Hippie Utsaah, Setting up an Online Business During Lockdown
August 10, 2020
When I returned from India in late February 2020, I came back feeling excited about an idea I had had for setting up an online business.
I wanted to sell hippie clothing and accessories imported from India and sell them at reasonable prices from a website affiliated with my Hippie Kushi brand.
I also knew that my mum was making some fantastic jewellery as a hobby. My mum was always the artistic one in our family and my own artistic endeavours today are down to her teachings when I was young. So, I thought we could talk her into selling those items on the website as well.
Somehow I also managed to bring in my dear friend David, who has lots of business knowledge, to join me as my business partner in this project which has been a fantastic help.
But in those early days little did we know what was to come as lockdown loomed.
This is the story of the trials and tribulations of setting up an online business during a pandemic lockdown.
Welcome to Hippie Utsaah!
The Hippie Utsaah Team
I’ve always been an artistic, creative type as the photo (below) from the late 80s shows. I’m the one with the bald head.
My mum taught me how to draw and create art and to this day I always seem to have some sort of creative project going on.
As you well know I also love to travel and this, alongside my love for all things hippie, has led me on a journey searching for ways to escape the 9 to 5 shackle and somehow make money from my own creativity.
Some of my artwork
It was during my last trip to India that the idea of the business as well as the fantastic possibilities that could come from it, came to me as an epiphany one sunny afternoon. I had been drinking chai at a friend of a friends home in Benaulim in South Goa. Sabash is a close friend of my mate Geoff and we had been invited to meet his family in the village for tea.
Sabash’s family used to run a small clothing shop in the village. This made me think of another store in town where I had bought lots of hippie clothing after my luggage got delayed by the airline on my arrival into India and I needed some clothes fast.
This shop owner had stacks of plastic wrapped hippie items at the back of his store at very good prices. I thought wouldn’t it be good to bulk buy here, ship them back to the UK and sell them online. This could then be sold as part of my Hippie Kushi community promoting a positive happy hippie lifestyle.
I initially thought of Sabash as a possible contact who could send me the clothes but he was not keen which meant it was a no go on that chain of thought.
But an idea was now forming and I was getting excited about it.
Flying back to the UK I had plenty of time to think my idea through and I realised then that it could be an answer to my dreams.
So, the plan was this: I would find someone to come in with me as my business partner and then we would create a website. I thought of the name Hippie Utsaah (Utsaah being the Hindi word for elation).
We would then source a good wholesaler in India and decide what items we wanted to order, then send off a costings request (including import and customs fees) before making our first order; this was not going to be cheap.
Also I would speak to my mum and ask if she wanted to change the style of jewellery she was making to hippie style and sell it as part of our business (she jumped at the idea), the t-shirt idea came later when David (my business partner to be) felt we needed a unique selling point and he suggested we put my artwork onto t-shirts; which was actually brilliant.
So far so good but first I had to convince David to come into business with me.
I love India and especially Goa and I have always wanted to spend longer there; first three months, then six months and maybe eventually in a few years time I will move there for good.
With the publication of my Hippie Kushi books I was finally going to have a source of income that could be transferable abroad. Running an online hippie clothing business could also be another financial project that I could eventually run from anywhere in the world, which is very exciting indeed; so my dreams of spending longer in Goa were within reach.
Things were looking even more promising when my good friend David accepted my request to become my business partner for Hippie Utsaah. We were having a lovely pub lunch when I put the idea out there and to my surprise he said yes!
But I was also aware of something else in the background that lovely Spring day, something quite concerning. Some people walking by the pub were wearing face masks and the TV in the corner was reporting a troubling virus spreading across the world; this was the first week in March 2020.
We quickly realised there was a lot more to running a business than we first thought, the legalities and registrations for government bodies, tax and licencing. Registering the company, sourcing packaging, postage, business bank accounts and more; let alone the difficulties of programming a complicated ecommerce website.
By the time full lockdown hit the UK and our lives became very strange indeed, we were supposed to be sourcing wholesalers in India. But India was hit very hard by the Coronavirus and was in full lockdown too.
