Name: Amneh Shaikh Farooqui
Business: Polly and Other Stories
Location: Karachi, Pakistan
Industry: Apparel & Accessories
Reason for starting? I am passionate about the power of entrepreneurship and small business and its ability to effect real change in the lives of people. From my experience working to develop pro-poor markets and bring incomes to marginalized communities, I realized that even talented craftspeople and hardworking small business owners struggle to gain traction to benefit from the national and international demand for beautiful, authentic and handmade items which has surged in recent years. Since most of the prevalent business models excluded or marginalized small or craft producers, we decided to create an online platform that would focus on the unique offerings from Pakistan that even people within the country cannot easily access or even know exist. Polly and Other Stories assists entrepreneurs to develop and sell products to a global audience while enabling businesses and artisans to grow, learn, and make a living.
I run Polly and Other Stories with my friend, Angela Braid. Ange has been working in market and livelihoods development for marginalised populations, IDPs and refugees in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia for 10 years
How do you define success? Polly & Other Stories seeks to revolutionize online sales in Pakistan by bringing human ideals back into retail. We do this by integrating innovative designs and products with the inspiring stories of the people that make them. Our e-store is built around the concept that consumers want to know the makers and narratives behind products, and so we treat retail as art. We curate our merchandise, much like a museum would its precious artifacts, such that every product tells a bigger story than just a sales transaction. The world is changing, and it will become harder for businesses to operate in a manner where profit maximization is their only game. You cannot be a truly successful company if you are surrounded by slums populated by disenchanted youth who have no hope of ever getting a job – that is dated thinking. We aren’t happy with a world where skilled people live in poverty, and for us success is a shared ideal with partnerships and alliances to build a better, fairer marketplace.
Biggest success: One thing we have learned from working in development is self-reliance. To get something new done on the ground, you have to be focused and patient, sometimes to the point that other people find unreasonable. But that is when real change occurs. When you commit to the long haul and know that if it is broken, you have to fix it! We are not tech geeks, so there was little-to-no tech expertise in our two person prelaunch team. And the learning curve was steep! There are very few women in this field in Pakistan and hardly anyone we knew could give us real feedback. Most of the folks we initially approached were very much part of an all-boys club. This made things very difficult but we powered through with ‘won’t give up’ determination and slept very little for about 3 months! We ended up training ourselves to do everything we needed to get done and 6 months later we have 50 partners and a growing customer base.
What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? We have lots of challenges, including a lack of resources to grow as fast as we would like (but this makes us insanely entrepreneurial and creative!), and a super overworked lean team (long hours as there is lots to do!). But being lean makes us faster – our turnaround time on big decisions is probably in microseconds which translates to being able to make decisions quickly and in practice allows us to change and evolve every day. The fact that the crafts value chain in Pakistan is extremely fragmented and includes everyone from individuals craftspeople to producer companies all over Pakistan with many folks in remote areas. We love travel, we love meeting new people, we love making things happen so we go with the flow on this one!
Who is your most important role model? Our strengths are our deep-rooted connections with and commitment to the communities and businesses we work with. We are lucky to have had jobs that allowed us to have close relationships and share our journey with the wonderful people we work with – and we want to continue to keep our brand as personable as possible, from design training right through to delivery to the customer
Edited by The Story Exchange