Starting a venture of your own is definitely not easy, you will have both good and bad days but the main thing is not to give up, work hard and work towards what you initially headed for!
This is what the journey of Aarti Maharjan, founder of AM Collection looks like. Following her dream of starting a venture she tied up with Parna International Khadi, an Indian organic soap manufacturing company to launch a unique handmade organic loofah bars to the Nepali market. Things definitely have not been easy for her, especially with the current crisis, but her determination and will power will surely help her get through this tough time and help her achieve her dream!
Read our short and sweet conversation with the very dynamic Aarti Maharjan to know more about her journey of starting AM Collection!
Can you please introduce yourself?
I am an entrepreneurship student and have always wanted to start my own business. When I came back after completing my bachelors, I started looking after my family business. Then I joined Kings college for my masters degree in entrepreneurship and at the same time Nepal went on a lockdown. With homebound, I started exploring business ideas and started working towards my passion of starting something new which is when I came across organic scrubber loofah soaps. I did a bit of research and came to know that an Indian organic soap manufacturer was trying to launch its products here in Nepal, so I contacted them and decided that I will be working with Parna International Khadi to bring this unique soap to the Nepali market.
Also during the same time, I participated in EntrepreneuHER, a startup cohort by Clock B Business Innovation and Blincventures.com. When I introduced my product there, a lot of people loved it which kind of provided me with validation and confidence that I was on the right path. I then started an Instagram page, AM Collection and officially tied up with Parna International Khadi and launched the product here in Nepal.
What is the specialty of your product?
The specialty of these soaps are that they are organic homemade loofah bars which are moisturizing and come with different flavors. So, I would say the soaps are 2 in 1, with moisturizing as well as scrubbing properties along with aromatic scent which are the specialty of the products.
Also since these are ayurvedic soaps it suits the majority of the skin types and also helps with acne issues.
Tell us about the production process of these loofah soaps?
Actually it’s not me who manufactures these products. Like I mentioned earlier I am associated with Parna International Khadi, an Indian manufacturing company. So, the products for now are manufactured in India however, I do have a plan of opening a manufacturing company here itself Nepal to produce these soaps. So, for now rather than production I am more inclined towards distribution of these loofah soaps here in Nepal.
Who are your allies in running the venture?
Actually it is just me for now as the AM Collection is still very new. I started this venture only in January 2021, so I have been looking after all the aspects from marketing, stalls and so on. However, I do have my husband who supports me with the online deliveries.
Where can customers find your products?
For now the customers can purchase the soaps from our Instagram handle. Also, I have placed the products in some departmental stores and some cosmetic stores in the Swayambhu area. In the future, when I start manufacturing products here in Nepal itself, I plan to open a retail outlet, so the customers will be able to visit us and buy the products.
What are the major challenges you faced initially when starting the venture?
Since the soaps have loofah in them, there were people who didn’t prefer the products. So, addressing those negative criticisms was tough initially. But again with time I have understood that not everyone’s the same and people do have different tastes and preferences.
Secondly, since I get the products from India, I have to pay for the customs and other charges which initially were heavy on my pocket. Along with this sometimes the delivery of products got delayed. So, these would be some challenges that I initially faced.
You mentioned that you started the venture in January 2021, so the COVID cases were still there. How did it impact the operation of AM Collection?
Luckily, because of the ongoing situation I ordered the products in bulk from India so I had sufficient stock maintained. So, with precautions and safety measures I was delivering the products, but again with the second wave when cases started increasing, I have stopped the operations and I am waiting for the situation to ease down.
What about the shelf life of the products?
The soaps last for two years from the date of manufacturing.
What are the social changes or impacts AM collection aims to bring through these organic loofah soaps?
The first and foremost impact that I want to bring is job and employment opportunities which is the major reason I want to open a manufacturing company here in Nepal itself.
Secondly, I want to create an awareness among people that we need not use fancy loofah, we can easily make Loofah from Gourd (Ghiraula in Nepali) which is sustainable as well as biodegradable. So, creating a reuse, recycle mindset is another impact that AM collection will be making.
How was your experience being a part of EntrepreneuHER?
I am really thankful to Clock B Business Innovation for organizing this cohort, these programs definitely help the startups and small businesses with their vision and goals. The experience of being a part and being in a room with innovative minds virtually was surreal. Every single participant was so determined to bring change and do something good for the society and people. Seeing that energy definitely motivated me to work hard. Along with this there were lots of learning like business strategies, importance and benefits of networking which has been really helpful for me.
How has your journey been so far?
When I started back in January I was really confident with what I was heading towards but then as I started marketing my products the reality did hit me hard. It was tough making people aware about the product and its specialty, so creating a need among people for my product was tough which also made me question myself. A part of me wanted to give up but a part of me didn’t and I chose the one that didn’t want to give up. I worked hard, changed my mindset and started networking and things started getting better. People started loving my products.
So, I would say that this journey has been a complete rollercoaster ride but definitely a worth experiencing one!
Want to pamper yourself with naturally finest handmade organic loofah soap bars? Check out @amcollection2021