2017?
We finally found a production unit we can work with in Bhopal, India. It took us a long time to find someone that we could vibe with. We have decided to focus on the bridal market because there is a massive demand, especially in the South Asian community. WESTxEAST creates custom outfits from scratch and makes [the process] as seamless as possible. We are well-recognized for creating custom bridesmaids outfits at affordable prices starting at $95.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
“Keep it moving.” – my dad.
What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
I workout and make myself a healthy breakfast. I think self-care is very important in order to make yourself feel good and ready to start the day!
For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with DeShuna Spencer, Founder and CEO of kweliTV, a video streaming service that curates indie films, documentaries, web shows, news and kids programming from the entire African Diaspora—North America, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. DeShuna shares her challenges starting a tech company without a tech background, the highs and lows of bootstrapping, and some amazing advice for early stage entrepreneurs.