When we did find a wholesaler and we sent her a rough order of stock so we could get an idea on figures and costs; she just disappeared into the neverworld and we never heard from her again; this was not going to be easy during a pandemic.
One thing I needed to do in order to make the business successful was to get a semi-part time job. I had not worked since my bike accident last year because as soon as I recovered from that we were in lockdown; so I have not worked for 9 months now.
I needed to be working in order to pay for the stock, the website payments and the costs of promotions and marketing and I couldn’t expect David to pay for it all. I also wanted to have some spare cash for myself.
Because I was struggling to find work, due to the current climate, I panicked and came up with a silly idea.
I suggested to David we forget about the Hippie clothing and accessories from India until next year when, hopefully, the coronavirus issue had settled down. This I now know was a stupid idea as it was the whole point of setting up the business in the first place but I was desperate to earn some cash so I idiotically thought pushing the business forward with just my mums jewellery and some t-shirts would be a start for now.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with my mums jewellery, in fact far from it, its amazing and David’s idea of printing my artwork onto t-shirts was also great but that should have been just part of the business.
Blinded by my frustration at the lockdown and not being able to get a job, we pushed forward with my panic idea.
I started designing the t-shirts and created an order with a t-shirt printing company to get an idea of costs; not cheap. David took on the thankless task of photographing hundreds of items of my mums jewellery. Being a novice at photographing stock, David’s initial photos were a little dark but we have since re-done them, its all a learning curve. But as you can see the stuff is great.
David came down to see me from his home in Hemel Hemstead once lockdown restrictions started to lift. We sat on the computer and worked out how to catalogue items onto the website. We at least worked out how to put them on there but it was a beautiful sunny day and being a couple of lushes we ended up down the pub instead. Then we took half the stock each to catalogue it on our own.
It was only while I was sitting cataloguing the stock onto the website that it first hit me; ‘what are you doing? You had this dream of selling a hippie lifestyle through clothing and accessories from India and instead all you have is a store selling jewellery and t-shirts; what was I thinking?
My friends are very supportive and I discussed my thoughts with my good friend Las after a drunken afternoon in Richmond (there’s a pattern forming here lol). It was clear I had lost my way and forgotten the whole reason why I was setting up the business in the first place.
For a start, it was not fair that David was having to pay for everything at this point because I was not earning/working but how would I tell him that I wanted to put the business on hold until I found a job? I needed to work to pay my way and to stick to that original dream of buying hippie clothing and accessories from India.
I needed to meditate on things and decide what to do for the best.
It was now August 10th 2020 and I had had a really good weekend. A lot of my friends had been to their first rave since lockdown and the atmosphere on Facebook was electric. Lockdown was easing, people were partying again and I realised even during this stage in the pandemic the hippie clothing market was there.
On top of this, although coronavirus infections were high in India, mortalities were quite low and any lockdowns there were generally localised. Goa was in a pretty good place and I had already received two requests from wholesalers who wanted to supply us.
It was time to tell David I had had a change of heart. I didn’t want to speak my thoughts as I might miss something out; so I wrote him an email.
Here is an edited version of the email I sent:
So, in short, what I am saying is I do not want to open the business unless and until we are selling Hippie clothing and accessories (from India), as well as Mama-Ji jewellery and bespoke t-shirts (all of these things, however long it takes)….
David of course thought this was the sensible thing to do and we should not forget the original plan. This was the right approach and was better to do things properly.
At time of writing I have four interviews lined up for work; things are slowly improving on the employment front as things slowly return to a sort of normal. Earning will then allow us to order the t-shirts and the clothing and accessories from the wholesalers in India.
So, you see its not easy opening a business and there are traps and pitfalls to fall into but now I think we are on the right path.
Hippie Utsaah clothing and accessories should finally be open around January 2021 and we would love your custom and support.
We will be selling well made, wonderful ethical hippie clothing, bags, hats, sarongs, sandals and scarves as well as Mama-Ji jewellery and bespoke t-shirts with my artwork on.
Its been a long and difficult journey but Hippie Utsaah is coming soon; you can buy our items off of the website (don’t worry, you will know when we are live) also from our Facebook site, the shop on this blog and from outlets such as Amazon and eBay.
Look out for us in the new year.