The Story Of Alvina’s Fashion World: Alvina Akter On How She Built An Online Fashion Business From Scratch

The Story Of Alvina’s Fashion World: Alvina Akter On How She Built An Online Fashion Business From Scratch

Ajkerdeal Credit banner When Alvina Akter, founder of Alvina’s Fashion World, an online fashion seller, decided to start her online shop she had very little idea of how the world of internet selling works. She just finished a three months internship at Onnorokom Group as part of her undergrad program where she first came to know about the immense potential of eCommerce and how people are using Facebook and other platforms like Ajkerdeal to sell products online and start small businesses.

Ms. Alvina came from a business family. Her family has been in the clothing business for the past 25 years and she knows a thing or two about clothing and fashion. After much thought, she decided to try the world of digital commerce, first by buying things online, to experience and understand the medium, and then selling through different groups on Facebook before opening her own Facebook page. Initially, she sold imported products such as Pakistani and Indian products and gradually has moved on to launch her own in-house designs.

One thing leads to another, today Alvina’s Fashion World has over one lakh followers on its Facebook page, sells on platforms like Ajkerdeal and is a growing business. We recently spoke to Alvina Akter to know more about her journey, the state of Alvina’s Fashion World and her future plans for the business.

Alvina Akter

Alvina Akter | photo by Alvina’s Fashion World

Future Startup

Where did you grow up? Please tell us about your journey to what you are doing today?

Alvina Akter

I was born and brought up in Dhaka. I did my Honors in Economics and am currently doing Masters at Begum Badrunnessa Govt. Girls College.

My journey into the world of online business is quite serendipitous. Towards the end of my Honors program, I did a three months internship at ‘Onnorokom’ group as part of my degree which eventually led to starting of online operation of Alvina’s Fashion World.

Before my stint at Onnorokom, I had very little idea about online commerce and opportunities it could offer. While working there, I came to know about the new world of online business burgeoning on the back of Facebook and online marketplaces from a colleague of mine. I was piqued.

After my internship, I was done with my course work and became relatively free and decided to explore the online business world.

I started with buying things from different Facebook pages and groups in order to understand how the entire thing works and the dynamics of the business. While I learned quite a bit, my experience with many sellers was not entirely good. I came to know about some gaps in the market in terms of product, pricing and service quality.

After gathering some knowledge, I thought probably I could try something on my own now. More like an experiment into learning by doing. My family has been in the clothing business for the past 25 years. I know a little bit of the trade. So I decided to play with my strength.

Initially, I did not open any Facebook page or group, instead, I uploaded some photos from my store inventory to a Facebook buy and sell group to see the response. Our family business usually imports Indian and Pakistani lawns directly for our shop which gives us pricing flexibility compared to many online sellers who source from an importer. For instance, we could sell some of the products at BDT 900 to 1100 that other sellers were selling at BDT 1,400-1,500.

Initially, my family members were neutral about it but as soon as I started, I have never been in lack of support from them.

In 2012, I had my page created but did not use it much. I was using different Facebook groups. But my customers continually requested me to start my Facebook page which eventually led to restarting of Alvina’s Fashion World page. Although I had the page, I had very little knowledge about boosting and Facebook marketing. Despite my amateur handling, Alvina’s Fashion World amassed, to my surprise, around 4000 followers in a month. I was inspired.

We gradually started to received orders every day through our online platforms. It was slow but steady growth. The first big hit came during the 2012 Eid. We received a huge response from our customers which eventually set our online business on its way to success. After that, we never had to look back. Today, apart from Facebook we are also selling through Ajkerdeal.com and other platforms.

I have always believed that if we offer great quality products at affordable price people will buy from us. Our ambition from the very beginning has been to reach out to a large number of customers over maximizing profit and turn them into loyal customers through offering best product and service. Building a loyal customers base is the most critical thing for any business.

I started with buying things from different Facebook pages and groups in order to understand how the entire thing works and the dynamics of the business. While I learned quite a bit, my experience with many sellers was not entirely good. I came to know about some gaps in the market in terms of product, pricing and service quality. After gathering some knowledge, I thought probably I could try something on my own now. More like an experiment into learning by doing.

