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Lola Jutta
5 Jun 2017 . 8 min read

Kathak Entered The Male-Dominated Manufacturing Industry And Won!


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She couldn’t  find a washing machine for handmade clothes, so designed her own. 

“During my Master’s degree in Technology and Innovations Management from CEPT University and through working on projects in the same area with organizations like GIAN and ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), I realised  India has a huge innovation potential. During my day-to-day interaction with the locals, I saw innovations that people used in their daily life which have a significant impact. But  not all of these get to the market as products. I discovered that less than 5% innovations come to the market as a product! There are numerous factors and reasons for this low conversion rate and also policy actions from the government are being implemented to change this. However, I made up my mind to do my bit, and build an innovative product-based business.”

Born and brought up in Rajkot, Gujarat, Kathak moved to Ahmedabad, and has been living there ever since. Her parents were academicians. Watching  her fiercely independent mother make unconventional choices, instilled that sense of confidence and individuality in her. This innovator shares her journey...

Solving an everyday problem

“Living away from home for many years, I constantly struggled with washing my favorite clothes without damaging them. My wardrobe is filled with clothes in variety of fabrics, texture, prints and colors And most of these clothes come with a “hand-wash” tag. I had many incidents where my clothes were ruined. And like most women, I have an emotional attachment with my clothes. It was heart-breaking to see them damaged!

Sending the clothes to the laundry meant I did not have clothes when I needed them. I also noticed that the lifecycle of clothes reduced because of the strong chemicals used. The only reliable option was to sit down and wash them myself. But then, hand-washing clothes is cumbersome process!  

That’s when I decided to build a washing device that is reliable, gentle, fast and sustainable.. And that is how Gentlewasher was born!

The Gentlewasher is a washing device specifically designed for delicate clothes.  Its patented drum profile is designed to preserve fabrics, so that delicate clothes stay intact wash after wash. It takes care of 8 kurtas/ shirts in less than 5 minutes, and is hand-operated, conserves water, uses no electricity, is durable and has zero maintenance.

The wash quality is comparable to that of a good front-load washing machine, and the ergonomic handle enables a swift and very easy-to-use experience.

First, I had to fight the stereotypes

The journey of my venture involves delving head-on into the male dominated world of manufacturing, working with daily wager workforce, dealing with conventional factory owners, vendors and suppliers, understanding the pulse of the market and more. I had to break many stereotypes, but instead of letting the challenges stop me, I made them my driving force. 

#1. The social stereotype: Starting ‘up’ at an age when our society expects women to settle ‘down’ in marriage.

I have been fortunate to have parents who take pride in it and do not necessarily have a social definition of the right time to get married. On the other hand, extended family and distant relatives had their share of conventional norms and the question of ‘when are you getting married?’ How I did not get bogged down by any social pressure, was to explain to them in detail my own belief system in a way  they could understand. This worked better for me instead of throwing back, ‘I live life on my own terms’ in people’s face.

#2. The gender stereotype: In the manufacturing sector which is mainly dominated by men:

Whenever I’d visit factories and industrial areas, it was very striking that women in manufacturing was a rare sight. In most cases, the factory owners would be amazed to see me as the person dealing with manufacturers and the unskilled workforce. I have perennially faced the subconscious behaviour of ‘what is a woman doing in factories?’ It always takes a while for the men I deal with to come to terms with the not-so-common situation of doing business with women.

Kathak at work

However, it was also heartening to see the respect they showed towards me, as a woman taking up the challenging path of a business in manufacturing.  

Facing challenges head-on

I realised that new business development is not the highest priority for vendors and suppliers. They already have long-term business which keeps them busy enough. On the other hand everyone wants to grow business, but do it the easiest way. In this scenario, going to them with new product development and small order quantity is not the most attractive proposition for them. So you, have to meet many many vendors/ suppliers before you find the right one who has matching bandwidth of mindset as you. This requires huge patience and people skill. 

Kathak's original design

The next challenge: Most of the times it is the workforce/ daily wagers who operate the actual production , and they may or may not have the same understanding of quality standards. To ensure that we manufacture a product of high quality, I would  spend days at the factories, monitoring the work under progress and motivating the workforce in person. Sometimes I would sit with the workforce over lunch and keep explaining to them the importance of high precision again and again.

Building relations of trust with the labor force is a must.

Get out there and do your research

I, along with the co-founder Coen Vermeer met with over 500 women to understand their problems around washing clothes detail. Taking a user-centered design approach, based on insights and observations, we began prototyping the product.

The first functional prototype was a basic drum of wrought iron, weighing 20 kilograms and a fiberglass base. 

Each day Coen and I would carry the prototype around to people’s homes or at Dhobi Ghat in Ahmedabad and have people use it. 

The final product is the result of two years of intensive R&D, 20 prototypes and developing each part of gentle washer with superior quality and precision!

Scaling it up

Initially, most of our marketing efforts focussed on Ahmedabad. After a few months we launched the gentle washer nationally by selling online on Amazon Launchpad.  We do product demos at kitty parties, college hostels, residential societies and  local events. We tied up with fashion designers and boutiques, where such clothes are bought; consumers always enquire about the best way to wash the clothes.

Favourite among hostellers too!

The gentle washer is also favourite among students living in hostel who have their own laundry struggle because hostels don’t have washing machines, and dhobis can expensive. At the start of the academic session we plan to have promotional campaigns for college-going students living in hostels.

My top learnings

It has been a long, and interesting journey, and for all the women-innovators out there, keep these tips in mind:

  • Do comprehensive market research before starting the development process

  • Managing resources is key. Think ahead and plan meticulously.

  • Spend enough time in prototyping to get the product right

  • Find the right supplier and vendors and build relations with them

  • Be patient, persevering and passionate about what you do!

Share with us your stories of innovation, or your entrepreneurial journey at [email protected]. And get featured on SHEROES. We owe ourselves to bring out stories of innovators like Kathak. She is driving the change in society by taking up day-to-day challenges and hunting for a solutions through innovation.

 


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Lola Jutta
An unapologetic writer, budding travel enthusiast and a default optimist! Life is what you make out of it.

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Responses

  • A*****
    Gud spirit n wat is the cost of ur device
  • R*****
    Really great,keep it up
  • L*****
    Keep up the good work. You surely are an inspiration.
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