“We’re very fortunate to have government support,” says Bahraini entrepreneur Nada Alawi, founder & creative director of home-grown fashion brand Annada. “All our loans were put on hold for six months, since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Our government paid the full salaries of our local employees for the first three months and then 50% for the following three months. Electricity bills for business establishments were subsidised for the first three months.”
As businesses have been seriously affected due to the economic shock arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bahrain government has undertaken several measures to support home-grown business. Initiatives have been undertaken by Tamkeen as well, which is one of the most significant SME development tools established by the Bahrain government in 2006. Tamkeen disbursed funds to support local businesses that are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “In addition, some landlords also offered rent relief and relaxed the payment schedule,” Alawi adds. “These initiatives were rolled out quickly and effectively to ensure business continuity even amidst a lot of uncertainty.”
Bahrain’s GDP growth rate has declined by 1.1% during the first quarter of 2020, as indicated by its finance ministry report, as reported by the Bahrain News Agency. The non-oil sector GDP recorded a decrease of 1.7% at constant prices. Several non-oil sectors have witnessed declines in their real GDP – real estate and business activities by 0.4% and trade by 0.1%.
We pivoted responsibly
“In response to the current situation, we had to pivot, but we had to think strategically and act responsibly,” Alawi states. As such, Annada has repurposed some of its inventory and products. Seeing the rise in need and demand for face masks, Alawi started creating face masks from Annada’s cotton scarf line. This pivot initiative increased Annada’s brand awareness, as enquiries started flowing in from international markets.
“We consciously decided to price the face masks very reasonable, in order to pivot responsibly, while donating 25% of the proceeds from the sale,” she elaborates. “Since Annada is an affordable luxury brand, creating face masks could have been seen as damaging for the brand DNA. But this is the need of the hour, and as a brand we wanted to diversify our product range, including items that can be sold in volume but at the bottom of the price matrix as well as ones that are high-value.”
At the premium end of the price matrix, Annada launched the ‘Omniya’ collection with its apparel line and introduced the ‘Art Dress’ range within it, beautifully complementing its abaya collection.
“We launched it a few weeks before Ramadan and it was very well-received, because we communicated the launch sensitively yet effectively. We conveyed how much effort went into developing the Art Dress range over a period of 1.5 years. Importantly, this is a ‘made to order’ range, although it falls under the ready-to-wear category. We have fabric inventory but no finished orders sitting for sale, while we gave our customers the option to slightly customise the pieces through the ‘Your Dress, Your Way’ campaign. I want to pivot the way we produce in order to sustain the business and our people,” Alawi explains.
Also read: A platform for “Coco Chanels” of the future
We realised omnichannel is crucial
Annada sells through its own stores, e-commerce site as well as through shop-in-shops. During the past few months, Annada has doubled its online sales, compared to the same period last year, which helped the brand offset some losses incurred by brick-and-mortar.
“Our shop-in-shop format suffered the most, due to the temporary closures. But our online and physical stores helped Annada stay afloat. Our sales team became more effective on WhatsApp, offering concierge services to our loyal audience,” Alawi shares. “We are fortunate to have fully functional omnichannel operations, offering a seamless shopping experience, contactless payment option through BenefitPay and free doorstep delivery in Bahrain.”
Another channel, corporate gifting for aligned businesses, also befitted Annada during the current tough times. “Usually the line that we develop for corporate gifting has a longer production cycle, and we are grateful that our partners didn’t cancel the orders even as the crisis hit,” says Alawi.
We’ve to be hopeful
At a time when it is difficult to predict what lies ahead, Alawi stresses the need to be hopeful. After all, even Coco Chanel’s couture house was closed for almost 15 years around the time of World War II, before she revived it in 1954, she states.
“Crises teach us to be hopeful. Life goes on; the game is never over,” she opines. “The current crisis has taught us to be effective in our communication with customers, strategic in our approach and up our game by adding innovative ideas and solutions. It has also taught us to be careful about cash flow and keep our expenses low. It has taught us to think clearly about our priorities.”
Alawi feels that going ahead Annada’s online sales will become stronger, while it will become leaner as an organisation and more flexible in responding to customer demands.
In summation, we asked Alawi, how does it feel to be an entrepreneur amidst a crisis?
“Being an entrepreneur is tough, irrespective of a crisis,” she responds. “An entrepreneur is perceived as a parent, expected to have all answers even amidst an unprecedented crisis. Having said that, I think a crisis is a good time to start a business, because it acts as a litmus test as the creator develops a product or service in response to a challenging situation and often with limited resources.”
“I created Annada during the 2011 Arab Spring. At that time, the support initiatives in Bahrain for local businesses helped us tremendously. Even now, we’re very fortunate to have government support,” Alawi concludes.
Annada is a Bahrain-based luxury lifestyle brand that transforms art into fashion accessories and apparel in partnership with Middle Eastern artists.