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Kamlesh Chandiramani of Rag & Co Shoes: How To Take Your Company From Good To Great

An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski

Constant Upgrading: Of skills, human resources and technology that can adapt to it.

Focus on Perfection: Mediocrity is a wasteful and an excuse that destroys efforts.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kamlesh Chandiramani.

Kamlesh Chandiramani is the Co-founder and CEO of Rag Company LLC, creators of Rag & Co and Rag & Co X. He comes from a long line of passionate shoe industry designers and crafters who have always focused on quality, style, and building a better community and planet.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

We are third generation shoe makers. My grandfather made leather shoes in the 1950s. He hand crafted and hand delivered shoes to famous actors and singers. Rag & Co. started with my dream of continuing a great luxury leather brand with the finest quality craftsmanship, classic cuts, and our team of passionate people who love the shoe craft. Over the years we gathered the necessary skill and experience in shoe business to be successful.

At the same time we would like to empower and support the craftspeople and their community, which are mostly women. We want to do this in a sustainable way so that everybody benefits. We want inclusive eco-system.

If you happen to come to our workplace you would see our team gathered around the finest leathers, buckles and trims — trying to make some fantasy, a reality from the design process into a lovely pair of shoes. We embarked on this journey backed by our strong relationships with manufacturers across globe who supply the finest leathers, suedes and other materials. We look forward to seeing happy customers who can count on Rag & Co. for every shoe-drobe update!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Sourcing ethical leathers globally and ensuring a high-level of quality across all channels is a challenge when we began and remains a present-day challenge too. More recently, when the first COVID-19 wave began, business operations came to a screeching halt throughout the whole supply chain. Every challenge has opportunities, so we looked at the positives and took the time to review what we could be doing better as a company. Specifically, analyzing business opportunities.

We decided to focus on ethical practices because the market is full of fast fashion products where the shelf life is reduced to less than a season. It’s made with non-biodegradable products that are being dumped and are contributing to global warming like never before.

We derive our strength from the fact that traditional craftsmanship and sustainability is the future. This strategy has several areas that need to happen simultaneously — recycling and re-use, re-design, and using natural and durable materials as much as possible. Everything that you own must make you feel good about yourself and your surroundings.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

It was one of the first orders that was delivered. We shipped different colors of flats than the ones ordered. We realized what happened after the customer emailed us back saying that she found it funny and would like to keep the flats because she liked it that way. That was our inspiration! Most of the leather shoes you see online come in basic colors, but we wanted to experiment with weaving styles using cloth and suede together to make the most unique product. That is when our Miriam and Mariana styles were born.

Sometimes, we have had customers who ask for pre-order updates every day! Handmade shoes have their own timings and go under careful quality checks, so it can take more time. It has made us more agile and makes us look for smart solutions, which are distributed and discussed with order processing teams. We are left more innovative every time!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our style and quality, and the process that goes into making each pair of Rag & Co shoes is something that is part of the brand experience. Recently, we were excited and happy to share a shout out from Elyse Moody, Editor at Martha Stewart Living. She shared her very positive feedback with us, and it was featured online. That was very exciting and further validated a lot of what we are doing.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

There are no short cuts, take your time and don’t rush things — love what you do and do what you love. With this process, there will be no burnout because then each day is just a natural extension of what you love to do. Also, agility at the back end and customer satisfaction at front is essential. The world is moving at a quick pace where information travels fast and bad reviews travel faster. Understanding your mission and focusing on quality from where the first screw is made/sourced to the time a product is handed over to customer is paramount.

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?

As a team, we have had help from lot of people on our journey upwards. My family has always sacrificed and has given me their complete support. So has my team. We have all put our minds and souls into the design and quality that we promise with our Rag&Co brand.

Our craftspeople are our backbone and the design and development team has worked fantastically with bootstrapped resources during lockdowns in 2020. I was very inspired when we had some difficult financial times and many team members requested not to be paid in order to support the company — it really gave me a new sense of community and the drive to push us further.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Good Company: Where people literally enjoy each other’s work and company! Workers are enthusiastic about new things and take initiative. Everything else we speak of then comes automatically like transparency, growth, human behavior — happiness and satisfaction at workplace and home.

It becomes great when the person at the last step of the process is able to imbibe this and feels a part of this. The work life is also life and when it comes gracefully well, we develop together. All targets seem achievable and only remains matter of time to reach to our ultimate goal.

