Female Founders: Ivana Darmawan of Kasih Co-op On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine
10 min readFeb 10, 2022

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Always be testing. Test out with a small set of products and see which ones resonate with people. Going to pop up shops, meeting people, getting their feedback is useful to understand this.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ivana Darmawan.

Ivana Darmawan is the founder of Kasih Co-op, which partners with Indonesian artisans to create authentic and unique pieces for home and lifestyle, including batik kimono robes, linens, wooden home goods and handwoven ikat throws.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in Indonesia and Singapore and moved to Los Angeles for college at UCLA. Growing up, my mom was always entrepreneurial and I’ve always been taught to start my own business since I was young. In middle school, I’d be selling greeting cards at school and I worked as a cashier for my family’s business during summer break. I also saw the challenges that my mom went through to start her own business as a female and that inspired me to have my own business supporting other women.

In Indonesia, I grew up loving handmade products because many artisans have learned this craft for centuries, so I appreciate our handmade, hand-dyed batik fabric, handwoven ikat fabric and wooden home goods that our Indonesian artisans make. Now that I call Los Angeles home, I long to bring these handmade artisan products that I grew up with and share with people who appreciate handmade and unique items with stories behind them. That’s how I started Kasih Co-op.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I started Kasih Co-op because of my love for handmade products and wanting to bring artisanal products to the world. Most recently, while working with a batik artisan in Central Java, they shared with us that they don’t produce much batik made using wax and dye technique anymore because it is more costly. It is more difficult to produce because they have to use copper plates to apply the hot wax onto the white fabric and then hand-dye the batik, sometimes multiple times. Instead, they have been producing printed batik fabric that is more cost effective and there is more demand. Kasih Co-op was one of the few companies that are still requesting batik fabrics made with hot wax and dye. I feel a little sad thinking that these artisans’ skills are not being preserved and may one day be forgotten and that is something that has really inspired me to do more with our brand. I’m also glad that we are able to continue to keep these artisans and their businesses going.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, my husband read an article in The New York Times in April 2020 that batik fabric is one of the best materials for face masks because it is made with tightly woven cotton fabric. I’ve been working with artisans in Indonesia to make pillows with batik fabric, so I pivoted and started making batik face masks. We were so ambitious that we decided to make 10,000 face masks as our first order — we designed the masks ourselves and got started making them with the artisans in Indonesia. To make a long story short, we should have started with a smaller number of masks ordered so we could perfect the design first. Being in different continents means that some misunderstanding is bound to happen — even though I speak the language fluently. It all worked out because we were eventually able to fix our issues. We got the first batch of products in LA within one month of coming up with the idea and then spent some time fixing the design issues too.

Since then, we learned to always start with a sample of products, document everything and we also now have a Quality Control team in place to ensure all our products are up to standard. Because we work with artisans, they tend to be smaller businesses and also specialized, so we will have to account for this when creating products to ensure smooth production.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m very grateful for my mom. She is my biggest mentor and supporter. She’s been training me on how to be a female founder since I was in elementary school. My mom helped expand her family’s business in the 1990s and she would travel on weekdays all over Indonesia to open new stores and then spend weekends with us. I also saw the challenges she faced being a woman in Indonesia to have her own business so I have a lot to learn from her.

She always pushes me to learn how to make Kasih Co-op bigger and to figure out product market fit. Since she is in Indonesia, she is my go-to-person to see the details and finishes of our products.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Since I have children on my own now, I see the problem partially starts with an unconscious bias we do while raising our girls. As parents, I will remind myself to always encourage my children (son and daughter), to always try new things even if they are not familiar with it. I also want to ensure I am not limiting what my daughter and son do so they do not grow up with this unconscious bias of what their gender can or cannot be and achieve. I want my daughter to grow up being confident that they can try what they set their minds to, even if they may fail and things don’t have to fall perfectly.

