Chinu Kala is an entrepreneur, model, socialite, and one of the prominent women in fashion business in India today. Her startup Rubans Accessories, founded in 2014, is closing this financial year (FY2020) with a revenue of Rs.13 crore.
But Chinu’s is not a fairy-tale of privilege and pedigree that catapulted her to success. If anything, hers is a rags-to-riches story like no other; one that began when she left her family as a teenager and decided to make it on her own.
Chinu grew up as a sporty kid with her brother and sister, under their father’s care, in the Mumbai of 1990s. Talking to MAKERS India, Chinu recollects the turning point in her life, “I was very headstrong child. One fine day I had a very major fight with my father, and I left home with just Rs.300 in my pocket and 2 salwar kameez and a pair of slippers.”
Besides sales jobs, Chinu has also worked as a tele-caller, make-up artist, waitress, receptionist and emcee. Although 22-23 is the age when an average Indian woman would join the workforce, Chinu had already had more than six years’ of work experience across sectors by then. Looking back, she thinks that starting out so early in life was a good thing for her. “It definitely has made me so strong. I was always outperforming my peers because I never had that security of not performing; I never had the privilege of a fallback plan.”
Chinu met Amit Kala while they were both working in the telecom industry. After getting married, Chinu did a makeup course in Bombay and made friends with some women who were professional models. Some of them suggested that Chinu apply for Mrs.India pageant; but she was apprehensive. With her husband’s support, she applied and got selected.
“It was one of the best experiences I have had! The best part was how I understood fashion; I understood how a piece of jewellery can transform your whole look! And that is one thought which stayed by me,” Chinu says about how the pageant impacted her.
Leaving a legacy
Although Chinu enjoyed modelling, she wanted to do more in carer. In 2007, Chinu started up in corporate merchandising. Fonte Corporate Solutions’ clientele included top players like Sony Ericsson, Titan, Star Plus, and SABmiller.
Chinu recollects that she was intrigued about the corporate marketers speaking of their brand, their legacy, and understanding consumers. Now mother to an eight-year-old, Chinu says that she wanted to leave behind a legacy for her daughter too.
“I ran Fonte Corporate Solutions for seven years, and I met some of the best marketing people in the country during that time - those who were running the big brands – and I learnt a lot from them,” shares Chinu, recollecting how she decided to start up again.
After her experience in modelling, she understood jewellery industry and had noticed a gap in the Indian market - there was no branded fashion jewellery of great quality. With Rubans Accessories, Chinu wanted to offer jewellery which can target all age groups and tastes.
Building a Team, Empowering Women
Currently, 65% of Rubans Accessories’ workforce is women. “Women are multitaskers, and they understand jewellery. They even handle packing better than men do. In my packing department, almost 80% of the workforce is women.”
For Chinu, women empowerment is really important because she believes that once a woman is independent, she does a lot for the family. “I think women inherently don't believe in doing things for herself. She does it always for the family. At Rubans, we give flexible hours to women, especially mothers, who work with us.”
But Chinu adds that she always tell women that it's important to create a mechanism around you which puts your work on a very high pedestal. She elaborates, “No matter what you're doing, whether you are an employee or an entrepreneur, you have to understand that your work cannot come last. Mostly women put their home and children first, and assume that career will happen if they get time.”
Chinu urges women to keep their job as the top priority. “When you're required to be at home, be at home. But you cannot use home as an excuse for not succeeding. Women should tell their spouses too that work is important to them. A lot of young women, who are aspiring entrepreneurs, come to me for advice. I’ve observed that at least 70% of them have a fall-back plan! They say that their husbands are doing well and hence they are thinking of doing something on their own. But it won't happen when you have a fallback plan.”
However, Chinu has faith that families will always support you. “So tell them what you want (in career), and show determination - that you are not taking it lightly. I know there are guilt trips; I have left my six month old daughter and gone for a trip for six days.”
“If women put work as second priority, after home, husband, and kids, that's how your family reacts to it. But if you tell them that you can manage everything and that you need their support, they will support you. So basically, it’s for the women to decide what she really wants,” she signs off.