Vinitha Rafael finally had her dream job. She had always wanted to be a teacher. Working with young learners, absorbing their vibrant energy, and helping them learn new things. Sadly, she could only enjoy her work for two years when, in 2016, the back pain she had been experiencing took a serious turn.
“I was told I had a herniated disc in my spinal cord and I wouldn’t be able to walk or stand for long hours. The disc nulceus in my spine started bulging which caused severe back pain. It’s usually a sign of early stages of degeneration.
At that point, I didn’t have an option but to quit my job. It was impossible to stand for long hours in the class,” Vinitha, a resident of Nettur, in Kochi, Kerala tells The Better India (TBI)
With the doctor advising her to avoid standing for long hours, Vinitha knew her teaching career was over.
She was shattered. The uncertainty of life started to haunt her.
“I had always wanted to be a teacher and all my efforts in life were pointed towards that direction. But when this happened, I was confused. The negativity started kicking in and I knew I needed something to distract myself,” she shares.
As a diversion, Vinitha began thinking of a creative outlet. Living in a family of natural artists pushed her to find succour in art. The fabric painting work she had done in college for a project made her pick up her mother’s old sarees and paint on them.
What began as a way to siphon off her sadness, took a completely different turn. Once she wore her hand-painted sarees, people started asking about the artist, admiring the beautiful designs.
The orders were not far behind.
With the help of her family and friends, Vinitha had found a new vocation – as a dress designer.
Happily, her persistance to choose creative pursuits over a life of idleness has not only found appreciation but a steady clientele which earns her around Rs30k/pm!
From Being A Teacher To Becoming an Entrepreneur
“I’ve never taken any painting lessons in my life but art has always been a part of my family. My brother and my parents are all quite good with sketching and painting so it didn’t seem very new to me. But as I started wearing the sarees that I had painted on, people began asking me if I could do it for them. This motivation got me working even harder and soon I began receiving orders from all around our locality in Nettoor, Kochi. People were willing to pay any price to customise their sarees,” explains the 33-year-old.
Naturally, Vinitha soon started thinking about this as a business option. It was a chance for her to stay at home, be productive and more importantly, become economically independent. With the help of her friends, Vinitha decided to set up an exhibition in September of 2016, around the Onam festival time to spread the word about her new venture.
“That was the beginning of ‘Ila Handpainted Sarees’. Everyone loved my designs and soon I started receiving orders from across Kerala, including from famous celebrities like Madhupal and Mallika Sukumaran,” she shares.
Talking about her friend’s creative talents, Jyothi Jawahar, one of Vinitha’s friends who owns a jewellery boutique of her own, says, “I always knew that she had a hidden artist inside of her and I was lucky enough to be the one to give her the push she needed,” she says.
As for Vinitha, her biggest achievement came when a movie actor sent in an order. “When I received an order from the actor, Madhupal, I was so excited. He wanted to gift a customised saree to his wife. He was happy with the work done, and assured me that he would be coming back with more orders in the future,” dimples the former teacher.
How Does She Balance the Sales and Creative Aspects of her Business?
“I mainly customise sarees with paintings that the customers request. But, I also paint new sarees and put them up at exhibitions. I take from 2 days up to a week to complete the orders depending on the area it covers on the saree,” informs Vinitha, who has to cap her orders and tailor her working hours due to her back issues.
The talented entrepreneur started her venture with money from her Provident Fund and her savings. The leap of faith was definitely not in vain.
“A lot of people I knew didn’t support the idea and I was scared about how it would pan out but my passion for it kept me going and I think that’s the most important thing to remember when you start out any new venture,” she smiles.
To improve her skills, Vinitha watched YouTube tutorials on fabric painting and with guidance from her brother, Vipin Raphael, she began to experiment with different fabrics and started trying out more challenging designs.
“There are a lot of things you can learn beforehand and gain expertise in, but when it comes to business, most of the lessons are from your experience. The financial struggles, dealing with customers and building new contacts in the field can’t be done without starting your enterprise,” she explains.
Today, many of Vinitha’s customised sarees have been featured in famous Malayalam publications like Malayala Manorama and garnered accolades by well-known faces in the film industry.
“The first stroke that I painted is and always will be the most passionate one in my entire career because it was filled with an urge to turn my life around,” says Vinitha.
“People will always discourage you and will always tell you to opt for the more stable options. But if you’re truly passionate about something, nothing should come in your way and you must always strive to fulfill those dreams,” she concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)