Sheela Kochouseph, 40, Founder V-Star Creations
- Base Ernakulam, Kerala
- Initial capital Rs 20 lakh
- Turnover 2018-19 Rs 102 crore
- Subhead 16 Exclusive Brand Outlets (EBOs) and 6 concept stores
- Subhead Over 1,000 direct and indirect employees
For a 40-year-old from Kerala, striking a separate path from her successful husband was a little less challenging than setting up a lingerie business. “But when I make up my mind about something, I don’t concern myself with what other people might think. I just move forward,” says Sheela Kochouseph, founder of V-Star Creations, one of the largest innerwear and lifestyle garment brands in the region. She was undeterred by questions raised over how her move to strike out on her own in the innerwear business, which featured advertising campaigns that many considered “vulgar”, would “reflect” on her husband, Kochouseph Chittilappilly, who had founded the electrical appliances major V-Guard Industries. “I did nothing wrong,” she says. “I had a product to sell that had to be showcased and we had no choice but to use models. In fact, we brought some elegance and class to the whole thing.”
As demand for quality lingerie grew, with more customers willing to pay a higher price for comfort over functional wear, so did the brand. It took V-Star a half-decade to break even and then to corner the market. Much of its success was owed to the popular brassiere products in the women’s innerwear line, then branded as ‘Vanessa’. A men’s undergarment line, branded ‘Valera’, followed and grew into a success, despite V-Star’s reputation as a women’s lingerie maker. (Both lines have since been rebranded to V-Star.)
A strong independent streak has defined much of Sheela’s life from her early years as the second-youngest of 12 children in a small town, helping support her mother following her father’s death in her teens, to her varsity-level hockey star days and everything since. Her Kochi-based company, which joined the Rs 100-crore turnover club over the last fiscal, began in 1995 as a boutique store selling readymade ladies garments. “It was my first venture and there was stiff competition from outside Kerala. Initially, sales and marketing were big challenges and over-politicisation and work culture in the sector did not help,” she says.
Initially bankrolled by a Rs 20-lakh loan from her husband, with the understanding that no additional capital from the family coffer would be forthcoming, V-Star now has some 16 exclusive brand outlets and concept stores across South India. Sheela had to find skilled labour, work with low margins and locally sourced raw materials, and keep abreast of the latest fashion trends. “There is a lot of variance in style preferences even across the state—from full-sleeve or sleeveless kameezes to tapered or frilly salwars. It was a lot to keep up with,” she says. The company today employs nearly 1,200 underprivileged women in 16 manufacturing units across the state that churn out more than 15 lakh products a month. Adopting the model set by V-Guard, these units are set up in charitable institutions and convents. “Nuns oversee the women’s work and welfare. We provide all the materials and training so as to maintain the quality customers have come to expect. We also contribute to the workers’ ESI and provident funds,” she adds.