GENDER These city women, in charge of their own businesses, stride confidently into a man's world

T heir bright smiles belie their hardships, their simplicity covers up great tenacity, and their ordinary countenances camouflage the purpose they have found in life.

These women have woven successful stories that act as beacon of hope for many. They are the real achievers who questioned prevailing norms and established themselves in the male-dominated entrepreneurial world.

“Any new venture demands long hours of hard work, commitment and out-of-the-box thinking,” says Saleth Valarmathi, owner of a boutique at Gnanavolipuram. After a two-year stint as a teacher, this graduate listened to her heart and became a businesswoman. She engaged herself in the business of beauty and fashion.

Now Saleth's boutique works in two shifts and employs 12 marginalised women and six men. With cutting-edge creativity, she designs saris, churidar sets, blouses and petticoats. Initially people made fun of her for designing petticoats, but Saleth now distributes her petticoats to many leading readymade showrooms in the city and in other districts.

She doesn't confine herself to one design. “I mix up all work from patchwork to ‘ari' and from kundan to zardosi whenever necessary,” says Saleth, whose customers are mostly college students and school teachers. With her curious eyes, retentive memory, skillful hands and capacity to expand, Saleth is going places.

Women who get into small business plunge in after assessing the insecurities and challenges of self-employment, such as irregular income, the struggle to find a customer base and lack of funding. The Prime Minister's Employment Generation Programme came in handy for the funding.

After nerve-racking interviews, they ventured into making and selling feeding bottles, paper cups, and mats. Perhaps it would not be wrong to call J. Thangavanam of Jeeva Nagar a heroic woman.

She was confident when she entered into the feeding bottle business four years ago. “I invested money, hard work and my heart,” she says. “If you want to achieve something listen to your heart and brain and never lend your ears to people's criticism.”

Thangavanam began her endeavour when her neighbour closed down the business, citing huge losses. Now, she has a turnover of about Rs. 4 lakh a month and employs 15 people in her manufacturing unit and eight in her marketing section.

J. Indira, a B.Com graduate of T. Kallupatti, studied the market trend and decided to make paper cups. “This is my contribution to the environment,” she laughs.

But she is also cashing in on people's increasing tendency to use and throw out. Her recurrent problem is lack of labourers, but when she is short of workers she simply gets her own hands into it.

On an average, her unit manufactures about 16,000 to 20,000 cups in one shift. “Any woman can make into business,” she notes, “but they should have a thorough knowledge about the project besides studying the market needs.”

On International Women's Day, the lives of Saleth, Thangavanam and Indira are worth a close look.

These subtle but shining models of entrepreneurship may motivate more women to come out of their cocoons and better their lives.

S.S.KAVITHA

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