Kanthi Mallawarachchi is 51 years old and lives with her sons Buddika (23) and Keshan (15) in Nikaweratiya, a town in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka.
She learned how to sew bags from a youth services group in her village and the business had started with one machine. Her husband found the buyers and took orders. As the business grew they had added three more machines and three employees.
When Kanthi’s husband died in a motorcycle accident she had to take over all aspects of the small business as she had to provide for her sons.
She admits that it was not easy, but is proud to have been able to make changes that helped the business blossom further.
She was able to take on more employees and fill bigger orders; she now has 12 married women working for her and has purchased five more sewing machines for the business. She has trained her employees herself. “Most of them did not know how to use a machine when they joined; it takes about one and a half months for me to teach them.”
A loan from VisionFund helped her buy the fabric she needed, and she applied for a second loan to help her sort out a pressing problem of safety for the workplace.
Having to meet big orders meant that she and her employees often had to work overtime. Her housing compound had no protection and they was a cause for concern as there were many drunkards in the neighbourhood at night. A VisionFund loan of $820 helped her put up mesh fencing around her compound and add an entry gate in front of her house. “Now, when the girls work late, I don’t have any worries; I simply lock my gate and we can work without any problems,” she says. “I also arrange transport for my staff to ensure they get home safe after working overtime.”
“Lots of things have changed during the past year and a half,” says Kanthi. ”I have been able to renovate my home and build a space above the room where the girls work. This means that I can set up a large embroidery machine which I hope to buy soon.”
Taking on orders from local schools meant that they have to embroider school crests on the bags. As she has only been able to pay the deposit of $3,293 for an embroidery machine, her son Buddika, who works at the electricity board, helps by taking the bags to a city nearly three hours away by bus to get the embroidery done. With a machine of her own, she would be able to save the cost of outsourcing, as well as travel and time. Kanthi still has to save $8,235 to complete the purchase.
Kanthi is proud to have built up her business, Super Lucky Lanka, amidst hardships, educate her youngest son and provide employment for women in her community.