As a new mum living in London, having spent most of my childhood in the States – I wanted my daughter to grow up celebrating Holi as much as Halloween and realised that many new parents today are in the same boat.
When I walked around London, New York, and even India for that matter – almost all the kids’ clothing I saw was inspired by the West. ‘Santa’s little helper’ or ‘Mummy’s Favourite Valentine’. Where was the ‘Little Firecracker’ onesie for Diwali or the ‘Papa Kehte Hai Bada Naam Karega’ onesie for new dads? Why weren’t we celebrating the things that meant something to us?
I had just quit my job to look after my six-month-old daughter when I got to discussing business ideas with my husband’s cousin and my now business partner Rahil Shah. Rahil, a chartered accountant (by accident, he claims), realised quite early in the day that numbers couldn’t be his life and quit his banking job while exploring various business ideas.
During one of our conversations, we realised that I had lots of friends and family who had emigrated from India to other parts of the world and were looking for little ways to stay connected with their Indian roots, especially after having kids. And things fell in place. World + e-commerce + need + gap. And thus, was born the idea for Zeezeezoo.
Zeezeezoo adds a desi twist to kids’ clothing and daily use products, with an undeniable Indian-ness. Selling via our own website, is a collection of organic cotton bodysuits, tees, blankets, bibs, multilingual flash cards, alphabet charts, wall prints, passport covers, water bottles and gift sets for kids.
When we began Zeezeezoo, there were a lot of things that neither of us understood about creating clothing for children. The first of this was selecting the right fabric. We knew we wanted to use only organic cotton to make our products. Even though it needed more stringent checks, had higher costs, and was harder to source, we felt that it made sense on so many levels as the benefits are tremendous – to the consumer, the environment, and cotton-pickers in the country.
The thing we didn’t know, was that there are different kinds of organic cotton that we can choose from. There was one especially memorable meeting where the head of a manufacturing company decided that we were too ignorant for his precious time and walked out of the meeting with some lame excuse, leaving his assistant to field our questions. Another especially memorable one was where the head of another manufacturing company had some faith and invested an hour with us – talking us through many of the details and processes. Moral of the story – make sure you know everything there is to know about your product before you start meeting people.
The crucial next step was to zero in on an illustrator who would give Zeezeezoo its own identity. After some extensive Google usage, we decided to work with a reputed designer known for her previous work. In retrospect, we could have gone with someone less established to save costs but her experience and reputation gave us a fighting edge. Today, we have about four to five designers working with us which ensures that there are fresh ideas coming in constantly and we don’t have to rely on just one person.
One of our biggest challenges as a new brand has been getting the word out. Being self-funded, we are bootstrapped to the core. And so, when it comes to marketing, we’ve been fortunate to be a startup in the age of social media. While Google ads are probably best for large companies with extensive budgets, Facebook and Instagram have been an effective means to reach out in a targeted manner within set budgets. From paid means like ads to free opportunities like being able to share our brand with various South-Asian mommy groups, to launching new products and receiving instant feedback – it is impossible to imagine growing the brand without the support of social media.
One of my favourite memories of our initial social media outreach was through a secret Facebook group that connects ‘brown mommies’ around the world. When I posted the story of this startup and what I was trying to create – we got massive support from desi moms around the world. Within a day, we had received hundreds of messages, likes, and sales!
With Rahil and the rest of the team based in India and just me in London, we have created a structure where I get to dig into my creative side to come up with concepts and products for the brand and find ways to market the company while Rahil, based in India, runs the basics of the business, the finances and operations.
There are, of course, times when we pick up after each other – most often when it comes to time zone issues, and sometimes when my motherly duties get in the way! Sometimes I deal with delivery issues (like for US orders), at times Rahil deals with vendor calls. But obviously in a start-up, it is always an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of mindset, and what makes it work is that both of us are driven to make Zeezeezoo a success.
It has been a challenge to find our own space in an already full marketspace. What works best for us is to always be clear about our aim and the gap we are trying to fill. We are sticking to our Indian roots and not compromising on the quality of our product. That’s the biggest lesson for me – in the struggle to make it big, never forget why you started your venture.