A Message From Ajkerdeal.com

Our ambition is to make sure that your business thrives in this new digital world.

Ajkerdeal native contextual bannerAt Ajkerdeal.com, every day we strive to be better in order to make sure that your business reaches the maximum number of customers. Our goal is simple: empowering small and medium enterprises to reach out to the customers they otherwise would not be able to reach.We are the largest managed marketplace in the country. Learn more here.

Future Startup

Tell us more about Alvina’s Fashion World including your operation, business process, and the products you currently offer? How did you manage your initial funding to start the business?

Alvina Akter

Clothing is my family business. We have been in this business for the last 25 years. We did not have any online operations until I started it.

Unlike many new businesses that require investment in order to get things moving, my situation was different. I did not require any investment because I did not have to buy products. I took products from our store and sold through my online platforms. So for me, investment was not an issue. My time and energy were my investment.

Initially, I used to sell Indian and Pakistani imported dresses, which as I have said, is a family business but eventually I move on to add my own designs to our product line.

I first designed a saree on the occasion of 21st February, the international mother language day, with a thematic connection with the day. It took me around 11.5 hours to complete the saree which received a great reception from my customers both in the country and abroad. The success was a huge inspiration for me.

After that, we changed our strategy and original design became an important part of our product line. Now we launch new designs for almost every occasion. For Eid-ul-Fitr this year, we launched 56 different sarees. We have also introduced matching couple dress design for events which has a huge demand among young couples. Our in-house design is a big part of our future plans.

We currently have 3 factories, in Jatrabari, Narayanganj, and Dhanmondi, where 15 people work. Apart from that, we are a 9 people team at the office who look after the operations along with 2 customer relation officers who also help in logistics.

Future Startup

Can you please tell us about the scale of your monthly business?

Alvina Akter

It varies. Clothing or any fashion business is largely event driven which is true for us as well. We sell between 2000 to 2500 pieces of products a month when there is an event or occasion. In a regular month, it is somewhere between 400 to 500 copies per month. We sell about 10,000 copies a year.

We make a very conservative profit on each piece. In fact, sometimes my online business clients suggest me to rethink the pricing which I often politely decline. As I have already said, this is my family business and I am working in my own factory which allows me to control the costing to some extent eventually allowing me to offer a very affordable price to my customers. Moreover, my goal is not profit maximization at this point.

Future Startup

Tell us about challenges you faced in the early days of your business. Your family has been in the clothing business for the past 25 years, it of course helps. That said, the internet is a different world.

Alvina Akter

The main challenge that I and many other online businesses face is dealing with frauds. Our designs get copied. Our promotional campaigns get copied by fake pages who use the same photo as their product and offer a lower price. This often confuses our customers. Sadly, many customers eventually end up buying fake products.

All of this ultimately creates a bad impression in customers and we get to deal with the consequences. Many customers are already losing faith in online shopping due to the sub par experience.

There is a greater repercussion of any bad experience customers have online, they end up suspecting the entire medium which is a huge challenge to overcome.

At Alvina’s Fashion, we work hard to make sure that our customers receive the best possible service. We have solid return and refund policy which allows our customers to return products if they find a problem and get a refund.

I personally think obsessing over the competition is an unproductive approach because it can lead to dissatisfaction when your competitors are doing well thus hampering your focus.

Future Startup

How do you reach out to your customers? How does your marketing work?

Alvina Akter

We are in f-commerce business. We don’t have our website yet. On Facebook, we promote posts through existing options and apply other community engagement strategies to interact with our customers.

Apart from Facebook, we sell on Ajkerdeal.com and few other platforms. When we are working with Ajkerdeal.com, they take care of the marketing and other issues. A significant percentage of our current sales comes from Ajkerdeal.com.

Future Startup

How does your monthly growth look like?

Alvina Akter

I’ve already given you the numbers earlier. We have been growing consistently over the past years. However, one of the key metrics for us is customer loyalty and recurring customers. We have also been doing very well in that metric.

Future Startup

How is the competition in the market? How do you deal with competition?

Alvina Akter

To be very honest, we are minimally concerned about competition. Moreover, I consider other online businesses as my co-workers and all of us are working in the same market.

