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Business

Family-Owned Bergen County Indian Clothing Shop Rethinks Business Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Akash Bajaj, owner of Advance Apparel in Hackensack
Akash Bajaj, owner of Advance Apparel in Hackensack Photo Credit: Akash Bajaj

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a family who owns a Bergen County clothing store to rethink business. 

Advance Apparels owners Akash, Prithvi and Manju Bajaj have had experience with authentic Indian garments even before opening the South Hackensack store in 2001.

“My father at the time was working at MetLife but leveraged his experience managing clothing factories from his time in India to start a clothing brand on the side,” Akash, 27, told Daily Voice.

For years, Akash, his father, Prithvi, and his mother, Manju, had a routine that worked: they’d spend the first several months of each year attending wholesale trade shows throughout the country to build brand awareness and promote growth for the summer season.

Akash, of Moonachie, became more involved in the business in 2016 after receiving his Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship from Babson.

“I wanted to leverage my experience in technology to improve and help grow the business,” he said.

Four years later, In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Akash is helping Advance Apparels stay afloat.

The lack of trade shows and opportunities to market the brand were all but gone as the pandemic struck, which Akash described as a “huge loss” for the company.

“That's where we would generally find our new retail partners and increase brand awareness,” said Akash.

The family had no choice but to rethink things, almost entirely. The first thing they did was prioritize the creation of a retail website, which launched in May.

This helped the business to capitalize on the growing trend of leisure and comfort wear.

“As tourism came to a halt, we had to find ways to still generate revenue and get our product in the hands of our end users,” said Akash. “An increasing amount of people were working from home, and this really complimented a majority of our product line, which is one size fits most.”

Still, pandemic restriction continued to slow operations at the company’s warehouse — particularly when it came to social distancing.

“By implementing social distancing policies, we dramatically reduced the daily output of order fulfillment in our warehouse,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, they had planned to open an order fulfillment center in Hackensack — but they quickly had to shift from their wholesale model to one that remained focused on online sales.

“Since 2001, we have strictly been wholesalers of our brand and that quickly changed at the start of 2020 due to the temporary closure of our retail business across the U.S.,” said Akash. 

But the sales transition alone wasn’t an instant fix for the shop’s unique problem. In the meantime, Advance Apparels has started to focus more than ever on growing its social media presence — particularly, Instagram. 

“Alongside our retail channel, we launched an Instagram that we are slowly building out,” said Akash. “We are excited to see our social media presence grow so we can finally interact with our customers and see how they style our clothes.” 

Also new to the business is an all-natural organic clothing line called Ananta, which features 100 percent Tencel fabric known for its eco-friendliness and minimal environmental impact, Akash said. 

“We plan to add more clothing lines to continue to grow and meet the ever-changing fashion landscape.”

Above all, Akash is passionate about the importance of supporting local businesses on a day-to-day basis.

“The importance of shopping, eating, and enjoying locally is now more evident than ever,” he said. “Small businesses thrive from the support of their local communities!”

Click here for more on Advance Apparels.

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