Entrepreneur Name: Peeyush Rastogi
Business Name: Happee
Welcome to #eoindia #startupstories Episode 25.
Each week we will ask an Indian entrepreneur 11 questions so that we can all be inspired by their stories.
Born and raised in Jaipur, the Pink City of India, Peeyush (@peeyush_rastogi) has always dreamt of having his own business. Before setting up his own company, Peeyush was the President of AIESEC in Jaipur, where he became passionate about different cultures, traveling and making the world a better place.
Two years ago this dream became a reality when Peeyush teamed up with Brazilian fashion designer Leticia Sales who had travelled to India to work in fashion. Peeyush and Leticia wanted to start a social business in the fashion industry and with a strong orientation to value people and remunerate them in a fair and adequate way.
The result was Happee
The goal of Happee is to create a happier and better world through fashion, which is a notorious industry for low wages and exploitation of labor. They work exclusively with Indian artisans, and mostly from rural areas, who often live in a situation of vulnerability and exploitation by middle men. They provide fair wages and training in areas such as design, in order to strengthen their knowledge and business as a whole.
Happee has now in operation for over 2 years and producing 10 different types of products.
So let’s hear the story of how it all began. Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories.
Peeyush as usual, lets begin with our first question…
1) How did you get your idea for this business?
The idea came mutually between my business partner and I, as she already worked in the fashion industry where she has seen the sad reality of exploitation of labor and poor working conditions, and I always wanted to be a businessman that could create a positive impact and make a difference to our society. We were tired of the exploitation of our rural artisans and craftsmen, so together we thought of changing this, by creating a business within this industry but that actually does well to the people involved.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
There is a crescent wave of consciousness in the world about sustainability and human rights in all areas, and naturally, the fashion industry is affected as well. Especially after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1100 people who worked for garment manufacturers. Since then, there are growing movements in this industry towards making fashion a more transparent and ethical one. Furthermore, with a growing global population, global warming, pollution and future scarcity of raw materials, it becomes imperative for businesses to find new ways of manufacturing and doing business.
Digging deeper into the subject, we found that although officially there are 7 million artisans in India, unofficially this number could be as high as 200 million, as official figures count only the master artisan in that business. Crafts are the backbone of rural economy after farming. Today, 70% of Indian population lives in rural areas, more than 800 million people, and every Indian state has a different form of handicraft, made mostly by artisans who manufacture in their homes with other members of the family.
Many artisans have poor educational background, exposing them to exploitation by loan sharks, manufacturers and even customers who often bargain and refuse to see value in such a precious and intense work. This is why there is a big need for an idea like this to exist in order to strengthen our roots, our Indian crafts and taking them to the world.
3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
In general they were very skeptical, not only because I was only 23 when I decided to do it, but because they did not understand the concept of a social business. They kept asking me “how can you think of giving back to society when you don’t even earn for yourself? Apart from this, I’m a mechanical engineering graduate, so it was also another barrier to break the fact that I would be working at a totally different industry with no experience in it. Their biggest fear was if I would end up ruining my career path or eventually would waste my crucial starting years.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
Lack of research and planning. Because we were very young when we started, we couldn’t figure out our numbers properly – how much inventory we should have, what sales outcome we could possibly achieve with the marketing budget we had and so on. Another point (although we don’t consider it a mistake, but a learning point) is that initially, we were not working in our focus areas. I have more experience in finance and planning, and my business partner has experience in fashion marketing, but because we wanted to learn about different things, she initially handled finance and planning and I handled marketing. We learned a lot and it was good because now we understand about all areas of the business, but eventually, we realised it was better and more effective for us to each focus on the areas they already have experience in.
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
To accelerate our growth. We’ve been running marketing tests and working on structuring the business, so over the next 12 months, growth will become imperative. Also how to penetrate more in different and diverse markets across rest of the world and India.
6) What habits contribute to your success?
Constant communication and self-evaluation. We are always trying to learn new things, be it online strategies, and be it by talking to artisans and getting a deep understanding about their lives, their products, the problems they face and so on. We are very flexible and don’t find it very difficult to change the way we work if we realize we should head another direction. Persistence from both of us to make it a success has definitely helped us a lot.
“WE ARE ALWAYS TRYING TO LEARN NEW THINGS..”
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
Probably, product planning, solid marketing investment from day 1 and focusing on my area of expertise which is finance and operations.
8) What is your favorite inspirational quote?
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do” – Steve Jobs
9) Where do you find inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration in the stories of other successful entrepreneurs. My favourite ones are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, it always inspires me how innovative they could be, and how much they accomplished given the setbacks they’ve experienced in life. Also the rural artisans from our motherland inspire me a lot, their simple living and exceptional work skills makes me believe that you don’t have to be unique but original and exceptional with minimalist desire for praise and appreciation.
10) What is your favorite book?
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
There will always be people questioning and not valuing what you do. Know in your heart why this is your goal, your dream, and even in the hardest times you’ll find the strength to move forward. I’d also advise people on considering opening social businesses, it’s a great satisfaction to see you’re contributing to improve someone else’s life. It’s the best reward of all.
As usual, thank you to Peeyush and Happee for the excellent interview. Great to learn your story and about this fantastic business you are running.
We really like the fact that you have put social impact in the core of your business model. As entrepreneurs, we all have a responsibility or maybe even an obligation to impact the world around us for good. We should leave the earth a better place than we found it. Thank you Peeyush for reminding us about this and we hope that your story and vision will inspire others to build socially responsible businesses that empower rather than exploit.
Don’t forget to check out the recommended books below. Both books are really great and inspirational reads
We wish Peeyush and Happee all the success for the future.