The Shining Star Of V Star: Sheela Kochouseph Chittilappilly.
Our sub-editor Sheeja Nair talks to a successful businesswoman Sheela Kocouseph Chittilappilly, who has popularised the promising brand of V Star, and who has carved a unique space in the Kerala business sector with her confidence and hard work.
Your company has grown from less than ten customers to over 100 crore turnover. How do you see this growth, especially as a woman entrepreneur?
In the initial days, it was not easy. Churidar was our initial product. In those days, we only made less than fifteen churidars a day. Our plan was to increase our production capacity rapidly.
I never dreamt of becoming a business tycoon. It was our workers who played a key role in the success of our company. Our 230-member team always encouraged me to execute new ideas.
Around seven years after we had entered into the production of churidar, we ventured into the production of bra, panties, camisole, men’s innerwear, leggings and men’s t-shirt. Later, we started our kids wear production.
Our main customers are women. They are the ones who have helped the brand to become this much successful.
The men’s wear sector is a very competitive field. It is hoped that in the near future we will come first in that sector also.
How did you overcome the ‘shame factor’ surrounding women’s undergarments?
I never thought that women’s undergarments are bad things. When I started the production of bra, it was just another product for me. It those days, there were no quality undergarments available in the market for women.
With the support of our expert team, we developed new models and introduced them to the market.
In the initial days, no publishing companies were ready to advertise the product. A renowned women-centred magazine rejected our advertisement proposal. Even, our hoardings were damaged. But, the confidence in me remained intact. I used cable TV networks to advertise the product. I got excellent response from our customers and dealers. It was our victory.
Now, there is no restriction in advertising the product through any medium. We see at least two or three women’s undergarments advertisements in every magazine these days.
Have you faced any serious challenges in your business as a woman entrepreneur?
Personally, I have not faced any serious challenges. It does not mean that all women entrepreneurs do business in the state without the fear of challenges.
I have received all required support from the V Guard. So, I cannot say that I have faced all challenges myself.
The system governs the state does not support the business community. It often discourages those come forward to do business in the state. In contrary, the system encourages the foreigners who wish to do business in the state.
Does anyone have the courage to start a big business in Kerala? Definitely, I do not have.
People here want to earn more but does less work. They are least bothered about the fact that if the production is not increased their benefits will not increase. The political situation in the state is also a huge problem.
What difference has been made in the market when your company has brought in a North Indian product like Salwar Kameez to the state?
V Star is the first Salwar Kameez brand in Kerala. The products brought from Bombay were not perfect in nature. Now also, the products from Mumbai are not perfect. We ceased our churidar production sector, which was a very profitable business, around ten years ago. It was the unavailability of certain technical facilities necessary for the production of the product in the state, such as dyeing unit and printing unit, was what that prompted the company to close down the production of churidar. The facilities were only available in Jaipur and Delhi. It was costly and less comfortable to rely on the facilities located in those regions, as it was not always easy to get our design ideas executed through the facilities.
What gives us happiness is that still many use our churidars. It is our sincere adherence to the quality that helps our churidars stay long without damage.
How do you manage your work life and personal life simultaneously?
Only a woman can do that. It is not easy to do that. Not many men support women to do their household responsibilities.
When I got married, V Guard was in its preliminary state. I saw each and every stages of its growth carefully.
I enjoy my household responsibilities, as well as my business responsibilities.
How do you overcome the growing competition in the sector?
There is competition now. When I entered the sector, there were not many regional competitors.
The imported products are very costly.
We have many sincere customers. Our customers are happy with our product.
We are going to introduce a high quality innerwear brand, named as Persian Purple.
Quality is our prime asset.
The main part of a bra is its elastic. The cost of our product was at least ten rupees higher than similar products available in the market when we first launched our product, as we used a kind of elastic much better than what other products offered at that time.
I, as a woman, know better what a woman really wants. It reflects in our designs too.
What would you become if you were not a highly successful entrepreneur?
I have never thought about it. I do not like to sit lazy. I don’t like to waste a single minute in my life. I might have become an artist. I cannot live without creativity.
I never had a specific goal in my life. In those days, women were not encouraged to go for work. I was interested to do bank job.
When I stated my company, I never expected any huge profit out of it. In the beginning, the company was running on loss. In those days, V Guard supported us extensively.
How do you see your husband Kochouseph Chittilappily’s social interventions?
I fully support it. I never hesitate to react against injustice. In fact, it is the duty of every human being to react against injustice fearlessly whenever he/she confronts it in their life. In this topic, we both think in the same direction.
How did your husband support the business woman in you?
He is a great support. Since our marriage, all household affairs have been handled by me. It has helped him to give enormous concentration in his business. He is a loving father and a caring husband. His decision making skill is worth commendable. If he takes a decision, he will not step back from it. Sometimes, I only know about it when it is implemented. Exactly, it is what happened in the kidney donation issue.
Say about your strengths and weaknesses
The inability to say ‘no’ is my weakness. Now, I am slowly recovering from that weakness.
My confidence is my biggest strength.
What are your hobbies?
Painting, gardening, interior decoration, cooking, stitching, singing are my main hobbies. I used to play hockey. All those painting seen in my house is made by me. As I already said, I cannot sit lazy.