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4 Things I Learned When I Turned My Love For Design Into A Startup

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By Saumya Aymuas:

Saumya Aymuas. Source: Facebook
Saumya Aymuas. Source: Facebook

New. It’s one of my favourite words. As a child and now as an adult, it gives me joy to try new things. That new pair of jeans, shoes, car, restaurant, places – you get the picture. Soon, I came to realise this quest for the new, more often than not, leads to discovering something unique. With these little nuggets of self-awareness, I started ‘The Aymuas Design Project’, where we design everything, not just interiors or furniture. The name is a reflection of what we do – experiment with all kinds of materials and styles to create something that’s one of a kind. And Aymuas is my adopted last name, which is one of a kind, too.

Experiment But Keep It Real

It all started as an experiment, thanks to a friend whose appreciation for my understanding of design, colours, materials pushed me to create common spaces at the Moustache Hostel, a trendy, backpacker hostel in Jaipur and Delhi. The experiment was a success on many levels.

Phool Box (1)For one, I created a new prototype to facilitate storage, which is always a huge problem for travellers. Since I like my designs to have an element of practicality but detest box beds, I figured – why not design a custom box on wheels that slides in and out from under the bed, looks fabulous and can be used as a centre table or a settee? This worked well. I also experimented a lot with colours, fabric and materials.

The result – every corner of the two hostels has been “Instagrammed” by travellers and backpackers. Since then, one project followed another, and another, and another, and it’s been over two years since we first got started.

When Budgets Are Low, Get Creative

Moustache Jaipur (1)Is it hard work? Yes. Are there challenges? Many. The toughest challenge, as an entrepreneur, is to find that ‘magic’ pricing. Fantastic quality means no compromise on anything, so figuring out pricing has not been easy. But it is tough to make people see that unique is a great thing and that shelling out a little more for it, is always worth it. So, you need to convince them with a little imagination. And results.

For instance, the challenge at Moustache Jaipur was that all the corridors were dark and absolutely cut off from light. But I didn’t want them to just want to have things hanging on them (paintings etc). Then it hit me – use broken mirrors. No one was convinced it would work. But I did patches and that was it!

It looks great, the owner was happy and travellers love to take pictures.

Build A Good Product First, Scale Up Later

It is a small business, currently, and I am not putting pressure on myself to do too much in too little time. I feel that when it comes to design you have got to give it time to evolve. I started drawing and painting when I was very young, and insisted on designing my own clothes as I grew older. I think the seed was always there in me, and while there are many challenges – technical, budget-related etc – the only one for me, is, to crack it.

Often, entrepreneurs come under tremendous amounts of pressure to scale up fast. However, the key really is to build a great product or service first – and then focus on the scale. A bad product scaled up fast will lead to unhappy customers. A good product scaled after perfection will grow more organically.

Moustache Jaipur (7)Have Real Conversations

About five to seven years ago when people started a business, having a website seemed like the only digital option. But today, I feel social media platforms are perfect for someone who is starting out, as it gives them the freedom that’s much needed to experiment as well as instant feedback (a must).

But while, getting more business and having interesting conversations is something that does happen, I want to learn via it as well. Through Facebook, I can connect with anyone in the world and that is huge. If tomorrow I want to learn a certain aspect of the craft, travel some place to get some material or just spend time with another designer or design house to expand my thought process, all of this is possible through this platform. Here’s where I can have real conversations with people. For instance, I have had people inbox me materials and products they deal with to see if I would be interested in using or promoting them.

As I begin my journey as an entrepreneur, all of this gets me a little more motivated to keep creating something new, every day. It has been slow but that is how I like it too. The idea for now, is to do great work and concentrate on building a rock solid foundation. Hopefully someday soon ‘The Aymuas Design Project’ will become a full grown stable business!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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