"Being surrounded by hardworking, ambitious women of all ages has helped me become a better listener, leader, and overall entrepreneur.” - Maya Mutalik, Founder of Hope Sews
One of the most important weeks in U.S. fashion happens in February at NY Fashion Week. To celebrate, the WIN Lab is highlighting fashion entrepreneurs who are adding their own unique flavor to the industry. Here, we talked to Maya Mutalik, the founder of Hope Sews, a fashion startup that supports women entrepreneurs in Ghana.
Q.1 Tell us the story of Hope Sews. Who was the seamstress who inspired you to start the business?
My Hope Sews journey began in the small village of Anloga, Ghana, where I was fortunate enough to meet a seamstress named Vida Sowah. I was deeply inspired by her ambition, work ethic, and desire to help other women in her community succeed. I learned that Vida was unable to meet demands and expand her business in large part because she did not own a single electric sewing machine. Her reality mimicked the reality of many seamstresses in Ghana.
As someone who has always loved fashion and clothing experimentation, I also saw an exciting opportunity to use the African wax prints I bought at the market to create designs that merged both western and Ghanaian styles. I still remember the endless compliments I received when I wore these outfits after coming back to the US; the look was vibrant, bold, and exciting.
Vida’s story and the compliments I received sparked the idea of a social enterprise that would sell modern clothing made from authentic Ghanaian fabrics and provide seamstresses facing financial hardships with micro-finance loans to help them grow their businesses.
Hope Sews has since provided its first electric sewing machine to Vida. She now uses it to increase operational efficiency as well as mentor young women in her community so they too have a chance at a brighter future in the seamstress industry. We are now working with 12 other seamstresses to provide them with the tools they need to grow, and we are just getting started.
Q.2 What were your initial steps in turning Hope Sews from an idea into reality?
In any social impact venture that aims to impact people’s livelihoods, one must take a deeply pragmatic approach. Before blindly delving into the seamstress industry in Ghana, I wanted to understand how pressing the challenges women faced were and how my proposed solutions would impact them. I spent the first two months conducting heavy market research, absorbing as much information as I could about the seamstress industry in Anloga, interviewing 15 seamstresses and writing thorough research reports. I also created a Look Book of my clothing designs and sought feedback from potential target customers and fashion experts. Only after confirming that people would be willing to pay for this clothing and that struggling seamstresses were in desperate need of resources and micro-finance loans did I feel ready to make the next push to begin producing the clothing and officially testing the market.
Q.3 How are you scaling and managing the business in Ghana as you attend classes at Babson College?
As I move through college, the balancing act has undoubtedly been a growing challenge. I strive to make my company successful but I also value my college education, and in particular, the Babson curriculum. Fortunately, as a student in an entrepreneurial school, many of the lessons I need to succeed go hand in hand with the content I learn in my classes. Being part of WIN lab in addition to classes is demanding and requires sacrifices but I have found a schedule that works for me and the pace at which I want to grow my business.
Q.4 Hope Sews has a powerful mission. Tell us about the impact that you’ve seen the company have to date.
We are rooted in our social mission of providing women with the tools they need to change the course of their businesses. Through a thorough vetting process, the Hope Sews team hand selects hardworking seamstresses in Ghana that are most in need of resources and financial assistance. 10% of every purchase goes toward providing them with highly effective micro-finance loans for sewing machines that allow them to scale their businesses, meet demands, and employ more women. The end result is a ripple effect that empowers a chain of women and girls. Support our mission by reading our seamstress stories, joining our mailing list to shop the next collection, or making a donation of any size at https://www.hopesews.com/theseamstresses.
Q.5 Fashion can be a finicky business. What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve come up against and how did you manage to move over it?
The production process in the fashion industry is often slow and tedious, and it is even harder to navigate as an individual breaking into it without a technical fashion background. I have faced lots of bottlenecks with production that have been discouraging and altered my initial plans. However, I am willing to sacrifice immediate results in order to absorb as much information as I can and ensure the highest quality for my products.
Q.6 How has the WIN Lab helped you achieve your entrepreneurial goals more efficiently?
WIN Lab provides me with expert advisors that simultaneously support and push me towards personal and professional growth. The program has enhanced my ability to manage finances, navigate the legal business world, and negotiate. It has also made me more reflective and collaborative. The greatest value WIN Lab provides by far is the incredible women who make up the cohort. Surrounded by hardworking, ambitious women of all ages has helped me become a better listener, leader, and overall entrepreneur.