The highly competitive womenswear industry is saturated with designers trying to think outside the box and combine style with substance. Consumers are also spoiled for choice and at this stage it can be somewhat difficult to capture their attention. Sania Afrin, however, makes it look easy. The engineer turned entrepreneur owns two successful businesses, Merlot and Purple Mallow. The latter focuses on women’s accessories and since 2017 has become a household name. But it’s Merlot that has made major strides lately with its meticulously crafted garments specifically designed for college girls and working women.
The idea for Merlot came from Sania Afrin’s own experience as a professional. After graduating as an engineer, she got an MBA from Dhaka University and started working as a lecturer in a university.
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“Early in my speaking career, I noticed a lack of comfortable clothing options for working women,” said Sania Afrin.
Sania had already started Purple Mallow by then and given her success with her first venture, she wanted to broaden her horizons and fill in the gaps that plagued the apparel industry. Thus, Merlot was born at the end of 2020.
“Women prefer clothes that are comfortable and easy to put on for our daily activities and this is the basis of my designs. I also take into account the weather in Bangladesh, which is why we use 100% cotton materials for our products. “Sania said.
“We also evaluate our items very carefully to ensure the best quality and affordability. And, of course, to top it all off, we add a little style and finesse into the mix to make our outfits chic. We also make sure to include lots of variety so customers can mix and match and Merlot can be a staple in their daily attire,” she added.
What sets Merlot apart from other brands is the sweet spot that Sania Afrin has been able to hit with her clothes. She still runs a pilot program whenever she wants to launch a new line to get feedback from existing customers and ensure that all customers get the best experience possible.
“Our business model is very consumer-centric. We don’t want to launch new items just for the sake of launching them. Ensuring that customers get the most out of my designs is of paramount importance,” explained Sana.
So far Merlot has had an overwhelming response from the market and in a very short time it has built quite an impressive base of loyal customers.
Her journey and progress, however, has not been easy. Sania had to overcome many obstacles at the start.
“Finding craftsmen who can execute my ideas has been the biggest challenge I have faced. Skill plays an important role of course, but understanding the task is equally important and it can be difficult to get them to work. convey your ideas. The communication problem extends beyond the artisans. I have had to deal with traditional wholesalers who initially made a fuss about working with a woman and questioned my ability to sustain my business. I had to overcome a lot of things to bring the Merlot to the stage it is at now,” explains Sania.
Sania Afrin still faces various challenges in the form of courier businesses and marketing tools. There are still a lot of hurdles to overcome, but Sania seems to be doing it with grace and growing her business one happy customer at a time. She is currently working on introducing a more exclusive product line, which focuses more on fashionable outfits that cater to all seasons.
Merlot Display Center: House 536, Route 07, Avenue 06, Mirpur DOHS
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Photo: Asif Rahat
Model: Sabrina Zaman Riba and Tabinda Hossain
Styling: Sabrina Zaman Riba