At 40, she decided to be an entrepreneur and build her own brand. Though her husband Kochouseph Chittilappilly, founder of V-Guard group, is one of the leading businessmen in Kerala, he insisted that she start from scratch – rent a building, take a loan and pay interest like everybody else! She gladly agreed. It took her four years to break even and the initial years taught her everything she needed to know about the trade. Two decades down the line, Sheela Kochouseph Chittilappilly, owner of V Star Creations, a Rs. 100 crore company, is a market leader in its segment in innerwear and lifestyle products for women and children and is all set to make its mark in the men’s segment as well. RITZ catches up with the inspiring businesswoman at her beautiful villa in Kochi
Sheela Chittilappilly, who hails from a small town called Wadakkanchery in Thrissur was the eleventh among twelve siblings. Her father, a bank official had quit his job to be an entrepreneur way back in the 50s. He started a jewellery and textile store, which soon became very successful. But life took a sharp turn for her when her father passed away unexpectedly. Sheela, who was only fifteen then, witnessed the ups and downs in life which made her determined to work hard and be independent. “I feel every human being has talents and we should strive to perfect it and utilise our skills. Women at home multitask so much every day, but their efforts are hardly noticed or accounted. This needs to change and I feel every woman should take up a job and be independent financially,” she says.
A university hockey player, a trained singer, a perfect cook and home baker, a passionate dress maker who enjoys gardening, painting and jewellery designing, the 62-year-old is also a loving grandmother! Mostly self-taught, her passion and openness to learn have been her strengths, that catapulted her to remarkable heights. “I feel if we set our heart and mind on something, work hard and work smart, we can achieve anything,” she says earnestly.
She started her career with a boutique called ‘Catwalk’ in 1995 and slowly started supplying stock to other garment retailers under the brand name V Star. “I expected it to be a cake walk but things weren’t as easy as I had imagined,” she recalls. Though sales picked up over a period of time, mass production began to lose appeal, while the lack of skilled labourers, low margins and poor quality of local raw materials forced her to slow down. Meanwhile, there was a rising demand for good quality lingerie and she decided to start her own line. She faced a lot of criticism initially for her product choice but she decided not to backtrack as she was convinced that it was a women’s essential! It took her a decade to study the market and establish the brand. Today, V Star produces over 15 lakh products a month with almost 400 different categories and provides employment to more than 1000 women across 16 convents that function as factories (a model that was adopted by V Guard when it began its operations). The company provides all the raw materials and training to the women so as to maintain quality and standards. By the year 2020, V Star targets a turnover of Rs 200 crores.
“Every day is a challenge, it could be shortage of stock or raw materials, market changes or a higher demand than we expected. It used to give me sleepless nights, but now I have learnt to delegate it to my team and I feel they function better when you give them the freedom to make choices. Yes, the final decision is mine when it comes to important issues and I personally look into advertising, packaging details and of course finances,” she smiles. Her typical day starts at 6.30 am. Exercise is a very important part of her routine and she works out for an hour in the morning after which she has a light breakfast before heading to office at 9.30 am. She’s back home for lunch and spends the rest of her evening pursuing her interests in gardening, painting, reading, baking and sometimes even exploring the Internet or trying her hand at working with new electronic gadgets!
A perfectionist at heart, with a ‘never say die’ attitude, she is ready to tread new pastures. The secret of her brand’s success? “A good quality product that is reasonably priced with good packaging and presentation,” she reveals. With its very own flagship store, exclusive brand outlets across Kerala, supplies to all leading garment retailers and an online presence, V Star is already a leader in South India and the Middle East and is poised to venture into new markets.
Must have Accessory – Jewellery
My weakness – To overcome every weakness
My Strength – Openness to learn
Message to readers – Be self-sufficient and independent!