On this International Youth Day, meet the teenage entrepreneur who bravely encountered her mental health struggles and channeled her love for the environment to set up the biggest online thrift store in Bangladesh
In 2010, seven-year-old Sunayra Subha Pushpita was sent to a boarding school in Darjeeling, India, to attend first grade. Her sister, older by six years, was already in the same school. Sunayra lived there and visited her Dhaka home occasionally every year.
The transition was not great, she felt lonely and nervous. Sunayra, the restless and mischievous girl, started to experience a difficult time, part of which was the bullying she faced in her own classroom for her weight and appearance.
“I started to bully back in self defence, for instance, I used my “class monitor” position to be rude with them. This was a means to be self-guarded.”
Over the years, Sunayra started to experience an unstable personality. It was not until 2018, when she returned to Bangladesh, that “I came clean to my parents,” Sunayra recalled. By then, she was suffering from self-harm and pill addiction. The family was unanimous in their support of her.
Sunayra was taken to psychological counselling and sought treatment. In due time, she was diagnosed with post traumatic disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and bulimia. Sunayra went into a treatment period for four months when she just stayed home, took her medication and read books. She stepped back from her studies.
Fast forward three years, the 18-year-old Dhaka resident is now a proud owner of an online business, and that too, the largest Bangladeshi online thrift store – Bangladesh Thrift.
Launched in December 2020, the one-woman business has amassed 10,500 and 6,000 followers, on Instagram and Facebook, respectively.
For Sunayra, after turning over a new leaf, it became important to her that she earns an income to afford her a sense of financial independence and pay for her education.
“It has been a process,” Sunayra told The Business Standard, “I was aware of thrifting, but not of its full potential here.”
She did not start off with research and market analysis, but relied on her knowledge of thrifting, commitment to the page and her gut instincts. “Let’s give it a shot, I thought,” she recalled.
And that she gave, quite successfully. Sunayra is now fetching a profit margin of at least Tk 80,000 monthly from a business she launched with Tk 300 seed money.
“I bought three second-hand clothing items, advertised it on the page as second-hand clothes, sold it and made a profit margin of Tk 150. I used all of it to buy more second-hand clothes, and just kept building on it,” she recalled.
Over time, she started to build her own business system. For instance, now she works with a few trusted suppliers and three delivery service companies, and even signed a MoU with Sundarban courier service.
Her mother handles the finances because of Sunayra’s numerical dyslexia. The young entrepreneur is already thinking of business expansion and diversification. She plans to start two online businesses, in due time, one on cosmetics and another based on marketing slash PR. Sunayra also wants to open her own (physical) store in two years.
It was just this month that Sunayra officially hired her older sister to help with operations. Her sister is a lawyer by profession. It was also her sister, along with her father, who helped to counter a scammer this June.
A fake account messaged customers for card information under the guise of Sunayra’s page name and logo. The cybercrime unit was informed, later they said the fake account was foreign, making rounds on popular pages.
The road less travelled
Parents, particularly in this part of the world, are usually unaware about mental health problems and disorders. However, Sunayra’s parents made their full effort to dive in, learn and understand the full extent of Sunayra’s diagnosis.
“It took time for my parents to understand,” Sunayra added.
“When my father first heard the diagnosis, I remember seeing his silent, stunned face,” Sunayra added. But the parents navigated through the extremities of their daughter’s diagnosis.
“Now, if I tell my father I need to take some time off my studies, a break, they will understand, because they know I am a studious student and the break is warranted if I am asking for one,” Sunayra further added.
Family support, especially parents’ support, prove to be pivotal for mental healthcare in cases of young adults, according to mental health professionals.
“We see many cases where young adults or children seek counselling services, but parents stand in the way. Sometimes it boils down to what other people will say,” said Dr. Lipy Gloria Rozario, Director, Healing Heart Counseling Unit.
But this support is necessary and effective. Early diagnosis, early treatment, along with family support, usually yield 100% chance of full recovery, with time, she added.
Early mental health diagnosis is definitely the preferred, more effective approach, said Kamal U.A. Chowdhury, Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist, Department of Clinical Psychology, Dhaka University. “It’s like if you have diabetes, you would like to start treatment for diabetes as soon as possible, the sooner, the better it will be,” he said.
It’s of course easier said than done, Sunayra explained. It takes a lot, a lot of courage to go to parents and talk to them about mental health issues, especially when they are quick to shut off the voices of concern.
“But I say do it, this whole experience strengthened my relationship with my mother by many folds. We talk now, we communicate, now, even she shares her thoughts,” Sunayra added.
The proud owner of Bangladesh Thrift places a lot of joy in her thriving online-based thrift store and stresses on the purpose of the business, the environmental impact, and her desire to build a safe community for her followers.
“I want to offer the best service, the best price and the best quality to my customers,” she added, “without this, there is no point to having the biggest following on social media.”
Sunayra’s 7 tricks of the online-thrift-store trade
1. Consistency: Post, post, post – for instance, if it’s Instagram, be sure to post stories every single day. “Till date (since December 2020) I have missed a grand total of 8 days, when I did not post stories on my Instagram page,” she said.
2. Originality/personal brand: Although Sunayra did not interact much with her customers at the very beginning, she quickly learned that personal branding matters. “At first I was too conscious but, with time, I started to show more of myself,” she said. This decision is reflected in her posts and captions detailing her backstory – the trials and tribulations and also the joys and freedom she fostered through her business.
3. Schedule and content: Two things the business owner very strongly believes in are finding creative ways to post content that goes beyond merely the thrifted items for sale, and to do it on a preplanned schedule. For instance, Sunayra posts about sustainability, asking her customers “to think before they make the purchase or ‘do you really need to buy that dress’” – keeping true to the fundamental purpose of thrifting, the environmental impact.
4. Tone, a professional tone: When Sunayra hit 2,000 followers on her Instagram business page, she reconsidered the tone she uses with her customer, and that it was too friendly. “Not everyone appreciates it,” she said.
5. 24/7 commitment – Solve issues and problems raised by customers as fast as humanly possible. Do not let it fester. “I remember getting knocked around 2-3 am at night, about a delivery delay issue. I made sure to contact my delivery service person extremely early and have the issue resolved by 10 am the same day,” said Sunayra.
6. Goodwill, word of mouth promotion and support – “Make sure your customers feel good enough to tell others about your store,” she said. She said she is blessed to have groups of friends who would regularly sit in to thrift together during her much awaited ‘drops’ – when a series of clothing items are posted to be sold.
7. Do not copy other businesses: Do the research, try to emulate other online pages, get inspired, however, refrain from copying other online pages. This will dent your own brand image.