Even while working at Morgan Stanley, Shabnam Mirza kept returning to one dream: starting her own business that would bring the best of Bangladesh to the United States. In 2019, she’s breaking new ground in socially responsible manufacturing, and collaborating with our amazing community of mompreneurs. Read on to see what inspires Shabnam to continue advocating for ethical business practices, and how PureCloth Solutions has become a leader in that advocacy.
First, tell us about your entrepreneurship journey. When did you decide to launch your business? What motivated you to get started?
I launched PureCloth Solutions in 2016 while I was expecting my third child. Childhood summers were spent in Bangladesh with my large extended family, which left a deep impression on me and created a connection to Bangladesh that I have carried with me to this day. During college, I had internships at micro-credit institutions and spent time at my uncle’s knit and sweater factories. I spent time learning the production process and working with my uncle as he built innovative and thoughtful factories. Over the last 20 years he has set the standard for ethical and sustainable factories in Bangladesh. His products and his factory standards have made these factories the most sought after by European and Canadian brands.
I had been contemplating leaving my job at Morgan Stanley (where I had been for over 10 years), but it never seemed like the right time to take a risk and start something completely new while also having young children. When I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter, I was laid off from my job. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, it presented an opportunity to follow a dream I’ve had for decades — to create a company that brought the best of Bangladesh to the United States. PureCloth solutions was born.
What were your biggest challenges early on? What did you learn from them?
The biggest challenge is working against the assumptions people have about the factories in Bangladesh. There have been very public stories around factory fires, such as the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, which took the lives of thousands due to unsafe working conditions and building structure issues. Brands have a hard time finding trustworthy and compliant factories in Bangladesh where their products can be made. I often spend the first meeting walking through all of our certifications, our programs for the workers, as well as our commitment to a quality product and quality workplace.
I am happy to share that my factories are among the best in the country and have received accolades from international organizations such as the World Bank, UNICEF and BRAC foundation on the programs that we have in place around social responsibility and environmental awareness.
I learned that brands want to have a partnership and transparency with their manufacturer. Brands will always choose to work with a better manufacturer if given a choice and will even pay slightly more for that peace of mind.
How does social responsibility factor into your business model?
Social responsibility has been the main focus in my business model and in our factory’s mission statement from day 1. It is extremely important in our factories that the workers are healthy, safe and happy when they come each day, and that they are given the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. As most of the workers in the factories are women, we have many programs focused on helping women and empowering them to expand their knowledge and skills. One small example of this is that we have a full staffed daycare on the grounds where mothers can come and visit their children on their breaks. We hold ourselves accountable for each person that works in the factory and ensure that they are happy and dedicated to the work that they do.
How do the values found among HEYMAMA members align with your business values?
There are so many amazing values found in the HEYMAMA members which make me grateful for each day! Integrity, insightfulness, honesty and determination are the personal values that stand out the most when I think of the HEYMAMA community. These have helped me with my business and have kept me moving forward. As a newcomer in this space, it is important to not give up or get derailed when a customer says no to you. I know I have something unique and impactful to offer my brands. When I find the right brands and designers to work with, and their values are aligned with mine, it is the best situation one could ask for. From my point of view, manufacturing garments is a means to creating broader change. We’re shifting the way brands, consumers and factories work together to focus on the people who are making the end product, and improving lives through accountability.
How has being part of the HEYMAMA community made an impact on your business life?
HEYMAMA has been a tremendous source of support and contacts for my business. I have been able to find resources, industry experts to share knowledge, and other mama-founded businesses to collaborate with. Whenever I run into an obstacle or a problem that has to do with my business, I pose a question to the HEYMAMA community and inevitably I get very helpful and thoughtful responses. The support of a group of women who are in similar situations, balancing families and starting businesses, has made me stronger and more positive that I can do it all…or at least do it all with a tribe of magnificent women on this journey with me!
What was it like to develop a client relationship with a member of the community for the first time?
I reached out to Iva Pawling after she was profiled on the HEYMAMA site. I knew that I could make her products and thought that my socially responsible and sustainable factories would resonate with her. I sent her an email and she responded back! She was interested in my factory’s capabilities and promptly connected me to her production team. After a few conversations with her team, we found that they were looking for a new manufacturer for their women’s bralette collection. It was a new product for me to make, but we took it on. My team, along with the Richer Poorer design team, developed a unique fabrication for their bralette. The experience and the relationship with Iva and her team has been amazing! All of Iva’s team members have the same energy, dedication and positive personality as her.
Another amazing HEYMAMA member and brand that I am happy to partner with is Peloton. Jill Foley, who is the head of the Peloton boutique and wife of founder John Foley, was my first customer. She has been my greatest advocate and partner. She did not hesitate to start making her in-house Peloton brand with me and my factories when I first started PureCloth in 2016. Over the last two years, we’ve created bespoke fabrics, styles and prints for her collections. I am her main overseas manufacturer, and I work on product development with her team as well as managing the production process.
After working with Iva, which other HEYMAMA member owned brands have you started business relationships with?
I’ve started working with Lauren Gabrielson, and we are working together on her upcoming summer collection! Lauren has been a joy to collaborate with. Working directly with a designer has been a great learning experience for me. We are having an incredible time figuring out fabrics and designs to reflect her personality throughout her vibrant collection…I can’t wait to wear her pieces!
Photos by MillionGraces.
What do you enjoy most about working collaboratively with other mothers?
The best part of working with other mothers is the instant connection and camaraderie between us. There is support and understanding for all that we are trying to do. Every mother I meet is managing and hustling, but without complaint, and always with a smile and a funny story to share. Mother entrepreneurs are fierce and kind. They really understand all the juggling that has to go on behind the scenes in order to sit in this meeting, launch that product, or go on a business trip. Working with other mothers gives me more focus, more energy and more drive to succeed.
How do you talk with your kids about your work life?
The driving factor in starting PureCloth Solutions was that I wanted to impact the world my children live in. I wanted my children to have empathy and a sense of responsibility that there should be equality that we all need to work toward. For instance, all children’s education and proper nutrition should not be negotiable. My business has a “giving” program for the school uniforms that I manufacture for my children’s school, where a percentage of the proceeds go back to an education fund for the children of the factory workers. As it is my children’s school, they can see how my work is affecting their daily lives, and they can also see the benefits this program has brought to school children on the other side of the world. My oldest son has visited the factory with me and seen how life is very different for his peers in Bangladesh. I often include my older two boys when I’m thinking about how to improve on the program. I talk to my kids not about my work life, but about life choices and commitment to those choices.
Engage your kids in conversation. Each day I ask my kids to tell me something that made them laugh at school. This is a great way for me to interact with them without them feeling like it’s an inquisition!
Being an entrepreneur is a 24hr job, and so is motherhood. Block out the times of the day that you are focused only on the motherhood part. For me, this is 3-7pm. After the kids go to bed, I am back online with my factories in Bangladesh.
Don’t compare yourself to other moms. In today’s social media world, it’s easy to get lost in the lives of others, and to feel guilty that you’re either doing something wrong or not doing enough. Believe that you are doing the best for your children. As long as you give them love and support, you are being the perfect mom.