From earning Rs 20 a day to making Rs 7.5 Cr annually, the journey of this woman entrepreneur and her fashion accessories brand
Chinu Kala was 15 when she went from door to door selling knives and coasters. Today, she has built a successful fashion accessory online brand. This is her story of never giving up in the face of despair and hopelessness.Palak Agarwal
Chinu Kala was 15 years old when she fled her home in Mumbai due to issues in the family. The young girl was then staring at a bleak and uncertain future.
When I left my house, I didn’t know what lay ahead for me. I could earn only Rs 20 a day selling knives and coasters door-to-door, and people used to slam the door on my face, refusing to buy the products. But I had the determination and I knew there is no substitute for hard work,” Chinu (37) tells SMBStory.
Struggling hard to make it on her own, Chinu had to survive on one meal a day. But the teen had big dreams in her head and stars in her eyes. This propelled her to never give up even when things seemed hopeless.
Chinu then explored a variety of jobs for over eight years to ensure she could manage on her own. In 2004, she got married in Bengaluru, and after a lot of push from her friends, she participated in Gladrags Mrs India Pageant, 2008, where she reached the finals. She then entered the modelling industry, following which she began her entrepreneurial journey with Fonte Corporate Solutions, which specialised in corporate merchandising.
I didn’t have any money to invest but after entering the modelling industry I realised that corporate merchandising is something I can step into as it would not put a pressure on me to pour in money. Luckily, I succeeded at it and was able to work with brands like Airtel, Sony, ESPN, Aaj Tak, and many more,” she says.
Chinu was exposed to practical lessons of running a business by meeting consumer demands with products and services that best match their needs, and it was then that she realised that there is a huge gap in the Indian jewellery industry.
Despite the Indian jewellery market being vast, Chinu felt that there were no unique designs to meet the demands of the consumers. Hence, she decided to close Fonte Corporate Solutions and founded Rubans Accessories in 2014 combining her love for fashion and experience of corporate merchandising.
Rubans Accessories was started with a bootstrapped capital of Rs 3 lakh in a 70 sqft Kiosk in Phoenix Mall, Bengaluru. In 2019, within a span of five years, the company has recorded a turnover of Rs 7.5 crore.
Beginning of Rubans
The accessories sold at Rubans didn’t have any branding. After seeing the huge customer base in that small kiosk, Chinu decided to scale up and approached Forum Mall in Koramangala, Bengaluru to rent a space.
Forum Mall has the largest footfall of customers and I knew that opening a store in this mall would benefit my brand. It takes 2-3 years for people to get a confirmation for the availability of space and my biggest fear was the same,” Chinu says.
As expected, when she approached the mall manager she was denied space availability for Rubans. But Chinu, as has always been her nature, never gave up. She pursued the manager without losing hope and managed to finally convince him after three months.
But her struggles to scale up didn’t stop here. Even though she managed to crack the deal to occupy space she didn’t have money for the deposit.
I was given a period of one month to arrange for money but all I had at that time was my jewellery collection. I opened the store and customers loved my collection so much that I sold jewellery worth Rs 15 lakh in 15 days.”
After opening her second store, Chinu expanded Rubans Accessories to Hyderabad and Kochi.
At present, Rubans Accessories employs around 15-20 local artisans from cities like Jaipur, Rajkot, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata to manufacture jewellery. The brand has its manufacturing unit in Mumbai and deals in costume and silver jewellery with SKUs ranging from bracelets, earrings, necklace, matha patti, maang tikka, rings, and more. The brand also employs NIFT graduates for designing the jewellery.
The bling of online business
Chinu opened five exclusive stores across Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Kochi. However, soon she realised that her customer base was dwindling. Although sales didn’t drop, the footfall at her stores was rapidly declining.
Almost 60 percent of my customers who used to visit my stores switched to the online mode of shopping saying that it’s more convenient and saves them the hassle of stepping out of the house. And after experiencing this, I had to take an immediate step of moving online.”
Chinu took the hard decision that time to shut all her offline stores, switching to the online mode of selling. She listed herself on various ecommerce portals like Flipkart, Myntra, and Jabong, and thus revived her customer base. The brand now receives 1,000 orders online on a daily basis and also sells its jewellery to the US and the UK through its own portal.
In 2016-17, the brand clocked a revenue of Rs 56 lakh. Last fiscal (FY19) saw the brand growing by 114 percent, closing the year with Rs 7.5 crore revenue.
On the huge leap Rubans Accessories was able to achieve, Chinu tells SMBStory,
“By that time, I understood the choice of my audience. I used to travel to various places to understand the demand of women. From street markets to big stores, I visited each place to understand the market trends. I studied the market a lot and hence, I feel that it helped Rubans to grow in such good numbers, which is not so common in the artificial (costume) jewellery industry.”
Recently, Rubans has also been selected for the Myntra Accelerator Programme, which invests in emerging Indian fashion brands.
All that glitters is not gold
With a surge in the number of players in the Indian fashion jewellery market, there is very little elbow room for jewellery brands to differentiate themselves from the rest. The market is cluttered and getting the attention of the potential customer is very difficult.
Chinu says that one of Rubans’ initial challenges was carving out a niche for the brand i.e., 'Vasudhaiva Katumbakam' (the world is one family). With that done, it has now become a well-established in the fashion jewellery space.
The biggest challenge at this time is to keep on reinventing and keep the novelty of the brand alive. In order to do so, we make sure that we launch a new collection every 15-20 days so that every customer visiting the brand finds something new each time,” she adds.
The team at Rubans is working hard on ‘Mission Rs 150 crore by 2024’. It is also considering diversifying its offerings into other avenues in the fashion space. Chinu says that she is also in talks with vendors across India for selling jewellery.
For Chinu, the journey has been long but fulfilling. She says,
"When you cannot outplay anyone, outwork them. But, don't wait; the time will never be right. You have to be extremely determined to pursue your dream."
(Edited by: Evelyn Ratnakumar)