Another thing that is holding back women from founding companies is their network. As females, we need to band together to support each other. When I went to UCLA for business school, the majority of the students were male and for raising money or mentorship — a lot of this network to raise funding will be male dominant. To start a company or raise money, you will start from your network first and that is partially why it’s harder for women.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

  • Start young. I talked to my daughter since she was 5 years old about the day-to-day operations of running Kasih Co-op. I shared about the batik making process, marketing, how you have to spend money in marketing to get sales, fulfillment etc. She also helps me when I have a pop-up shop from time to time. Let them see how women lead and start businesses.
  • Expose and introduce girls and females to your female networks. I get together with female founders locally and check in with them. What are the things that they are struggling with, what can we do and brainstorm to solve it. It’s like an informal Vistage — founders network.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to your networks to ask for introductions. This is something I learned from business school that I was not accustomed to otherwise. I was not used to going to events and to go to a group and start introducing myself, or reach out to people I know in my network to ask for informational interviews.It’s a good skill to learn.
  • It’s great seeing the corporations and society start to include diversity in leadership.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

  • Women are 50% of the world population but yet underrepresented in companies and governments which create future innovations, technology and products. We need more women to voice out what the 50% of population is yearning for, to represent our point of view
  • Coming from the technology and finance industry, it’s quite common to have more men and when designing products, I see how women add a different point of view in creating products. With women founders, we will be able to bring our point of view in design and product development.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

  • That you need to raise large amounts of money to be a founder. You create a company that works for you — and sometimes that means you will need to raise money from outside sources to achieve the vision you want. Other times, you can raise money from friends and family or bootstrap to achieve it.
  • That other founders in the same industry won’t want to share and exchange ideas. I have found that many founders are willing to share their experiences — sure they won’t share their secret sauces for their company but I have found that they are willing to share learnings that will benefit others.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No, I don’t think everyone is cut out to be a founder. Specific traits that will likely make a successful founder are risk-taking, grits and conviction. There is a lot of uncertainty in starting a business — some days there are small successes and other days there are lots of failures and lows. To be a founder, you have to believe in your idea so much that you’ll take risk — quit your job, invest a lot of your own money to kick start the idea, and also grind just to keep on chipping away at the obstacle to get to your success.

It’s a little tough thinking about what type of person should seek a regular job because I have also met people who are not as risk-taking but they are successful founders, so there is a combination of traits, timing and network going on.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Learn fast, try a lot of things and fail fast. You need to always iterate to see what is working. I started out with jewelry and then ikat pouf, to batik face masks and now iterating into wooden home goods and linens. If you keep on testing fast, you’ll find your product market fit and invest in those
  2. You have to spend money to make money. For ecommerce, you need to be willing/ budget for marketing spend for trade show, advertising, PR and more to get people to know your brand and willing to try out your brand
  3. Always be testing. Test out with a small set of products and see which ones resonate with people. Going to pop up shops, meeting people, getting their feedback is useful to understand this.
  4. Own your competitive advantage. When I first started out my business, I brought over another woman owned business products to sell here, but I don’t own the design and product process. There’s a lot of risk in that — can that business scale with me if needed, can I have input on the design and product. Now with all our Kasih Co-op’s offerings, I am involved in the design and product. You can’t find our products elsewhere because we work with the artisans directly, design the pattern and color, and work with our seamstresses or wood workers for the end products.
  5. Talk to other business owners to learn or to get mentorship. They are always open to helping.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

There are a few ways we are marking the world a better place:

  • We prioritize working with women owned businesses, over 50% of our artisans are women owned businesses.
  • During the pandemic, we are one of the steady few customers that are still working together with our artisans despite the economic slowdown.
  • Furthermore, we are preserving this centuries old batik wax and dye technique. Some of our artisans are only producing hand-stamped and hand-dyed batik for us because it is too expensive to produce and people prefer printed batik.
  • A portion of our profit goes towards supporting Indonesian girls’ education by working with Yayasan Usaha Mulia, a non profit organization highly rated by Global Giving. This is because for high school, I received a fully paid scholarship to study in Singapore where I met people from different countries and backgrounds and saw how the scholarship they received in Indonesia allowed them to improve themselves. One of my good friends in Singapore came over to study with all her savings with very little help from her family, and now she is a cancer researcher. That really opened my eyes on how the education system can help you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

When you die, people don’t remember how much money you make in your life — but instead you’re remembered by how many people were touched by your life.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Before choosing to stay in the US, I had wanted to return to Indonesia and start a microfinance business investing in women entrepreneurs. I had a chance to meet Muhammad Yunus in 2009, who received a noble prize winner for pioneering the concept of microcredit. It’ll be great to meet with him again to exchange ideas on social entrepreneurship.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.