Pockets of Change
A quiet entrepreneur looks to brighter days
Md Fazlur Rahman
A mother of three, Amena Begum became a widow at the age of 29 when her husband lost the battle against a kidney disease. Anyone in her position would have ended up working as a household maid, but it was with determination and hard-work that she established herself as a young entrepreneur.
“I always dreamt that I would one day grow up and become an entrepreneur and set up my own business where people will get a chance to work,” said Amena. She now runs Amir Tailors & Boutique in the city’s Moghbazar area and supplies garment items to retailers at key shopping centres.
She learnt tailoring from her mother at an early age and took part in training on cutting and stitching ladies clothing. When she turned 20, her family married her off to an auto-rickshaw driver in 1999.
“After I got married I found that my husband’s income was not enough to meet family expenses. I started tailoring work at home.”
She had to quit her education and could not sit for her SSC exams as she was pregnant with her first.
Initially, she made sleepwear for women. Six years ago, she visited retail shops at various shopping centres in the city to show her products. “Many shops liked my products and placed orders.”
But she faced a great ordeal when her husband was ill for five years, and bed-ridden for the last six months of his life. She had to spend Tk 1,200 a day for his treatment.
She spent her family savings worth Tk 500,000, and had to sell her ornaments and furniture. She borrowed another Tk 250,000 from her relatives during the last few days of his treatment. He passed away when their youngest son was just two months old.
“I was confused and penniless. I did not know where to go. Nobody will take responsibility of my three children,” she told The Daily Star in an interview in Dhaka on Monday.
She started taking sewing orders from her neighbours to make money to support her family. “Some customers would ask me to put designs on their dresses, and they loved it. Others would see my products and place orders.”
“It soon became too much for me to handle on my own. I had to turn down people. Then I thought that I should start a small tailoring shop of my own and hire a few other women to help me meet orders.”
In the meantime, she could not afford educational expenses of her eldest son, who went to a good school in the capital. She shifted him to UCEP School for free education. But the shift worked in her favour as some teachers introduced her to Bangladesh Youth Enterprise Advice and Helpcentre (B’YEAH).
“When I heard about B’YEAH, that it was looking for young widows with business ideas, I was interested and immediately went to talk to them. B’YEAH liked my products, approved a loan for me and introduced me to my mentor.”
She took a loan of Tk 50,000 from B’YEAH and paid back some loans and invested the rest in her business.
She is one of the few entrepreneurs of B’YEAH, a programme of The Prince of Wales’ Youth Business International. She was able to grow her business with the help of the Dhaka-based B’YEAH.
In 2010, she won an award from B’YEAH for not delaying or missing a single loan payment. Her success story did not end there. Earlier this month, the 31-year-old was awarded the “Barclays Capital Journey to Enterprise Award” for her success amid difficulties.
Alongside the $1,000 prize money, Amena flew to London to attend the Entrepreneur of the Year awards dinner.
The Journey to Enterprise award recognises an entrepreneur who has overcome significant challenges on the road to operating a successful business.
Amena now makes and supplies clothing items, such as blouses, petticoats, children’s wear and men’s wear. She also embroiders saris, bedsheets, quilts and other handmade items.
She collects samples and sometimes unstitched fabric from different retailers. “I never miss a delivery deadline, which gives my customers confidence and helps my business grow.”
Amena now hires 10 women to work for her. Two of the women work at Amin Tailor & Boutique and the rest work from their homes. Her mother, Joynab Bibi, also helps her out with the designs and colour combinations.
Amena tries to keep her operational expenses low so that she can purchase good quality raw materials, which gives her higher quality end products. She frequently visits different apparel exhibitions and collects designs for inspiration.
In partnership with another businessman, she opened Amir Tailors & Boutiques on rented space two months ago.
Despite being on a tight schedule, she makes time to train destitute women for free on tailoring and the boutique business in her locality. They are also provided with work that they can take home.
“Other women now look up to me. I train and mentor these women to set up their own businesses.”
Amena said winning the award has given her the necessary exposure to expand business. “Now I will have to work harder.”
Her son Naim, now 12, is now studying in class eight. He also receives training on automobiles. Amena plans to admit him at Bangladesh Open School so that he can study more.
Her second son Siam, 8, is also a student of class three at UCEP School. Her third son Zidan is two and a half years old.
Amena is grateful to her mother for supporting her all through. “If she did not help me to take care of my children, I would not have been able to succeed. I also would not have been able to start the business if B’YEAH did not lend to me at that crucial time.”
“I also worked at a boutique, Shwopno Mela, for two years to learn more about the business. The owner helped me a lot too.”
Amena has already repaid a majority of her Tk 200,000 loan. She hopes to repay in full by December.
She said she needs both financial support and guidance to make her business big.
Officials of B’YEAH call her a star entrepreneur. They said her motivation to do better everyday is extremely encouraging. She has become a role model for many women in her community. Other than her skills and determination, she had nothing.
“But today she is a confident, self-sufficient woman, who raises three sons, contributes financially to her parents and fulfils her social responsibilities by being a mentor to others,” said Rubaiya Ahmad, executive director of B’YEAH.