Small Business Profile: Eman Bachani, Founder of Meraki Design House - Toronto
Hi Eman! Tell us a little bit about your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I studied Political Science and HR at the University of Toronto, with the intent of getting into corporate recruiting. I started working in HR at the Pan Am Games as soon as classes ended, but at this point, the idea of Meraki was already brewing. With the onset of the women entrepreneurs being in the spotlight or the beginning of the ‘girl boss’ era, it was hard not to fall in love with the idea of a hustle. Shortly after my stint at the Pan Am Games, I spent some time in Pakistan to understand how we could make the most comfortable handcrafted shoes!
Having grown up in Pakistan and then immigrating to Toronto, when did Meraki Design House come to be and how does it reflect your upbringing in Pakistan?
I spent almost half a decade in the Philippines in between my time in Pakistan and Toronto. There was that element of growing up a ‘third culture kid,’ embracing different cultures as my own, which came with appreciating different food, fashion and, the most important for me, craft. I grew up seeing my mum collect art, antiques, and just about everything you can imagine, so the idea of constantly seeking something unique was instilled very early on. When I moved to Toronto, I noticed there was a tendency to either fit in with the trends or not at all. The balance was missing and I started Meraki Design House to offer my take on what this balance can be: being able to integrate one-of-a-kind, lesser known handcrafts into the life and style of the modern woman.
How do you source your materials and find artisans to partner with to help craft your shoes?
I am so lucky to have serendipitously met the right partners who have helped me navigate different markets and found artisans in those markets to uphold our standards of ethical production.
Could you share with us a story/some stories about the women you work with in Karachi, Cebu, and Delhi?
This story might help answer a question you asked earlier about finding artisans. I was in Ecuador a while ago, invited by the government to meet manufacturers and producers of food products (that’s my day job). On the second day of evaluating the hundredth quinoa brand, I was bored out of my mind and really looking around the room for something – anything! – that would be different than what I had been seeing for the past couple of days. Then, this couple caught my eye. They were engaged in a meeting with another customer and happened to be showcasing their local community crafts. I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the products they were showcasing and it took everything in me to wait until all meetings were done so I could go check out their products. The problem? No English! Within 15 minutes of Google translations, I ended up buying a handful of samples they had made just for their meetings and bought them back to Toronto with me. Thanks to my day job, I was traveling a lot so I ended up wearing these samples to parties in Dubai, Barcelona, New York and of course, Toronto, when people started approaching me about how they can buy the product (someone loved one of the necklaces so much that they ended up buying it off me at a party – literally off my neck!). I knew the product had potential, so now, a year later, Google translate is our best friend and we’ve worked to bring custom handcrafted necklaces made by Ecuadorians.
When did you meet Kitty and how did she come on board to Meraki?
This question always makes me feel so old! Kitty and I met at a summer program at the University of Toronto, back in high school. We never really kept in touch until she bought something from Meraki eight years later. We started chatting and I loved that in every conversation, she was adding value to my thought process and what I wanted Meraki to be. A lot of coffees later, we realized us working together would be a great fit (especially because she’s amazing at telling me off).
What do you want your customer to feel like when wearing your shoes?
I personally believe confidence comes with being at ease, and one thing we guarantee with our shoes is that ease. I’ve met way too many women who smile through the day in pain because their shoes are biting from somewhere or the other, or walking has been a challenge in heels. So making cute shoes is a plus, but we’re here to offer the ease and comfort that makes a woman feel 100% comfortable and confident.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
When working with handmade products, a huge challenge is to ensure consistence in quality and finish of the product. We expect some inconsistencies here and there, which is what makes the product unique, but that’s definitely a challenge to communicate this to different stakeholders.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Mainly because sometimes, that’s all we’ve got. Only being in a systematically challenged position will allow you to understand, empathize and pay it forward. Hate to say it, but making deals over scotch and cigars doesn’t come easy for all of us! And that’s not the only way big business should be done. So women, we need to create an inclusive, open environment supporting each other.
Who are some women that inspire you?
I’ve spent the past week getting to know some incredible women (and men too!) at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance Summit in Buenos Aires. Meeting strong women, talking about struggles, dreams and ideas over there has been so much more inspiring and motivating than one would think!
What is something a woman has told you that you'll never forget?
We overestimate how much we can get done in a year but underestimate how much we will do in 10.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
To be kind to myself! And to stop the mean voice in my head from nit-picking the negatives. So important yet so hard…sigh.
What are some of your favorite places in Toronto?
I spend so little time in Toronto now, but I’ve been going to Rustle & Still often for a nice catch up over Vietnamese coffee and Bahn Mi’s.