Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
I was inspired to start krama wheel after a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. My original plan was to make a quick stop in Cambodia to see the famous Angkor Wat before continuing on to the Thai islands. But from the moment I arrived in Cambodia, there was something about the beauty and kindness of the people that struck me. I also quickly learned about the genocide that plagued the country in the 1970s, leaving millions displaced, poverty-stricken or dead. Feeling the urge to do something, I bailed on my beach plans and spent the rest of my trip in Cambodia engaging with different communities and learning about the enormous challenges they faced. One of the most moving moments for me was giving new school uniforms to children living in a remote village. These children were beaming with confidence and self-worth as they received their critical key to an education, since school uniforms are required by law in Cambodia, and families in poor parts of the country often can’t afford to buy them for their children. During my time in Cambodia, I also discovered the local markets full of vibrant scarves unlike any others I had ever seen, which sparked an idea for a way I could continue to support the local communities from home. After multiple trips to various markets around Siem Reap, I ended up with a backpack overflowing with colorful scarves. Back home in Austin, I made a mobile boutique out of my car trunk and zipped around town showing them to everyone I could. The scarves, and more importantly the stories of the people they stood for, were an instant hit. It was a powerful realization that a universal product like a scarf had potential to do infinitely greater good in the world. I knew that I was onto something, and that experience inspired me to launch the krama wheel store on Shopify as a way to support the talent and livelihood of local weavers in Cambodia while also giving children access to education through the donation of a school uniform for each scarf sold. Our products are all handwoven by a co-op of women in Cambodia. They all work from home in remote villages, which allows them to take care of the household while also earning this much-needed supplemental income. Not only are the scarves handwoven, but the cotton is hand-dyed, the fringe is hand-knotted, and the labels are hand-sewn, giving each stage of production a human touch.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Our first online sale came via social media. From day one of the store opening for business, we had total strangers from across the U.S. ordering our scarves and sharing about their purchase on Facebook. It was incredible to see their enthusiasm for our products through the power of social media. Most of our traffic and sales come from our products appearing in some great national publications such as Vogue and Lucky, as well as from Facebook and our email campaigns. We have very consciously built our mailing list organically and ethically, so we know that everyone on there specifically wanted to be on there. We have a very loyal customer base.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
The Stitch Labs and MailChimp apps have made a huge impact on keeping customer and order information organized. The Stitch Labs integration seamlessly imports our online orders with our offline sales and ensures that inventory is updated instantly. One of our favorite tools in Shopify is the ability to create discount codes; it allows us to mix up the kinds of perks we can offer our customers. We are also very excited about the Pinterest app and Buyable Pins. We foresee it being one of our strongest sales channels this fall and winter when our scarf sales peak. All fulfillment is handled in-house (literally, from a house) and we ship via USPS. We just started offering shipping to Canada which we are very excited about since we get a lot of interest from customers there.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
First, don't be intimidated to launch your store. Starting a business can be scary, especially when you have no prior experience with it as was the case for us. But in this day and age, platforms like Shopify make the process very approachable and user friendly. Once you've taken the leap (Congratulations! That's the hardest part!), create a space that is clean and easy to navigate. You want people to focus on your products and your story. Anything that distracts from those risks losing potential customers. And finally, keep experimenting with new ways to find customers: pitch media, approach bloggers, join new social media outlets, host contests--you never know what will stick!