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Starting and building your brand during the pandemic

Posted on 2021-08-23 09:00:00

Designed to celebrate women and take bra shopping to a whole new experience, innerwear brand Soko was launched right in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its co-founder Natasha Shazana Evans shares the challenges and rewards that arise from handling a new business during a global pandemic.

Derived from the Malay word “sokong” which means support, Soko was born out of Natasha’s frustration with bras and the bra-shopping experience. After realising that many other women face the same challenges, Soko was founded to improve the overall experience by understanding customers’ needs and wants. “I asked myself, “Why are bras so uncomfortable? Why is bra shopping such a pain? Why is the industry so oversexualized?” This is the first layer we put on in the morning and it’s not an enjoyable thing to wear or to shop for,” says Natasha.

While most innerwear brands push the messaging of being sexy, Soko focuses on empowering and supporting women to embrace and celebrate their unique self and individuality. At Soko, they believe in a world where women feel comfortable, on the outside and the inside. Bra-related subjects are notoriously difficult to broach, especially in a Muslim country like Malaysia. When asked how Soko approaches marketing an innerwear brand in Malaysia, Natasha stressed on the importance of being respectful to the local culture while also being progressive and making impactful changes.

To stand out from other innerwear brands, Soko emphasises on three things: Comfort, real woman representation, and a fun bra-shopping experience. In order to produce the best quality bras for customers and improve on the current products ceaselessly, Soko continuously gathers feedback from not just the customers but also the community through surveys and one-on-one discussions. Its current selling point is its wireless bra line that offers both comfort and support.

Besides featuring local women who are comfortable in their own skin and authentic self to promote the brand, Soko prioritises on building meaningful connections with their customers. “We message every single new follower. For those who want to have a conversation, we keep that going. For those who don’t, we simply thank them,” Natasha explains.

It doesn’t stop there! To recognise the customer’s current situation during this difficult time, Soko offers a free first exchange in which their delivery partner comes to their door and picks up their package so they don't have to leave the house. Despite the implementation cost, Natasha thought it was crucial for Soko to be cognizant of their customer’s needs during this time.

Bra knowledge at your fingertips

Although bras have been in the market since the early 1900s, only few women are knowledgeable about them, including how to measure bra size, different bra styles, how to wash bras, and how often to wash bras. To educate and empower women about bras, Soko launched the "Bra School" section on its website.

This is something Soko wanted to create from the early days. “We wanted women to have information they can use no matter where they shop for bras. As for community, we wanted to build a space for women to feel like their voice can be heard,” tells Natasha.

Coming from a corporate background, entrepreneurship was a complete unknown world for Natasha. Fortunately, the people she met along the way from the 50 women who helped Soko with fittings to the fellow founders and industry experts who helped with advice and guidance have gotten her to overcome the obstacles. “Meeting amazing people on this journey to launch has been the most rewarding aspect,” shares Natasha.

Soko’s adaptability through the COVID-19 disruption

When COVID-19 hit, Soko had to change its product line entirely to adapt to the needs of its customer. Despite having worked on the underwire bra for several months, Soko ditched it in favour of an all-wireless line to double down on the idea of comfort. It's crucial, in Natasha’s opinion, to understand when you need to shift gears and pivot.

“Our biggest concern when launching our business during the pandemic was delays. And that’s exactly what happened,” says Natasha. A lot of questions arose from the closure of the factory in China and from the multiple lockdowns in Malaysia. When would the factory re-open? When can they do photoshoots again? This is because Soko, a product-based firm dependent on multiple partners, are likewise affected by the pandemic despite the fact that they are an online company.

Launching a new business during a global pandemic comes with many hurdles. Fittings, which are generally done in person, were one of the most onerous challenges Soko faced. Since a bra has such a limited margin for error, it's critical to get the fit perfect. Given the uncertain future ahead of Soko, they eventually decided to host them virtually and attempt to make as much progress as possible.

Although this has brought numerous obstacles, it has also increased people's propensity to buy online, including bras (when they would usually go to the store), and there is an even greater appreciation for supporting small local businesses.

Entrepreneurship is hard. Running a business is not glamourous. It takes mental strength and emotional resilience to build a business, and it can be lonely and stressful as you don’t have anyone to guide you or give you a pat on the back. Instead of giving specific advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Natasha recommends asking these three questions: (1) am I solving a real problem? (2) am I comfortable with failure? (3) am I committed to putting in the work?

“I hope to see Soko in many more women’s bra drawers! And in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries,” plans Natasha.

Want to learn more about bras and shop for comfortable bras? Visit wearsoko.com !

By Dania Aziz

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