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A success story: From Rs 500 to Rs 25 lakh!

Last updated on: July 19, 2010 11:29 IST

A success story: From Rs 500 to Rs 25 lakh!

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

Two years back when her daughter Denise asked Cheryl Huffton to quit her job as a school teacher of 16 years to start her own enterprise, she was shocked and more than a little worried.

After several fights and lots of tears, the daughter convinced her mother to launch their own enterprise.

Dream Weavers started with just Rs 500 and a lot of dreams. Dream Weaver makes eco-friendly textiles. They design and make bras, panties, aprons, and other items used in spas, beauty parlours, et cetera, using eco-friendly disposable material. These are for one-time use.

They have also plans to design and make gowns and other operation theatre supplies needed in hospital on the same material.

Cheryl and Denise are also event mangers. The enterprise had a turnover of Rs 12 lakh (Rs 1.2 million) last year, which has now burgeonedto Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million). Now, the new entrepreneurs' dream is to capture the international market.

Here is their unusual story in Cheryl's words and how they made it:

Dream Weavers can be contacted on email at dream.weaver71@yahoo.com or on telephone at 91 96001 53022

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Image: Cheryl Huffton.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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The beginning

It all started in April 2008 at a wedding reception. My daughter Denise noticed napkins made of eco-friendly disposable material and, needless to say, it kindled the businesswoman in her.

She told me at that moment itself that she was going to start a business connected with eco-friendly material and that I was going to be her partner. I, who had been a teacher for 16 years, was shocked to hear her suggestion.

That night Denise didn't sleep at all; she sat through the night designing many kinds of women's wear. Although we had several fights over starting a business of ours, I was impressed with what she had designed.

It was at that time that Prema, our maid who has literally brought my daughter up, had had to get one of her legs amputated because of acute diabetes. On top of that, she was thrown out of her home by her son-in-law as she had become an invalid.

When she, who had been part of our household for years, wanted us to put her in an orphanage, we felt extremely bad. We felt it was our duty to help her.

My daughter then told me, "Mother, we must start a business at least to help people like her. We can help more such less-fortunate women when our business grows." I could not but agree with her.

That was how Dream Weavers came into being, and Prema became the first employee of the company.

Even today, when the unit has shifted to the 3rd floor of another building, she works from our home. She sits here and cuts the materials.

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Image: Cheryl and her daughter Denise (both seated) and the Dream Weavers team.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Doing business the right way

Our next move was to get all the required papers from the government. I was very particular that we have everything in order so that nobody could find fault with our business in future.

It is true we had to make several trips to various government offices to get all the paperwork done. I had till then been happy and comfortable just sitting in a classroom teaching small children.

Starting with Rs 500

We are a middle class family; we didn't have thousands of rupees at our disposal to start a business. All we could put in was Rs 500 initially.

We bought one sewing machine on instalments and put it in our house. We bought a few metres of material at a very high price. We didn't have money to buy a full roll.

After Prema, my first real employee was Devi who had lost her husband in an accident and she had two children to take care of. She had just started taking training in cutting and stitching when I met her but I decided to have her as my tailor. It was my daughter who taught her to design, cut and stitch.

We decided that we would make something unique. That is how my daughter designed bras, panties, aprons, and other items used in spas, beauty parlours, etc. It is hygienic to have disposable, eco-friendly materials at these places.

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Image: Prema, the first employee of Dream Weavers.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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A success story: From Rs 500 to Rs 25 lakh!

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Visits to get customers

With the items we made, we started visiting various beauty parlours in the city. I must say that turned out to be the most difficult part of our business. Out of ten parlours we visited, only two agreed to meet us.

We were often insulted and humiliated at many places. We were not even allowed to meet the owners by the receptionists. Though disappointed, we didn't lose heart.

We went on visiting parlours with our products. We begged many people to just see our products. We told them we ourselves made the products and employed less-fortunate women. We told them that by buying the products, they would be helping the poor women too.

Our first client was a beauty parlour in Alwarpet in Chennai and we got them in the second month of our starting the business. Our sales in the first month were to the tune of Rs 5,000. I was very happy because we had put in only Rs 500. We bought a second-hand power machine with the money and kept it in the corner of our verandah.

Help from BYST

The Confederation of Indian Industry directed us to BYST (Bharatiya Yuva Sakti Trust) started by Lakshmi Venkatesan. I must say that BYST was a great help to us, encouraging us and putting us on to D K Raju as our mentor.

I must thank BYST for the conferences they arranged and it has helped me, a non-business person, to be a businesswoman. I don't miss any of their meetings and conferences.

With a recommendation from BYST, we got a loan of Rs 2.5 lakh (Rs 250,000) from the Indian Bank. I then bought three more machines.

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Image: Cheryl at her workshop in Chennai.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Less-fortunate women work at Dream Weavers

I then looked around for women in the neighbourhood who were suffering and employed them. We were very sure that we would employ only underprivileged people.

Sheeba had wanted to commit suicide with her two children after her husband dumped her. We employed her though she didn't know anything about stitching. She was taught stitching by another lady and, now, she is a very good tailor.

Big companies as clients, too

By October, we started getting calls from a few beauty parlours. I was surprised when the first call came.

Today, we have eight machines and 12 women working on a regular basis and another 10 women who work on a non-regular basis. We plan to start a training centre for the less-fortunate women.

We have more than 50 small clients and 15 big clients, including Ayush of Hindustan Lever, Cholayil Sanjeevanam, et cetera. I supply to all the branches of Ayush and Sanjeevanam.

Now the sales to the big clients are worth nearly Rs 2 lakh (Rs 200,000) every month.

Our sales kept on increasing and last year, it almost touched Rs 12 lakh. This year it has more than doubled.

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Image: Denise with the staff of Dream Weavers.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Exports to Dubai

While on a visit to Dubai, my daughter got some clients like Chanakya who gives us orders for G-string panties, Unisex panties, etc. I am glad that I have obtained my import-export license too. My daughter is mostly stationed in Dubai these days to market our products. Her dream is to take our products to the international market.

Dream for Dream Weavers

Though all of us have worked hard, day and night, we didn't expect our company to grow so much in two years. BYST has recommended us for the Prince Charles award for entrepreneurship and we are one of the three companies shortlisted worldwide for the award.

With hard work, I know we will reach greater heights!

Our dream is to help the less-fortunate women and with us growing; we know we will be able to help more such women.


Image: Cheryl at her workshop.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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