Bringing the heart of Bangladesh to Japan
On March 9 2006, our founder, Eriko applied for business registration, and Motherhouse was officially incorporated. That marked the start of delivering bags filled with the wishes of everyone in Bangladesh, to our customers in Japan.
As a bag maker, Eriko had no prior knowledge or experience. Starting from ground zero, her head was always filled with thoughts like, "What can I do to deliver these bags to my customers?" In the initial stages of starting Motherhouse, she decided to set up a website, introduce her brand to friends, then dived head in to sales.
Her first customer was a buyer for a major departmental store in Japan. "That's interesting," he said. Little by little, Eriko managed to introduce her bags in new locations, and to more people in the country.
Despite some sleepless nights due to worrying over the inventory she had, Eriko managed to sell all 160 bags within a span of 2 months.
New product development in Bangladesh
In May 2006, after translating her customers' emails to Bengali, Eriko made her way to Bangladesh once again. With a pounding heart, she returned to the same factory. One by one, she noticed the faces of everyone there light up, and with startled faces, they said, "Madam is back! We didn't think you'd be back!" They were sincerely excited about her being back in Bangladesh.
Selling out the entire first collection, Eriko informed the factory team members that many customers were pleased with the bags. "Madam, you did it!" Again, all of them were extremely excited upon receiving positive feedback on their efforts.
The day after the emotional reunion, Eriko and her factory team members began the development process for new products. This time around, she focused on improved attention to detail and quality, in order to please her Japanese customers even more. In total, 650 bags were crafted for Motherhouse's second collection.
It took a lot of courage, persistence, and trial and error during the production process. Eriko learnt a lot from selling 650 bags. She realised that she did not have much knowledge on bags. Hence, she decided to work and train under a Japanese bag maker to fill up that gap.
In October 2006, Motherhouse held their first customer event, which saw many people in attendance. Through the event turnout, Eriko witnessed firsthand that there were a lot supporters of the brand, and it was then, that she truly felt the encouragement from fans.
The turning point for Motherhouse
In November 2006, the production for the Spring 2007 collection began, and Eriko flew off to Bangladesh yet again. In the midst of production, an unfortunate incident occured. Eriko has misplaced her passport and although she did not want to suspect the factory team members, the trust that existed between both parties was nevertheless broken. A sense of weakness enveloped her entire body, and tears unconsciously welled up in her eyes. For Eriko, it was a valuable experience as a businesswoman trying to succeed in a developing country.
Despite the setback, she knew that she could not afford to give up on her dream, thus, she started to source for another production plant. She was eventually introduced to a small bag factory.
It was not a factory with thousands of members, but rather, one with less than 10 workers in total. It was a small factory where Eriko could build trust and strong relationships with each and every member. "This time, we'll be able to work as a family," thought Eriko.
An event that occurred amidst political unrest
On January 21 2007, Bangladesh was scheduled to hold its next general election. Leading up to the elections, tensions between the ruling and opposition parties escalated, resulting in demonstrations across the country. The capital city of Dhaka, where the Motherhouse factory was situated, came under siege, and travel between Dhaka and the suburbs was disrupted. The demonstrations became so intense that on certain days, the death toll rose to dozens, and even hundreds of people, per day.
One day, 6 people were killed in front of the factory. Roads were blocked off, preventing access to the factory. Eriko and her team were anxious to continue the production of her bag samples, and without choice, the work was carried out through phone instructions from her hotel room.
A week later, the roadblock was finally lifted and Eriko rushed to the factory. It was battered. She opened the fence and went inside to find no materials, no design drawings and no one. Over and over again, she called her business partner and soon realised, "I've once again, been betrayed."
As the rickshaw brought Eriko back to her hotel, the only thoughts that went through her head were, "What am I doing here, risking my life in this country? You've made a bag and you look like an idiot."
She was betrayed, and what as left was entirely heartbreak. There were days when all Eriko would do was cry. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, protestors clashed in the streets as usual and a state of emergency was declared in the country. Lots of lives were lost due to the interests of a small minority of people. One by one, buyers from abroad left the country without a single shred of hope.
"What have I done all this time?"
Even in such a hopeless place, Eriko wanted to prove that hope still existed. "There was no point in running away," she thought. If she did, her existing efforts and her dream of changing the world through meaningful contributions would ironically, become meaningless.
Continue to Part 3 here.