From a very young age, Mini Thomas found a sense of joy in being selfless. Instead of dwelling on her woes and problems, she was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of how she could be of help to others.
So, instead of racing with higher studies, she took a diploma in social work right after her pre-degree and landed a job as training coordinator in a private firm. But the work turned out to be grueling and the stress unbearable. But she hung on and the years rolled by.
Then came that defining moment when she realized she could take it no more. She saw no point in working on a job which was anything but fulfilling. Mind matters more than money, she told herself. She was free the moment she called it quits.
Going in for jute
Mini now had time enough to gather her thoughts which always veered around the idea of doing something which could bring in some cheer to economically marginalized families. Why not help women who were in real need of resources? She had plans to set up a small unit where a few women could be employed. But, with what sort of work? What would the unit work with? What would be the raw material? How would she market her product? Though wracked by doubts and questions, she was quite clear on one score. Whatever be the product, it would in no way be hazardous to the environment.
Mini toyed with several products and their possibilities; but the business concept refused to take shape. Finally it dawned on her that jute bags would be an ideal choice. With her modest savings, she decided to go ahead with the jute bag business and her friend Saritha joined in. They hit on an ideal strategy. While Mini would be in charge of raw material procurement, design and manufacture, Saritha, a BTech holder, would do the marketing. To begin with, they engaged three women on daily wages to do the sundry work.
And soon enough, seminar bags in jute, cotton and canvas under the brand name Linnett Natural Crafts forayed into the market. Mini zeroed in on Kozhinjampara village in Palakkad to set up her venture.
“It was easier to access raw material from here than in Malappuram, my home base. Besides, transportation and other facilities were readily available. I took a house on lease and moved in. I was also told that there were quite a lot of women here in need of jobs. I thought it would be great if at least a few of them could be given some sort of work which would fetch them a small income to keep the home fires burning,” said Mini.
Her experience as a trainer came in handy when the business took off as she had easier access to Government concerns. Many institutions and offices soon started placing orders with Mini for jute bags to be given away as compliments during seminars and other functions. Encouraged by this, Mini and her jute bag unit soon came up with ladies bags, purses, backpacks, executive bags, folders and files, all of which turned out well.
Orders kept pouring in from seminar centers in almost all districts. If you happen to get one, it’s for sure to be one of Mini’s bags.
Business soon picked up with jute bags being asked for from major institutions like Kozhikode Medical College, Indian Medical Association, KILA (Kerala Institute of Local Administration), Centre for Environment Development, KFRI (Kerala Forest Research Institute) and Milma.
The unit gets details of seminars, conferences and tenders from the website of each organization. Mini then presents a design to suit the respective budgets of each organization. If approved, the order is placed. It has turned out that Linnett Natural Crafts got a lot many offers from other sources, especially from those who attended the seminars and were gifted her bags.
Though wholesale agents and event management firms now buy bags from the unit, there’s been no direct unit-to-shop sale so far. The turnover depends on the season and when the going’s good Linnett bags have brought in more than Rs 50,000 in the best of times. What’s got is evenly distributed. Now into its third year, Linnett Natural Crafts has 16 women working on the bags. The unit has also moved out of Mini’s residence to a building close to it.
So far, there’s been no compromise on quality. This is why she prefers to shop for raw material from jute-plenty places like Chennai, Coimbatore and Calcutta from where wholesale purchases are made. This works two-way in that while quality is assured, cost-cutting too is in control.
“I’ve faced setbacks. There have been times when I thought of giving up; but then the thought of those women who looked up to me for their bread and butter egged me on. There was an instance when all of us worked for eight days and nights, even forgoing sleep, to honor an order and reach it across on time. Likewise, there were lean days too. But somehow or the other orders come our way before payday. That’s saved me from a lot of anxiety. I feel gratified that I’ve been able to provide a source of income to at least a few women.”
Bear in mind
If you are good with your sewing machine, jute bag making becomes easier. Pattern, perfection and aesthetics are what matter the most. Customers want quality bags at reasonable rates and if this demand can be met orders will pour in.
The ideal course would be to source raw material from jute companies or wholesale dealers.
Keep innovating. Fresh designs and concepts are what set you apart. Always reinvent, for that’s the only factor which sells and keeps you going.