Women entrepreneurs in Tirupur bring something special to their business, writes Subha J Rao

They are successful, of course. And, their distinct female perspective has made all the difference to their workforce. They look into crèche facilities for the children of their staff, discourage food wastage and emphasise an eco-friendly approach to work.

Lilam Reuben of Century Apparels entered the knitwear industry at a time when women were still considered a ‘novelty’ on the shop floor. Neha Bajaj of Pearl Clothing never expected to join the family business. But when an opportunity arose, she grabbed the chance. Rukshana Lelinwalla has done everything from teaching children theatre to designing clothes. Two years ago, she teamed up with her friend Lilam to launch Liru Creations, a range of home linen, accessories, bags and designer wear. Sangeetha Balekai approached the textile industry from a different angle. With Conquest Quality Systems Service, she focussed on software that would make the job of companies easier.

LILAM REUBEN

Director, Century Apparels Pvt. Ltd, since 1990

Department: Production

Lilam, 53, puts in 10 hours or more at work every day. “It’s my commitment to my dream. I’ll always be grateful to the factory for bringing out my potential,” she says.

Learning Curve: I never expected to work. My husband Reuben pushed me into it. Language was a huge hurdle. I knew no Tamil, since I came from Mumbai, but I decided to speak it somehow. Luckily, I worked with people who allowed me to learn. The shop floor was a totally new thing. Today, it is home.

Changemaker: I like to think I approach matters with sensitivity. I have encouraged our staff to open their eyes to things other than work. So, social service and working for the environment are an important part of their lives.

Pet Project: Environment. I lead by example. I have not used a plastic bag in years.

Food wastage in our canteen is another. I started weighing the waste to show them how many more people could have been fed. From 20-25 per cent, we have brought down food waste to less than five per cent. Food is still unlimited, but people serve themselves with more awareness.

Our staff has developed a love for trees. We transplanted a roadside peepal tree that was cut down. It thrives in the factory and is home to many birds.

Biz Lesson: Be upfront about mistakes. Every failure is a way to improve.

NEHA BAJAJ

Director, Pearl Clothing, since 2008

Neha, 32, a nomad in her own words, lived in many cities and studied at NIFT Delhi, before she moved South to Tirupur. Her current job profile marries her passion and chosen profession.

Department: Design and Marketing

Learning Curve: I came in knowing nothing except design. I learnt language and quality control on the job. Today, my workspace is evolved and more people-centric.

Changemaker: We now have a system of achieving everyday targets. Long-term targets are important, but can’t be achieved without short-term goals. Everything is planned to the last detail and put down on paper.

Pet Project: On-time despatch. We retail in the domestic market (sleepwear and leggings under the brand name of July). There was no fixed despatch time. It was all too casual. Now, that’s on track. Then, there is the issue of trust. So, however reputed the supplier, quality is always checked. We can’t afford to antagonise customers.

Biz lesson: Your reputation is as good as your last mistake.

RUKSHANA LELINWALLA

Partner, Liru Creations

At 54, she’s done everything from teaching to designing before becoming part of a company that showcases her creativity and ability to work with any kind of fabric. “There’s a deep satisfaction that comes with creation,” she says.

Department: Design, production and marketing

Learning Curve I’ve done lots over the years, and all of them come together beautifully in Liru.

Changemaker: Not many realise that you can create something out of anything. It’s nice to show people that they have the potential to create something different. My co-workers now know that nothing is waste and that with proper planning and execution, the sky is the limit.

Pet Project: Perfection and perseverance. I sometimes send back a piece 10 times till the tailoring is perfect. It used to irritate people but when customers send feedback on the quality, my staff realise what they are capable of.

Biz Lesson Make something with 100 per cent quality or don’t make it at all.

SANGEETHA BALEKAI

Chief Executive (Development), Conquest Quality Systems Service, since 2002

A civil engineer from PSG Tech who learnt Oracle as a hobby, Sangeetha, 43, now looks after the architecture of software and customer relations.

Department Ideation and Business Solutions

Learning Curve We were entering a totally new field. We knew that if our products were accepted, it would help industries that were moving towards technology. We had to create a market. Soon after the initial breakthrough, things settled down.

Changemaker It’s nice to run an office where everyone feels empowered and works without supervision. I’m proud that my staff has high self-worth. Probably that is why our retention levels are very high. Former employees still drop in. That makes me very happy.

Pet Project: Group effort. We work with customers, and approach a problem as “We” instead of “You” and “I”. Because, I believe a software can be effective only when the end user and developer work together.

Biz Lesson Make work an exercise in learning.