I believe we have been able to take the company from Good to Great as when I see a happy environment, where people are motivated and driven and at the end of the day we all go home happy with the day being productive!

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Work Profiling: Based on skills which one carries and interests which an employee/worker may develop.
  2. Flow of Information: We live in an age where there’s too much information. However, the greatest blunders are made in the absence of transparent communications.
  3. Constant Upgrading: Of skills, human resources and technology that can adapt to it.
  4. Focus on Perfection: Mediocrity is a wasteful and an excuse that destroys efforts.
  5. Be Non-negotiable: To the ethos you stand by and goals you set. It might take longer at first and harder than anticipated. If this can become a habit, then your company has already beaten many competitors.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Customers today are more aware about their purchases. In many parts of the world, we are experiencing some of the best times in human history. We want to support and expand this. When we talk about fashion, sweatshops, and living conditions of workers, no matter where they are located in the world, it must be above basic necessity. For Rag & Co., there can’t be enough said about how dear we hold our skilled artisans and the level of respect that we give to them.

Also, when global summits across governmental and non-governmental organizations discuss climate change, we need to take notice and make change a global priority. We are focused on sustainability and eco-friendly packaging that creates maximum waste. We are conscious about reusable bags that we pack our shoes in to the recyclable boxes we pack our product in. Everything is well thought and discussed about — we are happy to do our bit and not leave a carbon footprint on our planet.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Our success has been to focus on ethical materials and business practices and staying true to our mission. By making a great product we are also making the world a better place. There is always room for improvement, so we are also interested in studying other company’s success too! We also keep in mind that every failure can be a steppingstone to something better.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Product is important. Then comes packaging, and then comes everything else. Be lean on the frills, and the best on the “mains”. Be minimalist and be smart. The silver lining of the pandemic, amidst all of the heart break and hardship, is that it has taught us is to be extremely resourceful and thoughtful — prioritizing must to be a mastered skill.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Planning at micro management level: Aim for a perfect week — every team should be sufficient in selecting their goals and know where they stand to know where they have to go. Micro management on personal level and taking responsibility of each one’s own task saves a lot of time and energy. We sometime overlook the people who micromanage and who help others to grow at their jobs — these people should be rewarded and motivated to better positions in the hierarchy.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

There are many tools — including social media, emails, online advertising, and press outreach. Finding the right mix means that you must know the audience and how you can reach them. We are focused on consistent efforts and with growth parameters. Creating a trust factor is of prime importance — how we do it, the medium are tools. The key is great customer service from shopping the site to completing the purchase. Every customer should leave happy and want to return for more.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

  1. Great customer experience, problem solving and understanding the issue as a customer remains important.
  2. Secondly, most of the general queries and answers can be automated which is essential.
  3. Thirdly, constant updates once the product has begun its journey after being ordered. Everyone likes to track their purchase.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Be in the customers’ shoe — know exactly what is bothering them with the shoe. Sometimes, we get to focused on the business that we forget about other important areas. The wow factor also comes with the quality and the unique designs that Rag & Co. offers.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Social Media is important to us. Not only as a way to promote our brand but as a way to understand what our customers are thinking. It’s a direct form of communication that helps us understand what they like, how they are reacting to our products, what in general is being discussed in terms of trends, and how different generations are coming together sharing wardrobe ideas, sartorial choices and food habits.

We know that fashion or any business is not solely related to what is being sold directly but an overall general mood of the place.

Which social platforms to choose and the frequency can vary according to the business or brand but being present is absolutely necessary. How else do you connect to a person that is hundreds of miles away and is interested in what you are doing? Social media is the bridge that connects us!

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Building a good team is crucial to getting the job done. What sustains it is constant motivation and reward. Rewards are not merely monetary appraisal but need to be cultivated well and executed with planning and respect. Fresh talent and energy help to keep an edge. Acknowledgement is necessary and motivated management can take you to places — it’s all a team effort that helps a brand flourish.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

We need to focus more on “cyclical fashion.” A smart framework that includes futuristic technologies will be of great help. Every time you discard something from your home: bedroom or kitchen, apparel or time piece, cutlery or cushion — someone might be looking for it at the same time.

Within the luxury segment pre-loved/pre-owned things are successfully being resold. We need to go more broad with this concept. We need to focus on maintaining and upcycling product.

How can our readers further follow you online?

https://ragnco.com/ they can come to the website and explore; our team is always there to help. We are also available on DSW and Amazon.

Find us on IG: https://www.instagram.com/ragandcoofficial/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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