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International Women’s Day: Lesser-known retail businesses that empower women

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Shiv Joshi
Shiv Joshi
An editor with over 20 years of experience across industry verticals and content formats from tabloids to magazines, he is the Deputy Group Managing Editor at Images Group.

This International Women’s Day, we showcase the not-so-famous businesses that were created with the sole purpose of providing livelihoods to women and those that empower them through employment…

In 2022, globally, half of all women entrepreneurs were in retail or wholesale as per the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor – Women’s Entrepreneurship Report for the year. Closer home, the gender ratio in retail—not just as entrepreneurs but across the board—is 60:40 with the number of women being more than men as per a research paper published in the International Journal of Research and Review (IJRR).

Women form 25% -30% of the workforce as per another IJRR paper. A diverse, inclusive and gender-balanced workforce is one of the top priorities of leading retailers. For instance, as many as 60% of IKEA India’s country management are women, including its chief operating officer and chief sustainability officer Susanne Pulverer. Also, 45% of coworkers across the organisation are women and the company aims to achieve a 50-50 gender balance for its India operations.

While forward-thinking retail businesses continue to take steps to recruit women and enable their career growth, there are some companies that have been instituted with the sole purpose of empowering them.

Here we list a few such retail businesses that exist to empower women or are committed to their welfare by prioritising their recruitment. The list does not include big banner retail organisations as it is expected of them to do so, but relatively smaller businesses that few know about.

FarmDidi

The tech-led food startup founded by IIM-Calcutta alumnus Manjari Sharma in 2021 is helping women from 80 villages in Maharashtra earn a living while making food products like papads, chutneys and pickles among 20 stock-keeping units.

FoodDidi partners with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work with women’s self-help groups, which helps the startup identify groups that are interested in working with them. Once affiliated, the women are trained and helped with recipes and raw materials. The final products are checked and sold through leading marketplaces and other D2C channels. So far FarmDidi has enabled more than 1500 women entrepreneurs.

Frontier Markets

The award-winning Jaipur-based social commerce startup was founded by Ajaita Shah in 2011. It employs a network of local women, Sahelis, to help rural customers buy agricultural solutions, health and homecare products, and more via its app.

These Sahelis are digitally savvy, rural women influencers who introduce products to local communities and gather consumer feedback at the grassroots level.

In January 2023, it launched the ‘She Leads Bharat’ initiative in collaboration with the World Economic Forum to facilitate sustainable income opportunities for rural women by working with businesses, NGOs, government entities and investors. As per media reports, the She Leads Bharat programme has helped more than 35,000 women in rural Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Jhappi

Bhumika Marwaha and Bipin Joshi launched Jhappi to create sustainable incomes for marginalized communities. The company sells products made by partner NGOs through four Jhappi-branded stores—two each in Thane and Goa. The first Jhappi store opened in March 2022 at Thane with products sourced from seven nonprofits. “Today, we work with 55 NGOs across 17 states, out of which 80% are women-focused,” said Marwaha adding that the brand offers over 1000 products and also engages in institutional sales.

So far, Jhappi has provided livelihoods to 2000 women from difficult backgrounds.

And also…

While the above are NGO-led retail businesses, here are lesser-known commercial businesses employing and empowering women on a much smaller scale.

EcoSoul: Led by managing director Priyanka Aeron, the sustainable home essentials brand, that has clocked Rs600 crore revenue worldwide, has supported more than 100 women, making a tangible difference in their lives through employment opportunities, fair wages, and an inclusive working environment.

“As a women-led organization, we prioritize sustainability available, affordable, and accessible. By bypassing middlemen, we empower local communities with fair wages and a secure, inclusive workplace. Equal pay shows our support for creating an environment where all women succeed,” said Aeron.

Superbottoms: The washable diaper brand Superbottoms was founded by Pallavi Utagi in 2016 to solve a problem faced by new mothers. Since then, the Bollywood actor Alia Bhatt-backed brand has been driven by women, with an all-women team at the core. “We directly employ 80 women and indirectly, via our ambassador network have another 450+ women. This does not include women who work with our third-party manufacturers and third-party warehouses which would be another 200 odd at least,” said Utagi.

“We empower women and actively recruit new mothers,” she added.

In August last year, the brand bagged $5 million in funding in a round led by Lok Capital and Sharrp Ventures.

Purna Gummies: Founded by Dr Archana Gupta in 2021, Purna Gummies is a D2C health supplement brand available on major e-commerce platforms and its website. The brand is targeting a revenue of Rs 150 crore by year-end, actively recruits women, and currently employs 100 women, representing 60% of its team. “Approximately, 70 women play important roles in packaging and warehouse operations,” Gupta said.

“In 2024, we’re set to expand operations into new regions, to welcome over 300 additional women into our family,” she added.

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