SUSS: 2019 and Beyond

In this blog post from February 2019, I wrote about how I started SUSS, India’s first sustainable fashion community. Since April 2018, we’ve brought together an online community of over 600 people and hosted seven events on a range of topics from circularity to cultural sustainability, in varied formats – talks, film screenings, business workshops, upcycling workshops, clothes swaps, networking, and more. I reflected on our journey and goals for 2019 and while this is a continuous process, it’s important to think about what we’ve achieved since then. We had set out the following focus areas for our work:

Goal 1: Make it Meaningful – We wanted to make our events more meaningful and relevant to those who are working in the industry. This means curating them in a way that people always learn something and want to come again. Similarly, with our online community, we need to share valuable content, opportunities and ideas that will make SUSS a go-to destination for sustainable fashion

Progress:

I believe, we’ve hosted two of our most well-curated events till date in the last six months. In April 2019 we hosted several events on Cultural Sustainability with Monica Bota Moisin, a Cultural Intellectual Property (IP) Rights expert who led a talk, panel discussion, business workshop and a lecture at a fashion school. By taking the same content and curating it in different formats, we were able to access different audiences and create value depending on their needs. Similarly, in July 2019, we hosted a panel of experts on circular fashion including representatives from two leading international organizations in sustainable fashion – C&A Foundation and Fashion for Good.

On making our online community a go-to source for sustainable fashion, we’ve started sharing more content, but we need to be more consistent with this and come up with a strategic content plan. For instance, we ask all new members every Monday to introduce themselves and share what sustainable fashion means to them. This creates consistent engagement.

Goal 2: Make it fun – For conscious individuals, we want to curate experiences like Do-it-yourself (DIY) parties and clothing swap fests. The idea is to get people interested in sustainability in a not-so-obvious and engaging way.

Progress:

A swap and DIY party is in the making! We’ve already spoken to a few potential knowledge and venue partners. Our goal is to have this event before October 2019. This event requires us to step out of our comfort zones and create a fun consumer-facing experience with multiple partners. Lots of work, but we are excited!

Goal 3: Make it sustainable – Yes, it needs to be financially sustainable too! To continue scaling and running the community and events, we need to make SUSS financially viable. Is it a non-profit? Is it a social enterprise? Is it a business? We don’t know yet, but we will figure it out.

Progress:

Over the last few months, potential and current partners have asked if SUSS is a registered entity. While we it’s not exactly clear what we’re losing out on by not getting registered, it’s clear that it adds credibility and presents opportunities to raise funds. We’ve decided to run SUSS as a non-profit organization and are understanding the registration process by talking to our lawyer friends. While there are potential business ideas, such as consulting and other services, we feel that those can be run as separate businesses in the future while our SUSS activities would remain not-for-profit.

Goal: 4 Make it accessible – Through social media, press articles and a blog, we want to make SUSS more accessible to a general audience and get more people to join the movement.

Progress:

We got featured in a couple of online news articles and also started our blog on Medium talking about our experiences of running a community and our events. We haven’t proactively worked on PR but have increased our media contact list and strengthened a couple of media relationships. Still more work to do on this! While we primarily use Instagram to drive engagement and awareness, similar to our Facebook group we don’t have a consistent content plan and are not actively tracking engagement metrics yet. In other good news, we were invited to speak at an environmental leadership conference in Delhi which brought together students from all over India who want to set up social and eco enterprises.

New ideas:

Apart from the goals we set out in January, we’ve had a few more ideas:

  • We’ve selected Bangalore as the second city where we can take scale our events since we have strong partners who are also our long-time community members.
  • We’re interested to curate a sustainable fashion conference in 2020 or 2021, but this requires some planning, time management and sponsorship.
  • We’ve met with other communities like ours (e.g. Women in Sustainability) with whom we’re in talks with to host joint networking events. This would create networking opportunities for our community while also expanding it.

Challenges:

  • Time! With full-time jobs and other responsibilities like the Master’s program, we only get a few hours per week to work on SUSS. We’re making progress but there’s still loads we can do. We hired an intern in June, which has been a huge help so far!
  • Goals! We haven’t measured our progress by setting objective targets and goals around engagement on the Facebook Group; number of people we’ve reached through our events; engagement on Instagram; number of collaborations. It’s time to set some of these goals now.
  • Money! We’re putting in our own money into SUSS, which recover through a nominal ticket fee for our events, but this prevents us from doing bigger events and doesn’t account for people’s time, including the founders and volunteers. After we register SUSS as a non-profit, we would need mentorship on raising funds and also setting the right business model. For example, what is the right pricing model for different events? Is there a membership fee we can charge?

Here’s hoping that in the next few months we make progress on some of these challenges!

 

 

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4 thoughts on “SUSS: 2019 and Beyond”

  1. Hi Gauri,
    it’s great to see your progress and I’m still extremely impressed with the community and organization you have managed to build. I also really like your new ideas and it seems that you are very much on track.
    Do you know the business model canvas (https://www.strategyzer.com/canvas/business-model-canvas)? This could be a useful tool when you’re thinking about the further development of your organisational model. I agree that the pricing is tricky – but if I look at what I need to pay to attend professional conferences, I feel you might have quite a bit of room to find your right price point…
    Looking forward to seeing how SUSS develops further!

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  2. Thanks Sabine! Really appreciate your inputs. Thanks for sharing the lean canvas, this is exactly what we used in January basis which I created my blog post! The photo in the Feb blog posts is of Lean Canvas we filled up with post-its, ha!

    One drawback of this Canvas, I felt, was that it’s designed for businesses, whereas SUSS is more of a social enterprise or non-profits, it’s not exactly clear, so some of it was hard to work through but it’s definitely a really great framework!

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  3. Wow, this is a great initiative, very action-focused. I really like the format you are acquiring: the organisation of very original and attractive events which in turn result further in community engagement. I also really like the fact that you co-founded SUSS with someone who, not only is like-minded, but you have a very close friendship and complicity too. This must be super encouraging as you sum up strengths and motivation.

    I had a look at your website and I really like the communication style: close and friendly. I’m sure that this is very helpful in order to attract and integrate a very varied audience.

    In the mid-term, it might worth to consider the idea of establishing a social venture instead of a non-profit. Even if your main goal might not be making profit, through a social venture you can employ a sustainable business model that permits you long-term funding of your initiatives without depending on donations. Also if you find the right business model it allows you to grow faster. You could, for example, organise workshops with top experts on very specific topics so that you can afford to bring the best experts (regardless their location) and then you can fix a very affordable fee to attend the workshop. I imagine that this can also be done under the form of a non-profit but the way in which you will be required to manage your budget in a non-profit might be more limiting. Just my own thoughts 🙂

    Congratulations and keep going!!

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    1. Hi Julie, Thank you very much for your kind words and suggestions!

      I really like the idea of it being a social enterprise or social business but unfortunately (as far as I know) this kind of hybrid model does not exist as a legal entity in India. Lots of businesses with social purpose call themselves “social enterprises” but legally they would be either registered as a pure for profit or non-profit entity. Hope this will change soon!

      You are spot on for the ideal model for workshops. One reason we aren’t able to do more business workshops with experts is that they usually charge a very high fee which we cannot pass on to our community members as most of them are startups, freelancers and students. We need to be able raise funds and also charge a nominal fee to the participants. We are still in the process of figuring out how to structure ourselves legally, everyone has different suggestions!

      We’ll talk more when we meet 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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