In our second podcast, Hatchit speaks with Pam Schaecher of Amaya Textiles about her niche e-commerce store featuring boutique clothing from India. You can listen to the podcast or read a transcript of the interview below.
Hailey: Today I am with Pam Schaecher from Amaya Textiles. Pam and her husband, Bob, founded Amaya 12 years ago with the desire to create and sell clothing that is distinctive, comfortable and timeless, handmade in India. Her clothing line is now sold around the world. Welcome to the program, Pam.
Pam: Hi. Thank you. Yes, of course.
Where the Idea Came From
H: What gave you the idea to start, Amaya?
P: Well, my husband was headmaster of an international school and we had a lot of friends. Eventually at their behest, we went to India mainly to a wedding of a daughter of good friends who went to school with our boys. And so it was the travel to India really that got me started. We went to this wedding where the women just wore these most beautiful, vibrant colors of fabrics were so lightweight and flowing and I just fell in love with it all. And then I discovered the handwork as well. So, you know, living in Europe, we always wore sort of dark, dull colors. And there we were in India with all these beautiful bright colors. So I was really enamored. And I've always loved textiles from the time I was a young child. I would comment on certain things. So I know I've come full circle after a few careers, but this is sort of the culmination and the most fun I've had, I think. So then also when I was there, I got to visit with a friend of mine, some of the homes of other women she knew. And they have these gorgeous hand-woven shawls and embroidered tops. I just went nuts over them, for starters. But I also like the fact that they were giving back to their villages. These women all came over to their families are originally from villages to the city of Bombay. And these women would take all the profits from selling these things and give it back to the people and the village they came from. And I found that very touching.
H: And how has the clothing line evolved over the years?
P: It's a long, long evolution. After I fell in love with these textiles, my daughter-in-law said to me, “Oh, you really have to do something with this.” So I started bringing back a few handmade things, mostly home furnishings, tablecloths, place mats, pillow covers. And then I went to do a trade show for home furnishings. And I always wore something rather Indian embroidered. And most of the women were buyers and most of them were much more interested in what I was wearing, than what I was selling. So I decided we needed to change course. And so that's what we did. We decided we needed to not just focus on the clothing, but focus on the incredible crafts and the artisans that make these clothes and how unique they are to the handwork on them. There are a lot of clothes out there that are machine made, machine embroidered. We really wanted to be special and bring this handwork to the United States. And so we started with one shirt and now we have a line of dresses and tops tunics all from pure cotton or pure silk using natural dyes which are all environmentally friendly. We feel this is very important in this day and age.
H: That's awesome that you kind of changed your business to what the customers kind of wanted, liking your clothes and having it go into something really special for you.
P: Yeah, as I say, live and learn. And sometimes you have to change course and do something that's better.
H: How do you go about finding artisans to make your clothing handmade?
P: Well, we developed friends, friends of friends in India, and we were introduced to some people by friends who had been in the business a long time, and they had connections to these women in the villages who do this special embroidery. So we were able to make the products and then send them to the villages for embroidery. And luckily, we have probably the best artisans in the field right now. Traditionally, you know, they've carried on this tradition, which started in Persia centuries ago. And because of it, most of the embroidery is made by Muslim women and some men. But the printing is all done by Hindus. So they each have their own sort of expertise that carries on from generation to generation. And that's really what we're trying to do. Keep it going for generations to come, to give them work and to keep the crafts going, because so much of the world has lost their craftwork, their handwork. Also, we're lucky to have wonderful agents who help us in the workshops, bring it all together.
H: And do you give your artisans specific instructions on what to make?
P: Well, we give them the ideas for the prints and the colors and the style and the embroidery designs, but we really do work together. For example, we explain to them exactly where we want the embroidery. Do we want it around the neck? Do we want it around the hand sleeves, the back, whatever? And then we choose the style of embroidery as well. Some of them are very old style. They're based on the old carved windows that you see in Indian pictures or if you've been to India and some are based on florals and things that you see in nature as well as our prints are as well. Our block prints are all done on cotton and the screen prints on silk. We develop our own prints this way. Now, some of them are traditional and some of them are, I would say, partially at least created by us. It's a long, long, long process, of course, because they have to carve a block, but they have to carve the piece of wood first and the design that they want or we want to be printed. And then they take a plain sheet of cotton, very long, and they dip the block into color dye and print it on the fabric. And sometimes it's four or five colors on top of each other. You can imagine they really have to be expert at where they place it. And likewise, the silks are all done by screen. The screens have to be cut and metal and then they place it on the long sheet of silk and do one color at a time as well. So it's a really, really long process. And then they have to do the handwork and it has to be put together by the people, sewn and stitched by them and then they have to be washed and packaged. It takes probably three months for us to get anything.
H: I always thought it would be sketched and then put on and I never knew about all the processes of the printing. That's really interesting.
P: Well, you can do digital prints, but we don't, we don't tend to do that. We like the old fashion way of doing it.
Selling the Tunics
H: And how did you first start selling the items and how do you sell them now?
