“If you ask me today where I got the courage from, I genuinely do not have the answer. I just knew I had to do something to come out of it. I only had two pairs of clothes and a pair of slippers. The first two days I was out of the house I was just lost and so scared. It took me two-three days to get my bearings right and that is when I found the dormitory that I stayed at,” Chinu reminisces.
She was 15. Homeless. And broke. But what she had with her was a gritty determination to survive.
With just Rs 300 in her pocket, the teen left her family over irreconcilable issues. From a door to door saleswoman to waitressing and now, owner of Rubans accessories, Chinu Kala has come a long way but in essence, she is still that girl who did not let circumstances get the better of her.
“If you ask me today where I got the courage from, I genuinely do not have the answer. I just knew I had to do something. I only had two pairs of clothes and a pair of slippers. The first two days I was just lost and scared. It took me two to three days to get my bearings right. I then found a dormitory to live in,” Chinu reminisces.
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The dormitory where Chinu went charged Rs 20 per night/per mattress and even that was a struggle. “I think the need to make it big was so strong in me that I was willing to work harder than anyone,” she shares.
It took her a few days to find a job as a door-to-door saleswoman selling knives-sets, coasters, and other small home improvement products earning Rs 20 to Rs 60 on most days.
“You have to remember that this was in the late 90’s and it was a very different time. One could just go and ring the doorbell and approach people. However, with every door that was shut on my face and every rejection I faced I became almost shock-proof and immensely strong.”
A year later, Chinu was promoted and at 16, was training three other girls. “I became a ‘supervisor’ of sorts and with that I was paid slightly more. That was the beginning of my sales training,” she informs.
Seeds of entrepreneurship
Chinu was always fascinated by the prospect of being a businessperson. “I have always wanted to own a business. I wanted to succeed. There was a time when success for me meant just earning my meal for the day,” says the 37-year-old.
The goalpost, as Chinu says, kept shifting.
Having left home at 15, Chinu had no formal education and whatever she learnt she learnt through practical experiences.
She later took on the job of waitressing at a restaurant. “That job required my presence from 6 PM to 11 PM, and I kept on working. I never felt bogged down or tired with the work I was doing,” she says. She grew with every job and within three years she became financially stable.
Gladrags Mrs India
In 2004, she got married to Amit Kala – her biggest support and left for Bengaluru. Two years later she entered the Gladrags Mrs India Pageant on the insistence of friends.
What was that experience like? “Imagine being in a room with super achievers – I hadn’t even completed my education and here I was flanked by people who had accomplished so much. It was scary! I was with people from very solid educational backgrounds but somehow I held my own. My experiences held my in great stead.”
Chinu was among the finalists in the pageant and with that more opportunities came her way.
“I have always loved fashion but I never had the money to spend on myself,” she says.
Rubans – fashion accessories
In working as a model and being part of the fashion industry, Chinu saw that there was a gap in the fashion industry for fashion jewelry and that was what she tapped into. “In all the years I worked various jobs I kept saving money and I used all of it when I decided to start Rubans.”
“When I started my company in 2014, it was nothing more than a thought in my mind. Even to get a 6 x 6 feet retail space in Bengaluru was such a struggle. It took me six-months to manage it,” she says.
Rubans curates ethnic and western jewellery ranging from Rs 229 to Rs 10,000 a piece. While she started off in just Bengaluru, the brand expanded and opened stores in Kochi and Hyderabad.
Chinu deals with designers from all over and curates various looks. “Initially, there was no mall that was ready to trust us and give us any space – it took me almost six months to get a space in the Forum Mall in Koramangala, after constantly chasing the manager,” she recalls.
Despite all the rejections, what kept Chinu going was her belief in the work that she was doing. And it did not in vain. “In the year 2016-17, we clocked in about Rs 56 lakhs. The next year the revenues grew by almost 670 per cent to Rs 3.5 crores. The last year saw us earning a revenue of Rs 7.5 crores,” claims Chinu.
“This for me is the love that the brand is getting,” she says.
All the learning that I am able to implement in the business today stems from the door-to-door selling, the waitressing at restaurants, and the rejections that I faced before. They have shaped me and helped me grow, she smiles.
“I believe that every day of work must bring in some growth – whether it is in the form of learning, understanding a new subject, or monetary gains. I never forget where I started from. Today I am able to pay 25 salaries and while that feeling is amazing – I believe in hard work and expect that from each person associated with my brand.”
If you would like to have a look at the jewelry and accessories that Chinu curates, then you could head here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)