This content is the fourth installment of an interview series with the 2020 Target Incubator cohort. Participating companies are sharing, in their own words, details on what inspired the creation of their companies and how they are all working to change the world for the better. All interviews have been conducted by the Target Incubator (TI) Program Management team.
Drakshan Khan, Founder
Afshan Khan, Founder
TI: When meeting someone new, how do you explain what AKS does?
Drakshan: AKS is a sustainable brand that provides conscious shoppers with fashionable sneakers that are good for people and the planet. We do this by making hand crafted sneakers using non-toxic eco-friendly materials and artisan craft. As a result, we benefit our maker communities through fair wages and reduce our impact on the planet and landfills.
We want to address the problems of exploitation, waste and lack of transparency in the fashion industry by ensuring fair wages, safe materials and working conditions and full transparency into our supply chain. Consumers can feel confident that the products they buy from us don’t contain any harmful materials that damage our planet in making or disposal. They can feel good that their purchase is directly benefiting communities through fair wages and premiums we pay which are invested back into the communities for education for their children and other development projects they decide on.
TI: What inspired you to start AKS?
Afshan: It was a collective experience of what we had seen growing up living in various parts of the world from East, Middle East to West. Spending time in a developing country like Pakistan we saw how deeply the lives of women in those places were connected to the garment industry in the west. We saw the textile waste and surplus land, we saw the use of toxic pesticide on the health of the people in entire villages and we saw women with wonderful embroidery skills passed down over centuries struggling to feed themselves. Then came the news of the Rana Plaza tragedy that triggered us to investigate more and connect the dots. We realized that having access to both East and West we were in a perfect position to create change in the industry.
TI: What impact do you hope your company has on the world?
Drakshan: We hope that by building our company with the values we care about we can put our words into action and be the change we want to create. We hope we can shift the consumption mindset to a more holistic approach and meet the challenges of questionable production and environmental damage in the fashion industry heads on. We hope to empower consumers to make ethical buying decisions. We hope to contribute towards a more responsible way of doing business. But, most importantly we hope to create a mindset that we are all in this together and we need to collectively build solutions that will uplift communities and protect our home.
TI: What has surprised you about yourself as AKS has grown?
Afshan: I think one thing that probably surprised both of us was the challenge of running a startup with your sister. Throughout the years we have always had a mostly great relationship and for most parts we thought we were the same and got along. But, starting this business surprised us with how differently we work, how differently we think and that we can have opposing views of how we want things to be done. That surely has added to the business in a positive way and brings about balance and perspective. We can be having an intense debate on a strategy and then sipping tea and laughing about it later.
TI: How did you learn about Target Incubator and what encouraged you to pursue the opportunity?
Drakshan: We learned about the target incubator from a target representative at the SOCAP conference in San Francisco last year where we were SOCAP’s scholarship attendees for 2019. As new founders in the retail world we felt it was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the retail space from a company like Target that knows retail so well.
TI: As a founder, how are you functioning today that is different than how you were functioning 6 months ago? What keeps you motivated?
Afshan: Things slowed down for us quite a bit over the last 5 months with having to postpone our full launch. So, instead we took this time to rebrand, re-strategize and reevaluate our go to market strategy and we now deeply think about all of our decisions. Our motivation comes from the impact our products have on the lives of our maker community. As a social enterprise we follow a triple bottom line approach where we measure social and environmental impact along with the monetary gains and that amplified impact is what keeps us going. Being able to do our part in addressing environmental challenges and social change one sneaker at a time keeps us motivated.
TI: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are navigating the impact of COVID-19 to their business?
Drakshan: As first-time founders we are definitely use to being in a position where nothing goes as planned (lol). Having to shift and pivot all the time, looking for new solutions and dealing with a lot of uncertainty already comes with the startup journey. However, with that being said, of course the impact of COVID-19 has brought some new challenges to the entire world and that’s really where having an entrepreneur mindset helps as we constantly look for solutions and experiment with new ways of doing things. So, I would say embrace that side. Look at the positive side that you are already building your company aware of such issues and solving for them as you proceed with caution.