How this woman entrepreneur built a Rs 100 Cr company with a bank loan and a dream – the story of Sheela Kochouseph
Sheela Kochouseph is the Founder of Kochi-based V-Star Creations, a popular innerwear brand. The company, which provides employment to women from under-privileged families, grew into a Rs 100 crore company last year.
Sheela Kochouseph hails from a prominent business family in Kochi, but she built a highly successful business, V-Star Creations, from scratch. All she had on her journey were her passion and a team of 10 people.
The Founder of V-Star Creations, a prominent name in the innerwear market, spoke about her journey from homemaker to entrepreneur on the sidelines of the Women Startup Summit organised by the Kerala Startup Mission earlier this month.
Two conditions and a dream
Sheela’s husband Kochouseph Chittilapilly owns the V-Star Group (V Guard electronics, Wonderla theme parks, etc). When Sheela expressed a desire to start up on her own, he set two conditions.
She had to raise funds with a help of a bank loan and he would give her an empty office, but on a monthly rent. There was no “family money” to bank on.
And that’s how V-Star Creations, a brand of affordable high-quality innerwear, took root in 1995 - with borrowed money and an unstoppable dream.
“When I first expressed my desire to start something, people wondered why as I came from a family with money. But I was quite determined to do what I wanted,” Sheela says.
“My father used to own a textile and jewellery business, and I was used to having a lot of fabric and material around me. We had a sewing machine at home, and I used to make little dresses on it,” she adds.
Making products from scratch
Sheela started off with 10 people, including a pattern maker, a cutter, a merchandiser, and others relevant to the business she wanted to start. She started V-Star Creations by making Indian dresses like salwar kameezes as the trend was just starting off in Kerala. Most women wanted “less flashy designs” than those available in the market at that time.
After five years, at a dealer’s conference, Sheela was asked why she could not branch into innerwear because good quality brands were not available in Kerala; most of them came from Mumbai and Bengaluru.
She took this on as a challenge, procured some high-quality brassieres and panties from Mumbai, removed the stitches and started learning how to make the products from scratch.
“At that time, I didn’t get any pattern maker who knew the subject. I had to learn it by myself and teach others. And that’s how I entered the lingerie business,” she says.
Smart business model
In the beginning, whatever profit Sheela made, she pumped it back into the business. She chose a smart and viable business model to take it forward in a state like Kerala rife with strikes and employee issues.
“I am sorry to say that Kerala does not have a healthy industrial climate. We outsourced the stitching of all the lingerie to nuns in convents. They had the money, the space, and they could provide livelihoods to women from under-privileged families. These women had never even seen a sewing machine before and they were trained from scratch. Today, we have 16 units with more than 1,000 women working on our products,” Sheela says.
Did she face any challenges as a woman entrepreneur?
“I didn’t face any challenge as a woman in this field. But I did face challenges as an entrepreneur in finding skilled workers to do embroidery, tailoring, etc. Also, sourcing raw material, especially the fabric, was a challenge initially. That’s why we stopped the salwar kameez line and decided to focus on innerwear.”
V-Star Creations manufactures lingerie, leggings, and ready-made blouses for women, camisoles for girls, and briefs and vests for boys and men. It sells in Kerala and also exports to a few Gulf countries.
Last year, the company touched a revenue of Rs 100 crore.
So did her husband ask for accountability? She laughs. “It’s good he gave me a loan and office space on rent. This made me spend money wisely as I am a spendthrift. In fact, during the first year of operations, he insisted I give my staff a bonus like he did in his businesses. I had to take another loan to give that bonus.”
The readymade blouse, Sheela informs us, is her latest creation. Quite different from those available in the market, this range, in four patterns, is made of 95 percent viscose and 5 percent lycra – stretchable enough to feel snug while keeping you cool.
Sheela’s vision for the company is to make it a pan-Indian brand and export to more countries. This, she says, will take another six years, and she is willing to “grow slowly, but steadily”.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)