P: You’re gonna laugh at this. I failed at the home furnishings. So then we started with clothes. We came back with probably one shirt that I absolutely loved, embroidered all over, and we decided we'd see if any of these shops were interested. We drove around the coastal towns and asked shops if they would be interested. No kidding. And then we discovered trade shows, so we started doing trade shows. In the beginning, we were at one trade show and people were complaining about our price point. So then, we went to another trade show and that was good. But then we've now moved to what's considered the top of the line called coterie. And these people are happy to pay our price. I should say they've been fairly successful. We sold a lot of boutiques that way, of course, and now I'm selling things online as well. We do sell some exclusive designs to some catalogs. That's currently what we're doing.
H: Do you sell on Amazon too or other third party sites?
P: We thought about Amazon, but you get lost on Amazon. There’s so much. Our stuff really is more special. I hate to say that, then what's sold on Amazon, because of all the handwork. I don't think people who are looking for something on Amazon really get that. It has to be a specialty boutique or special catalog or of a special resort or something like that. Right. We do use a company on the West Coast called Fashwire, they're connected with Google as well. And they've been good for us. And we've done a collaboration with a jewelry company, which is fun because people can see how the products are worn, both the jewelry and the clothes. And then we have our own e-commerce site, so we're trying to cover it.
H: And what have you learned about selling online versus through the traditional stores in your catalogs and the trade shows?
P: We have learned a lot of processes. You know, it's always a learning process. It never ends. But the trade shows are becoming more and more challenging. They're very expensive for people like us to do and it's expensive for the buyers to. There's many trade shows all over the country. It's very expensive for buyers to travel around, stay in hotels and look for things to buy. The trade shows are often very big and they have to wander all over the place. So it's getting harder and harder. There's less foot traffic at each show. So that's something that's beginning to change. The online way seems to be a better way to approach things now, but you still have to go a long way to get your brand name out there and that you're a known quantity. So people will actually come to you or look for you online. And that takes some doing. My husband does all the financials, so he's had to learn all the software and the technology that goes with it. And we have to keep track of inventory. And then the warehouse knows our inventory. The warehouse takes the orders in and ships things out for us, which is a big, big help. But we still have a fair amount of work to do on this side as well.
H: And then I imagine online marketing is a huge aspect too. What types of online marketing have you pursued?
P: It is a huge, huge part of this. And again, we're sort of new at all of this coming to it rather late. We have a sales director who helps. She's always out there searching for new opportunities for us. And she's wonderful. Then we have somebody who does our social media. She posts everything on the social media sites for us. She's wonderful. And then we have a wonderful, fantastic website and Internet marketing person or company, I should say. We deal mostly with one person and all between all three of them. They have really helped a lot. Again, just getting your name out there.
H: Yeah, it's a big first step for sure. Has the transition to a more robust online presence been overall extremely difficult, or do you think it's starting to get a little bit easier, more and more?
P: I can't say it was difficult. It's just a lengthy process and it's a learning process. It takes time and some help, which I've just told you about it. Very happy. We're very lucky. We feel very fortunate to have such great help. It's always a work in progress. I think that's true for anybody coming into a business. It's all a big learning process in that I think that the person in charge, like myself and my husband, would be, I think, have to stay on top of things and be sure everything's going the way you want it to go. You can't be overly controlling, but you have to oversee things, so that you're sure that this person's doing what you wish and that person is and you can't just let it go and give it off to them. You have to really stay on top of it.
H: And how do you see Amaya growing in the future?
P: Well, I see great potential for us. I feel our potential is really only beginning to be tapped. It's so difficult to get your name out there and there's so much competition around. You have to keep coming up with ideas to show people that you're unique and different from other people, not just more of the same. So that's new design, the new colors, new prints, but in our case and it's trying to get new venues for your products. But I do see great potential for online and for other avenues of growth other than specialty shops.
Education for Empowerment
H: And lastly, would you like to speak to your Educating for Empowerment initiative?
P: I would. On top of supporting all these wonderful artisans who do this incredible work for us, who we support, so they really have a better life than they used to. Mostly women, a lot of women, who never had money for themselves now do and they could afford to take care of their children or the family better and all of that. And as a byproduct of all of this, my husband and I are retired educators. And when I thought about what we can do more to help, I thought, well, the natural thing is to give scholarships to girls who could not otherwise afford to carry on with school. All countries offer an elementary education, as we would call it. But when they finish that and want to go on to high school or higher education, in most places, they have to go to boarding school and boarding school costs money that they can't afford. So we're trying to truly choose children in slums and in poor villages, we want to send to school, you know, bright scholars. And we have children in Afghanistan, Kenya and India, we're sending to school now. And it's my pleasure really to do this. I wouldn't care if we were completely a non-profit. It means so much to me. And to see these girls blossom is just wonderful. Makes you feel good.
H: It's a beautiful, beautiful story. And thank you so much for joining us today and talking about everything that you do.
P: You're very welcome. My hope is it will be helpful to some others.
H: Yes, I'm sure it will be. Thank you.