I got all my motivation from my struggles: Chinu Kala, Rubans Accessories

Chinu Kala, a first-generation entrepreneur, has gone from selling knives to establishing the jewellery brand Rubans Accessories. In many ways, she is an inspiring example of perseverance and determination.

   
Chinu Kala-Rubans Accessories

It was a family feud that brought her to the destiny that she had never dreamt of. Homeless at 15, all she had was a pair of slippers, a salwar suit and Rs 300.

It was a tough call for a teenager to do it all alone. But determined not to go back home, she decided to earn for herself. It took her several days to find herself a job and she struggled for her livelihood. That girl, who started by selling knives door-to-door, then waited tables at restaurants and tried her hand at various other jobs as well, is today the owner of a well-established jewellery brand, Rubans Accessories.

Chinu Kala today is a well-known face in the fashion jewellery industry. She is a first-generation entrepreneur, socialite and model. In 2014, she started this brand with the goal of honoring Indian artisans and making jewellery affordable and accessible to all. It has over 2000 designs that have been painstakingly curated by artisans from across the country.

“I have done all kinds of odd jobs and all these jobs small or big did add to my experience. When you work from the age of 15 you go through the toughest of times. But then these experiences have also shaped me into who I am today,” she reminisces.

In a one-on-one with SME Futures, Kala opens up on her initial days and her brand and here are the edited excerpts:

Tell us about your family background, and what motivated you the most?

My dad and mom were in the medical profession, and I have 2 elder siblings. My mom was a nurse and worked for the Saudi Government hospital. We used to stay with our dad, and I was a little headstrong amongst the 3 of us.

I got all my motivation from my struggles. After a fight with my dad, I left home at the age of 15 and was literally on the roads. I had no money, no place to go, and no food to eat but something inside me kept on pushing me to work harder each day.

Initially the fight was to get 3 meals a day as there have been times when I had to drink water at night and sleep as I did not have money to buy dinner. I think that hunger pushed me to work almost 16-18 hours every day for many years. I have done 3 jobs in a day where I worked as a receptionist, as a waitress and as an MC. That was a time when the struggle was purely for survival.

So, how did you break into the fashion industry?

In 2006 my friends convinced me to apply for the Gladrags Mrs. India pageant where I got selected. This competition opened a window to a different world for me.

Previously I never had the money to spend on any luxuries because I had always been earning to survive. Here I got introduced to the world of fashion and jewelry. Here I realised that even though all the participants wore amazing outfits and makeup, it was only the right accessories that completed their look and this observation stayed with me for many years.

In 2008 I ventured into corporate merchandising and had many well-known brands as my customers. While speaking to the brand managers of these companies, I could see the passion that they had for their brands. They always told me that sales numbers are temporary, but the brand is permanent.

I used to get excited thinking about one day building my own brand, my legacy that would live on.

Inside article1-Chinu Kala-Rubans Accessories
Chinu Kala, Rubans Accessories

What was the tipping point for you when you realized you could be your own boss?

When you work from the age of 15 you go through the toughest of times. But then these experiences have also shaped me into who I am today.

I have done all kinds of odd jobs and all these jobs, small or big, did add to my experience. Whatever I learned, I learned on the job, by doing things, rather than by reading books.

After a point, I realized that I wanted to do something bigger and more impactful, which cannot be done if you work for someone else. So, I decided to wait for the right opportunity to get into business. I always had ideas and a voice of my own and my thoughts were a bit different from how my friends used to look at things.

I always used to see opportunities in problems, and this is the factor that impelled me to launch my fashion jewelry brand Rubans in 2014.

Can you tell us about your brand Rubans and its journey?

I started the brand with my own savings of Rs 3 lakhs. The journey of Rubans has been nothing but extraordinary.

The first milestone for Rubans was the 36 sq ft kiosk at Phoenix mall, Bengaluru in 2014. And we gained so much love and affection from our customers, that by 2016 we had a presence in Bangalore, Kochi and Hyderabad with 7 stores.

In the year 2017, India saw the phenomenal growth of the Internet. And I knew that this was the revolution that I was waiting for to happen, due to which the retail industry was going to change forever. So, by 2018 we started transitioning Rubans to the online space. Since we did not have any experience of e-commerce, it took us some time to understand it. But this move facilitated the growth of the brand to the next level and helped capture the attention of the fashion fanatics across the country.

Today Rubans is amongst the top selling brands on Myntra. And so far, we have touched the lives of more than one million customers. The brand since its inception has been growing by more than 100 per cent year on year. We are one of the few brands that have been bootstrapped from the beginning and have been profitable.

So, how has your entrepreneurial journey been over the years? What difficulties have you encountered?

For a first-generation entrepreneur, running a bootstrapped start-up comes with a new set of challenges every day. However, this is how the learning curve is shaped. In my case, I am who I am today solely because of the situations I have faced since the age of 15.

Let me narrate to you an incident that happened a couple of years ago.

This was after hustling for 22+ years and creating a business which was doing quite well. On the morning of July 4, 2019, at 6:00 a.m., I received a call from my head of operations, saying that my office was on fire. I could not process what was going on, but without wasting time, I rushed to the location to see all my years of hard work and my dream turn into ashes. We had all our offices and godowns on the same premises and all my stocks were kept there.

That sight shattered me, but somewhere deep within me, I knew that it wasn’t the end, just a big obstacle, that I was determined to overcome.

We had lost all our resources and inventory, but I still had my brand Rubans and a dedicated team. That same night, I addressed my team, telling them that these were trying times and that if we could overcome them together, there would be no turning back.

Since the office was burnt down, I made the team start work from my home. I went around the residential complex where I stayed and borrowed a few laptops from my neighbors. And the next day we began rebuilding all that was lost.

In the next four months, we were back in business with a bang, selling twice as much as we had before the fire. Yes, my team stood by me to deliver what appeared to be a herculean task, but as I previously stated, this is what defines us as a team and Rubans as a brand.

It has not been an overnight success, but rather a brand that has grown over the course of seven years, delivering excellence day in and day out. It has been a journey that has put my resilience to the test numerous times, but I have never given up regardless of the circumstances.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

As someone who loves fashion, I feel privileged to be running Rubans. When you love what you do it gives you that extra energy to walk that extra mile!

I love everything about my business. I look forward to each day as I know that we will do something new for the brand every day. When I meet customers and they tell me how much they love the brand, it pushes me to work harder each day.

What is the message that you want to send to the young women who are considering careers in the fashion industry.

I would say that whether it is fashion or any other business, be prepared to hustle it out. There is no ready recipe for success. But hard work and self-belief will take you a long way.

I’d also like to mention the three traits that I believe are essential for a person to possess: A desire to succeed, a keen eye for opportunities, and perseverance and faith in one’s own abilities. These are the three indispensable qualities that every woman must possess.