When Rajini Yarlagadda thought of turning her hobby into a business, little did she know that it was her first step into the world of entrepreneurship. The 52-year-old homemaker became an entrepreneur with ethnic designer saris way back in 1991. “We are one of the few people who have kept handloom weaves alive,” says Rajini, who hails from Chirala in Andhra Pradesh.
From a very early age, she was impressed by the art of fashion and clothing. “Fashion and design have always attracted me — there is nothing else I want to do as strongly,” says the entrepreneur, who has dedicated her life to promoting traditional handlooms and helping weavers from the region.
Before her sari business, Rajini was into home delivery of groceries. “Although it did not do well, I learned a lot of lessons in managing a business, which I later applied in my clothing enterprise,” she says and adds, “I did not have any funding or family backing to start my business. Initially, I was able to get my material on an approval basis but due to lack of funding, it took me a while to establish the brand. After a slow start of three to five years, we have grown,” she shares.
Once the set-up was in place, Rajini had the flexibility of working from home or of ‘hardly working at all’. She is delighted to see her little venture grow each month.
Her first customer was Nara Bhuvaneswari. “There has been no looking back ever since. Today, we are focused on developing new techniques in handlooms and expanding our markets within India and the US,” says Rajini, who travelled across India before she started her business.
Building a brand
Initially, Rajini says, it was about gaining the trust of the customer and understanding what they wanted. “More than two decades later, the venture has given us a good footing in this space now. Today, it’s all about maintaining the reputation of our brand and ensuring customer satisfaction,” she says.
Challenges are a part of any business, but Rajini says that there is no compromise on the quality of the material. “Challenges are not things to run away from; one has to face them head on. Clients today hold the power. The effect of e-commerce is being felt across all areas of retail and fashion. If clothes are consistently out of stock, people will shop elsewhere. If product quality is not up to the mark, then we are at risk of losing the customer.”
Apart from being a source of income, Rajini says that satisfaction is very important to her. Describing her schedule, she says, “My day starts early with some yoga and walking. Then, I write down the things to do for the day by 9 am. The store opens at 10 am and keeps me busy till 7 pm, during which time I’m primarily focused on sales and production. From 7 pm onwards, my focus shifts to taking inventory, updating stock purchases and working with the production execution team.”
Rajini’s work involves sourcing saris and interacting with weavers across the country. She says, “The most rewarding part of running your own business is flexible working hours. It helps me keep my work-life balance.”
Rajini has worked with several types of handwoven textiles, including Banarasi and Kanjeevarams, ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 1,00,000. Her clients are from all over India and abroad. “One can also see my collections in the Tollywood movie, Soggade Chinni Nayana,” she says.
Learn the hard way
Initially, Rajini admits that she struggled a lot. She had a tough time understanding handlooms. “I had to travel a lot. We had to invest a lot of money and that was a big challenge. A gentleman from Kolkata, one of the biggest names in handlooms in India, taught me about handlooms and prints like a godfather. He even sent me to Benaras, where I learned about handlooms in detail. However, there were people out there who used to cheat. But, I learnt from my mistakes. Learning about weaves is not easy. Even Gaurang Shah in his initial days would come to me and buy small things just to learn more about them. The competition is intense. As a woman, going to various places and meeting fraud commission agents is hard.
For our 25th anniversary celebrations, we hosted an event called Sangham, where we brought weavers from all over India under one roof.
And many other well-known people from the city