Rumana Chowdhury, a novel woman entrepreneur, had her fashion house Warah at Banani kick-started in the year 2010. Back then, it was a risky attempt indeed. Besides being introduced as an entrepreneur, Rumana also likes to be introduced as a fashion designer. This bold entrepreneur has talked to The Pages about the fashion house Warah and some dreams of her own.
How did you get inspired to start your own business?
I started my graduation in BBA, later I dropped out from there and started learning fashion designing at BUFT. My family was completely against this step that I took back then. During my studies, I used to dream of owning a fashion house of my own like this, but I had no structured plan. Everyone in my family was a highly esteemed government job holder. I am the very first one from our family who has taken a leap of faith in entrepreneurship. I started this business in a day’s plan. By the time I completed my graduation, my son grew up quite a bit, after getting him admitted to school, I found myself to have plenty of free time in hand. I started exploring how to make that free time productive. That was a time when fashion photography just started taking baby steps in our country. After getting inspired on looking at a number of magazines, I communicated with photographers, and proposed that I wanted to get some of my works shot, where I would provide the products, block and cotton. The photographer replied instantly that the public is not interested in spending a hefty amount behind such products. I clarified my stand that that was exactly the perspective that I was willing to change, and that I was willing to start a new trend. People in general used to consider cotton and block fabrics as low quality products before, and I was passionate about transforming that mindset. So I started shooting my products. Facebook popularity was just mushrooming in our country at that time, I started posting there by the name of my son Warah. I started getting overwhelming response right from the very beginning. People started getting interested in knowing where Warah was located. This is how the business emerged right from my home. By the first month, I sold goods worth nearly one lakh. I followed that progress by taking up a room in our house and starting a boutique. I developed an interest in expanding the business. As the business started growing, it started interfering with my family life, so it became necessary that I shifted the business from home. My acquaintances started suggesting me to rent a store. But hiring a store at a premium location like Banani required a fat amount of cash, which I didn’t have at that time. Then my husband figured out a good location at 10B, and we went for that. After starting with shooting pictures of my products, in a matter of two months I inaugurated the store.
For initiating business in our country, women need to deal with a lot of social and familial obstacles. What are your experiences like in this case?
It was exactly the same in my case as well, given that I belong to this very society. My father was extremely nervous that being a girl, my running a business in a key location like Banani was going to prove as too challenging for me. My husband wasn’t exactly sure of whatever was happening either. I just got done with my degree, and it really was a matter of concern if I would be able to run a business at such a young age. People from all around were also passing on discouraging messages like Boutique shops usually don’t sustain for too long. Though no one attempted stopping me directly, most people kept hurling demoralizing implications. The showroom that I rented alone took up around 20 lakhs for decoration. I went to the bank for loan, and encountered a phase involving lot of complex paper works. Also, the bank wasn’t particularly very enthusiastic about lending money to a new entrepreneur. But the bank manager being our acquaintance from before, managed to arrange for 15 lakhs after a lot of effort. Even for that, I had to create an FDR of 5 lakhs. Then I started again. Within a span of four months, we earned plenty of goodwill. But the real struggle lied there, as long as we were online, we didn’t have a problem of unwarranted extortions. After starting the physical store, we had to face extortions. Besides all these, there were numerous other problems too, which is a topic that would require another session.
So after a start like that, what are your achievements by now?
My business has aged around eight years now. I have three main achievements in my basket by now. Firstly, after cutting through a lot of hurdles, Warah is now an established brand. Secondly, everyone recognizes Warah pretty well in Banani, and my biggest achievement is that I have been able to transform the outlook of people towards block and cotton products. People no more incline towards the bias that cotton and block clothing can’t be party wears.
Given that you have pursued a degree in Fashion designing, how much has your education contributed in the initiation and successful management of your business?
If I have been able to come this far, it is because of my education in this discipline. When I got myself admitted in Fashion designing, a lot of my relatives kept passing comments like this was a subject barely worth studying. I had to take in a lot of negative connotations. And my course of study wasn’t particularly smooth either. Right at the beginning of my undergraduate course, I got married. My first baby was born sometime soon. I had to complete my degree in parallel to my familial responsibilities. But whatever I have been able to learn, was out of my education in fashion designing. Though it is true that in order to be an accomplished fashion designer, creativity is what it takes first. Nowadays hundreds of graduates are coming out of Fashion design schools every year, but how many of them are actually being able to establish themselves as accomplished fashion designers? And there are numerous creatives who are getting lucrative job offers at buying houses as soon as they graduate. Given these scenarios, I consider my becoming an entrepreneur besides a fashion designer to be a phenomenal boon in my life.
The next question to you as a professional fashion designer is, why do we act like blind copiers or followers of Western fashion more often? We have thousands of years of our own heritage and culture, why are we yet being unable to resort to our own riches in case of fashion?
Well in our country, usually we are less habituated to paying importance to our own riches. When a dress is designed following the references of our traditions, getting a customer interested in that design often becomes difficult. Alongside, we don’t have magazines that are solely focused on fashion, the television channels do not consider this field with emphasis either. One bridal wardrobe story of Priyanka Chopra or Anushka Sharma in the Indian events are enough to take the internet on a storm, whereas nothing of that sort happens here.
One last question, we often serve numerous international brands from all around the globe, but seldom do we manage to develop our own brands. So do you have any plan for taking your brand to the international platform?
Absolutely, I am a dreamer who does envision this. Even if I can’t manage to do so, my son might make it happen one day. I have a few dreams, for example, Warah will be a part of duty free shops, and Warah will participate in different international exhibitions in locations like Madrid, London, etc. But right now, I don’t want Warah to expand further within Dhaka, though I am determined to make this expansion happen in the global premises. Finally, I want to conclude that loving ourselves is of utmost importance. For instance, it’s very unlikely that an Indian or Pakistani person can be convinced to adopt our fashion, whereas Indian and/or Pakistani pieces are flooding our market. If we fail to recognize ourselves, no industry can ultimately sustain in the long term.