2020 – when we look back, many of us will probably say it was a constant hurdle. Whether it was (or still is) the lockdowns, the effects on our work life or that many of us have been separate from loved ones for months. If this year has taught us something, it probably is that we have to stay positive and try to turn things around.
I started the year in Bangkok and the first signs of Covid had already been visible at the beginning of February. I had cancelled trips I had planned to meet artisans for my store Pelagona. Building up partnerships with artisan initiatives or small family businesses requires a lot of time. Trust is nothing which can be built up quickly and face-to-face interaction is crucial. Nevertheless, we had to keep things going and relied on emails and video calls. It actually showed me which partners I can rely on even in difficult times. It probably helped me narrow down where I want to take Pelagona in terms of products and future collections.
Another big challenge was our project in India. Over the past months, I have been partnering with a group of women for new products. Our initial pre-Covid plan was to have the women meet in small groups and teach them how to crochet, knit and stitch. In person teaching is important for such a project as the progress of the products needs to be checked regularly. In case there is a mistake, the project leader who is an expert can help the women out. The lockdowns in India made in-person meetings impossible for months. I just felt that I am looking at an hourglass with the sand falling through at an insane speed.
I could have just sat there and waited until the situation improved. But, to be honest, we all do not know how long lockdowns and social distancing will accompany us. I think we have to be realistic and it will be something we will have to live with. Furthermore, I know how important the income from crocheting is for the female artisans. I have written about this in my No Panic Diary and in my Monday Postcard #139: the crisis will hit the poorest most. As you may know, in India there is not much of a social net in case people lose their jobs. Now even more than before the pandemic, it is important to work on long-term income opportunities.
After weeks of planning and trying to overcome the challenges, we decided to change the product line to products which the artisans can make only requiring little advice from the group leader. Furthermore, we made sure that the women had access to video calls to start working from their homes.
And then the next hurdle came up: it was a mission to get yarn. Usually, we have a really good supplier at the market. Due to the lockdowns, the shops were closed and nobody was allowed to head outside of their homes. The yarn selection online was extremely limited, especially when it came to organic cotton and merino wool. We tried to look for locally-based online shops, as we did not know if suppliers outside of India would be able to ship and get the yarns through customs. I tried to solve the problem by sending yarn from Austria – not sustainable in the long-run but it seemed like the only option at that time. But postal services were suspended in many countries and there was no guarantee that the yarn would make it to India. We did more research and called several yarn producers until we finally found one with the quality of yarn we were looking for.
The group has just started working on the products. I am always very excited to see the progress of the projects. But this year, I am particularly excited to see this project coming to life. It also showed me that even though the situation was and still is challenging, we learned from it and maybe even found a better solution than without dealing with these bottlenecks. We decided to film crochet instructions so that the women can work on the products independently. This solved the problems posed by lockdowns but I think it will also be an asset in the future. Whenever new women join the group, they can start learning the craft by using the videos. They can do it when they are at home and need to take care of the children, for example. We would have probably thought about this, but I guess it would have been at a later stage because there was no immediate need. I cannot wait to share the results with you soon.
I am sharing this example of hurdles I had to overcome for the business this year because I want to encourage you to not become disenfranchised. It is easy to lose sight in a year like 2020, but there are workarounds. They may take long and require a lot of effort, but maybe they even push us further. I do believe that if we do not give up and keep pushing, we can achieve great things.
Do not lose faith, especially not in yourselves and what you are capable of! I wish you a lovely week ahead!