My target customers are mostly people of 15 to 45 years of age. Almost 50% of online shopping is done by this group. We don’t obsess over competition rather we focus on offering better product and services to our customers.

I personally think obsessing over the competition is an unproductive approach because it can lead to dissatisfaction when your competitors are doing well thus hampering your focus.

I try to compete with myself and surpass my previous milestone every time in respect of sales unit and performance. This is my competition, a competition which will only develop myself and will never degrade my humanity. Competition, in that sense, is a positive thing for me.

Future Startup

Fashion is a competitive space. There are other designer fashion brands online that probably sell similar products like yours. How do you differentiate from others?

Alvina Akter

We design our own products and maintain superior quality. Our designs are unique in nature and you would not find them anywhere else. We also do occasion specific designs.

My goal is to provide the customers with different designs on every occasion. In fact, we do not advertise old designs during a recent occasion instead we make new designs for every occasion.

That said, we work hard to ensure superior customer service which is an extreme priority to us. Our return and refund policy are straightforward and simple. Our commitment to ensuring best service for our customers is what makes us different.

Alvina's Fashion World team

Alvina’s Fashion World people

Future Startup

What is the future plan for Alvina ‘s Fashion World?

Alvina Akter

One goal, of course, is to build trust in the market because we understand that trust is incredibly important for growth in the eCommerce space. We plan to have offline retail as well. We currently have a showroom but we plan to expand physically.

We don’t have a timeline in mind, but down the line sometimes we plan to open more showrooms.

The immediate priority is improving our brand awareness in the market and reach out to more people.

The first tip would be while starting a business please keep a longer time horizon in mind. You have to consistently work hard for a long time. Patience is critical. Nothing will ever happen overnight. Not every event will be successful. Your patience will push you forward.

Future Startup

You have been working with ajkerdeal.com for the last 2 years. How is your experience with Ajkerdeal?

Alvina Akter

Our experience with Ajkerdeal.com has been excellent over the past two years. Ajkerdeal.com was our first third party marketplace after Facebook that we started working with.

We consistently receive a good number of orders through Ajkerdeal.com. In fact, we receive the highest sales amount from ajkerdeal among all other platforms we are using.

They take care of our logistical and other technical needs that save us a lot of time and hassle and allows us to focus solely on our business.

The immediate priority is improving our brand awareness in the market and reach out to more people.

Future Startup

What are the biggest lessons from your journey so far?

Alvina Akter

Customers are always right. As a business, your job is to make sure that your customers are well served and you have to meet their complaints with an open mind instead of trying otherwise.

You should ensure a peace of mind to your customers that they would get the best product if they buy from you and they would get a solution as well if anything goes wrong.

Due to overall experience problem in online shopping, many customers complain that they don’t receive the product that they order online. Instead of claiming that we are different, we tell our customers that please check the product before paying and if it is not what you wanted then do not accept it. We also refund if a product performs badly after first use.

Personally, this business has changed my life. I have met a lot of people and built lifelong connections that I consider invaluable. Knowing that people love your brand is an incredible feeling. People and friends send flowers, fruits or vintage collections just to show their love and affection. They possibly do not know who Alvina is but they do know ‘Alvina’s Fashion World’. These love and affections are priceless.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are interested in starting an online business?

Alvina Akter

When anybody comes to me I try to help as much as possible. One problem, however, I come across recurringly is that most people give up or complain about low sales just after 2-3 months of trying. 2-3 months is very short time to build a business or anything for that matter.

The first tip would be while starting a business please keep a longer time horizon in mind. You have to consistently work hard for a long time. Patience is critical.

Nothing will ever happen overnight. Not every event will be successful. Your patience will push you forward.

Correction: The interview has been updated for total yearly sales volum of Alvina’s Fashion World. The information has been corrected.

(Interview by Tashnim Mohammad, Edited by Ruhul Kader)

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Mohammad Tashnim

Tashnim is a reporting intern at Future Startup. He is studying BBA at Bangladesh University of Professionals. Previously, Tashnim was involved with ‘Project – Green Light’, a road safety awareness campaign, House of Youth Dialogue (HYD), a voluntary organization and EVENT 52, an event management firm.

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