Another month, another business! I have introduced several businesses and products in this space. But I do confess that Secret Projects has touched my heart differently.
This is a project to train and empower women in India providing them to use their skills to create and sell their own clothing and homeware pieces. There is a variety of stunning products that go from sari dresses to socks.
It’s just inspiring to see how this team of entrepreneurs put together an initiative that is helping women in several communities of India to sell their goodies, earning income to support themselves and their families.
We talked to the CEO and founder of Secret Pillow Project – Fritha Vicent in this interview.
Midlands Traveller: Tell me a little bit about your background in business.
Fritha Vicent: I have had a long career in the not-for-profit sector as a fundraiser for Save The Children and more lately as the CEO of a small charity that supports grassroots NGOs in India working in anti-trafficking, health, and education.
My role with this small charity gave me much insight into how to grow an organisation and become resilient.
When I set up Secret Projects in 2013, I knew that I had much to learn, not least about operating as a business in India and also within the highly competitive retail industry.
I have been fortunate to have had some incredible support from others along the way, but firmly believe that even if someone is an expert, their advice may not always be correct and it is important to understand this and to listen to your gut instinct.
MT: How did you come up with the idea for this project?
FV: Having travelled extensively in India, through many isolated communities, I learned of an issue that affects many women throughout the continent. The women that I met in these communities had been taught to stitch at home and school as girls and could produce the most beautiful clothing and homeware.
What they lacked, was the knowledge needed to sell their goods either at home, in India, or on the international market and earn an income from their expertise to support themselves and their families.
When I learned of this problem, I felt compelled to solve this selling obstacle and, in 2013, Secret Projects was born.
The mother of a friend of mine from school days made Secret Pillows and from a young age, I wanted to fill homes around the world with them!
So, I decided that the Secret Pillow would be the first product that Secret Projects would make and sell on the international market. The women (known as Secret Projects Makers) who produced these first products were so keen to make more and sell to an increasingly larger market.
Read more about our story here
MT: Tell me about the Secret Project’s mission?
FV: Secret Projects unfold women’s power in India through the making and selling of clothing and homeware.
We believe that every girl and women have the right to thrive and our mission is to make this happen.
MT: What is unique about Secret Projects and what services do you provide?
FV: We know that women in India do not want hand-outs, they simply want to be given opportunities to earn a decent and fair income to provide for themselves and their families.
All women who become part of our Network of Indian Producers start a journey of empowerment with Secret Projects through our 4 stage empowerment programme with the ultimate aim of helping women to drive their own micro-enterprises.
MT: What are the biggest challenges of a business/project like yours?
FV: There is an enormous amount of challenges from navigating the law in India for businesses, so we could operate in the country to learning how to be an online retailer in a hugely competitive and changing retail world. We prove time and time again that these challenges can be overcome!
The barrier I face time and time again is finding the right people to work with. To be on my team you need to be resilient, flexible, focused, and hard-working.
But above all, you need to be able to persist continuously. It never stops! If what we did was easier, others would have worked out the solution by now…
What wasn’t a challenge? Working with the women in our Maker Groups, all of whom were completely behind me and committed to producing Secret Products to sell worldwide.
I was fortunate to have had so much support along my journey, from the Directors of Secret Projects, Nirmala and Banke, to backers who not only support Secret Projects financially but by provide expert business knowledge and mentorship.
MT: How are your Secret Projects helping women in India to be empowered and start their own businesses?
FV: We work with marginalised women who face great economic challenges. Our 4-stage empowerment programme gives women the chance to develop their skills and if they want to, set up their own micro-enterprise.
It is a programme that works as we have worked with many women whose lives have been transformed by working with us.
MT: How are social media important to the success of your business?
FV: Social Media is for us as it is for most businesses, a crucial and useful platform for us to tell our story as well as promoting our products.
We have developed a strong following over the last few years, and we know it is important to keep up our profile through relevant and creative posts to spread the story further of Secret Projects.
MT: What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a project like yours?
FV: My advice would be to follow your heart and be prepared to be resilient.
MT: Why work with products such as pillows, bags, and other accessories?
FV: As a young person, I had learned how to create a Secret Pillow from the mother of a school friend – a wonderful entrepreneur who completely inspired me.
The Secret Pillow was our first product and it was a natural progression for us to develop other products that are foldable and charming. We need to ensure that our products can be made easily and without factory machinery as they all are.
Product development is going to be a big part of our story over the coming years as we look to develop our range into bespoke items.
MT: What have Secret Projects achieved so far?
FV: We are currently working with over 200 women in our Network of Indian Producers, throughout 4 Indian states – regions in India where there are very few employment opportunities for women beyond factory work and agricultural labour work, both of which are extremely poorly paid and physically demanding.
It’s with pride that we are able to offer women an alternative and to earn a fair income to support themselves and their families. Since we began, we have realised £200,000 worth of sales, which has helped to tell our story of women’s empowerment as each product is sold.
We have a number of women who began working for Secret Projects as part of our Maker Groups who have since gone on to set up their own micro-enterprise and employ other women.
Through our 4-stage empowerment programme we offer women the support to develop their skills to not only provide for themselves and their families but to realise their own potential as well and recognise their own worth.
MT: What are the next steps for Secret Projects?
FV: Towards the end of last year, I transformed Secret Projects into a Community Benefit Society.
This is a highly exciting time for us as an organisation – the capital we have received from investors will ensure that we can reach more marginalised women as well as developing our product range. Exciting times are ahead, and we are looking forward to our expansion.
Secret Project on Social Media