Polly & Other Stories is a platform that is on a mission to change the narrative around handmade, Pakistani craft as well as more contemporary cultural and art offerings from the country and show the world the significant potential of Pakistan which belies the soundbites on the news. Amneh Shaikh Farooqui, co-founder of Polly and Other Stories, highlights how the Corona crisis is affecting their business.
How has the current COVID-19 situation impacted your business?
Like other consumer facing/retail-based start-ups, we have been impacted by the closure of our outlets in Lahore (Y block, DHA) and in Islamabad (pop-up inside the US Embassy) as well as our inability to deliver orders being booked via our e-commerce website. On the partner/artisan end, we have had to halt all in-field training workshops and new product development. Shipments for the new season are also delayed due to the derailment of the transport and logistics industry.
What are you doing to keep operations up and running during this time?
Our first consideration was obviously for our team and partners – whether small businesses or artisans. In the run-up to the lockdown, we instituted flexible WFH operations (rolled out March 4) and made sure that essential staff members had everything they needed to keep things going. Most of our core team is composed of women and many have been inundated with additional care-giving as well as other domestic responsibilities. These vary from homeschooling children to managing the needs of the elderly. Our WFH day keeps this in mind and we have tried to be gentle and mindful in our demands and what we hope to get done.
We also used the reduced consumer-facing hours in early March to train store and warehousing staff on stringent new hygiene and packaging practices so that as soon as we can get back to more normalized operations, we can ensure that customers can shop online or continue to come to the store with complete peace of mind. For now, staff members have been sent home with full pay. We pulled up our payment cycle to ensure that all partners and vendor dues were cleared before the stores and offices had to shut down.
Our social media remains very active and we are trying to provide content that keeps audiences engaged. This includes a new stream on self-care and coping with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. This is driven not by any need to sell – but rather the impetus to stay connected, to make sure everyone is doing ok and that we are all pulling through this together. We are also using this period to develop pre-planned e-commerce expansion and other digital opportunities as well as undertaking virtual mentoring of small businesses. Follow our social media for more! We have big plans for April and beyond.
What tools are you using to stay productive and stay in touch with your team?
We have always operated as remote teams (currently our team members are divided between Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in Pakistan and NSW in Australia!) so digital solutions have been a huge part of our operations from the get-go. We have regular team meetings on Skype and Whatsapp and a daily connect chat group. We also use Dropbox, Google Drive and Zoom.
We keep communications open and frank – it has been a hard time for many of us and often the team is each other’s best support group.
What are you doing to stay positive?
At difficult times, the best response is to find a moment of calm, search within yourself and find your place of abundance. We did this as a team and knew early that we had to contribute beyond just getting our work done and being there for our partners and artisan communities. We have tried to be creative in using our skills. For example, some team members have volunteered to help digitize databases of daily wage earners in Karachi, so the government can keep better track of people who will be most impacted by the crisis. We are also disseminating content on social distancing and how to avoid getting infected to all our rural artisan communities in Urdu and other regional languages and developing a full strategy for how we can continue to support them emotionally and economically in this difficult time. I can safely say I have never been prouder of Team Polly!
How will we look back at this slice of our life? Will the world really completely change post-corona? Noone can say for sure! But one thing we can ensure is that when we are past this and we reflect on what we focused on, as individuals and as a social enterprise, we want to be able to remember that while we took care of ourselves and practiced social distancing, we operated from a place of love and community and we used our time and resources to help others too.
How would you pivot and what would you do differently in a post-corona world?
That’s such a critical question, isn’t it? At Polly HQ, we have known for some time that we need to find simpler and more tech-based ways of working with artisanal and small business partners – this was both to reduce our carbon footprint due to travel as well as shorten time to market for artisans. This crisis has only amplified how urgent this need is and gives our work a new focus.
The pandemic is also bringing to light so many things that are wrong with how we live and work now. Much has been said about how it is teaching us to slow down, to think of others and to finally get a sense of what sustainability really means. As a slow fashion, handcraft and artisan-based enterprise, these have always been Polly’s core values. We know that every day, ordinary choices, like choosing to buy handmade, small batch products from someone in a small business who relies on this income, can have an extraordinary impact on the world – both its environment and its people. The challenge for us is to take this moment and convert it into a movement! My hope is this crisis will mean that people will understand that “bigger is not better” and that “faster, not fewer” is no way to live. We must break old patterns and find new, more mindful ways of living and consuming.