Tech-savvy entrepreneurs capitalise on digital skills to help navigate post-pandemic world

Entrepreneurs Usha Nair and Jaclynnd Wong run successful businesses, but like many, were struggling to push their products when Covid-19 hit.

The duo found the skills and solutions they needed under ‘Revive Programme’ by local non-governmental organisation, Tech Outreach Malaysia.

Usha created Dawn Adaptive clothing in 2019, while Wong co-founded Zero Waste Earth Store (ZWES), the same year.

Usha had found it next to impossible to find clothes for her daughter Ivanna Nehanda Tara, who has cerebral palsy.

That inspired her to start a clothing line called Dawn Adaptive.

Her business partner is Bernard Benzamin Nathan, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Usha said Dawn Adaptive created awareness in the fashion industry that designing clothes for people with disability was not a trend, but a necessity.

“I started the business as it was difficult to find clothes for my daughter,” said Usha.

“Like any female, she likes to dress up. But I could not get the right outfits.”

Models in Dawn Adaptive apparel at the Selangor Fashion Week last December. Image: Dawn Adaptive

Usha said adaptive clothing is a niche market and can be expensive.

“Dawn Adaptive only makes clothes when we get orders. The goal is to make them in bulk to bring the prices down.

“At the same time, we do not want to over-produce, as we want to protect the environment,” she said.

Usha explained that Dawn Adaptive solved the problem with simple solutions – by using magnetic buttons and zippers, side opening pants, top openings, and Velcro.

Usha said she works with designers and manufacturers for new items. Some of her products have been featured in Europe’s busiest shopping location – Oxford Street – with other Global Adaptive Brands.

“We hope to work with bigger brands as the cost of our clothing is cheaper than those produced overseas,” said Usha, adding that lessons from the ‘Revive Programme’ would help her expand her business digitally.

“Having our products on Oxford Street shows we are on the right track.”

Market intelligence and consulting organisation, Coherent Market Insights, projected that the global market for clothing for the physically disabled with medical issues, will grow to US$400 billion by 2026.

Meanwhile, Wong co-founded ZWES with Dr Janira Kumari, after seeing a video of a turtle with a straw that blocked its nasal passage.

“I am a firm believer in karma. Watching that video affected me. I was determined to do my part in saving the environment,” she said.

“ZWES is a zero-packing convenience store located in Shah Alam. Our customers either bring their own bags, or we do an exchange.

Wong says the ‘Revive Programme’ will help ZWES grow further as it plans to expand its business online. Image: Wong / Facebook

“Among the things we are learning are risk management, cash flow, and strategic planning.”

Tech Outreach Malaysia’s project head, Susheela Sabaratnam, said the eight-month ‘Revive Programme’ has six phases of four-hour training sessions on Saturdays and Sundays until August, followed by another three months of coaching and support.

Susheela said the NGO’s recent survey found that many women had given up their home business due to the pandemic.

“Many had difficulty adjusting to digital sales. That is what the ‘Revive Programme’ hopes to address.”

“We offer videography and photography lessons, how to use Canva, and capitalising on data, to build businesses,” said Susheela.

“We will also teach them to sell their products on e-commerce platforms and use social media to market their products.

Established in 2009, Tech Outreach aims to transform the lives of disadvantaged communities locally and abroad, through micro-credit financing, and entrepreneurship development. Its main focus is women and children.