Chinu Kala started a jewellery brand with an investment of Rs 3 lakh. Her business called, Rubans Accessories, now clocks a turnover of Rs 40 crore.
After a dispute with her father, Chinu Kala fled home at the age of 15 with only Rs 300 and a bag of clothes. She stayed at a train station for the first night. Later, she worked as a salesgirl, earning Rs 20 per day, and eventually developed Rubans Accessories, a Rs 40 crore turnover fashion jewellery firm.
Her jewellery brand, which began in 2014 as a 36-square-foot kiosk in a Bengaluru mall and had grown to five locations with a turnover of Rs 3.34 crore by 2018, became an online brand during the Covid lockdown and had spectacular growth.
“So far, we’ve sold one million items of accessories,” says Chinu, who has come a long way from her days as a salesgirl in Mumbai, where she shared a hostel with 25 other women.
She now lives with her husband and 10-year-old daughter in a luxury 5,000-square-foot Bengaluru home near the Phoenix Mall and drives a BMW 5 series.
“I still work for 15 hours or more every day and want Rubans to have 25% of the (estimated Rs 21000 crore) fashion jewellery market share in India,” Chinu says.
She explains every aspect of her journey, including what was going through her head when she left home, the locations she worked, the odd jobs she took to make ends meet, and how she became a self-made entrepreneur.
She was having one of her frequent disagreements with her father, a medical doctor with his own private practise, on that particular day in 1997. Her mother is a nurse, and at the time, she worked in Saudi Arabia.
Chinu has two older brothers, and the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai’s Nala Sopara neighbourhood.
When she had the disagreement with her father, she was in Class 10 at St Aloysius School. She approached a friend and asked if she could stay with them. She was carrying only Rs 300 and a bag of clothing.
She boarded a train in Nala Sopara and arrived at Mumbai Central Station. Chinu purchased a vada pav for Rs 3 when she became hungry.
She says, ” I started thinking about how much vada pav I could have for Rs 300 and how long the money would last.” Fortunately, the next day, a woman approached her and offered her a pion as a salesperson.
“I sold knives and coaster sets door to door.” Chinu would make roughly Rs 20 daily.
She shared a room with 25 other females. ” It was merely a space, without a bathroom or a kitchen, where where we all congregated, ” she says.
“We were given a mat on which to sleep on the floor. Outside, we had to deal with food.”
Chinu, however, kept her chin up and stayed optimistic despite the circumstances.
Her wages were so low that she could only eat one meal a day for the majority of the time. Chinu would occasionally acquire a milk box (costing around Rs 6-7), sip the milk, and go to bed.
“That was my predicament,” she explains. Meanwhile, Chinu claims that her father had made attempts to locate her but had not filed a police report.
In 2000, she landed a job as a salesgirl in an apparel store in Ghatkopar after working as a door-to-door salesperson for around two years.
However, every penny was still valuable to her, and she frequently changed buses at every bus stop to avoid purchasing tickets during her daily trek to the store on BEST buses. She also worked as a server in a local restaurant in the evenings for around six months.
She got her big break when she got a position as a telemarketing executive at Tata Communications in Mumbai, where she met her husband, Amit Kala.
Chinu married Amit, an MBA graduate who is currently a director at Rubans, in 2004. The pair relocated to Goa in 2006 when Amit was offered a job there.
Meanwhile, Chinu studied cosmetics at Bharat & Dorris in Mumbai. That’s when she learned about Gladrags Mrs. India and decided to compete in it in 2007.
She was one of the top five finalists, which resulted in modelling chances.
“I got fantastic money from modelling, but I felt it couldn’t be my job,” says Chinu, who returned to Goa and teamed with a Café Coffee Day outlet to provide customers with leg massages using a machine.
She was moving from one job to the next, seeking to build a name for himself. In 2008, Chinu relocated to Bengaluru and established a corporate merchandising firm. She provided branding on T-shirts, coffee cups, laptop computers, and watches.
But her heart was still looking for a magical adventure that would completely satisfy her. That’s how she settled on jewellery and committed Rs 3 lakh to launch Rubans Accessories from a 36-square-foot space in Bengaluru’s Phoenix Mall.
“I was the only person at the kiosk and handled all the clients myself,” Chinu recalls of Rubans Accessories’ early days.
The company was a success from the start. Chinu began to grow, and by 2018, she had five locations – two in Bengaluru, two in Hyderabad, and one in Kochi – with a total revenue of Rs 3.34 crore.
During the Covid shutdown, Chinu changed her business strategy and began selling her items online, through her website and other ecommerce platforms. Her sales skyrocketed.
The physical stores have been closed. Chinu now employs approximately 70 people. She has a 4,000-square-foot office in Bengaluru where her design and marketing teams work, as well as an 8,000-square-foot warehouse where the products are stored.