The Incredible Story of Nazma Khatun and Her Entrepreneurial Journey

The Incredible Story of Nazma Khatun and Her Entrepreneurial Journey

IDLC SME Identity

This story is made possible in part by our friends at IDLC Finance Limited. IDLC helps SME entrepreneurs to focus on their business and grow by ensuring smooth financing and other supports. Learn more about IDLC SME Loan here.

It requires an extraordinary amount of courage, hard work, and tenacity to move forward for a woman in a male-dominated world, which is a more appropriate name for the business world of this country, break the glass ceiling and succeed.

Nazma Khatun, an ordinary woman came from a remote village in Rajshahi took on an impossible journey of just doing that 11 years ago in the year 2005. After a decade, she has managed to make it through sheer hard work, passion, and persistence. Started with a BDT 20,000 loan in a small room in Badda with 2 workers, today her Kushum Kali Shoe Factory employs 130 people and works with almost all the leading shoe brands in the country and has even expanded to Malaysia.

Nazma Khatun had a tough introduction to life. She became a mother of her first daughter even before her SSC exam, went through pains and struggles and difficulties most regular people would not survive but she had never allowed despair to get the best of her. As you go through her story, you will realize her extraordinary conviction and courage.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Rob Siltanen wrote for Apple in 1997, “Maybe they have to be crazy. 

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
 Or sit in silence and hear a song that has never been written?
 Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

 While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. 
Because people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Nazma Khatun has been both a crazy optimist and a genius all along.

This story, brought to you by IDLC Finance Limited, is a story of the genius of Nazma Khatun, her extraordinary courage, hope, and unwavering character.

Life gives everyone of us a choice, you either make something happen or you don’t. If you choose the former life is pretty straightforward but once you choose the latter there will be hardships and struggles but the beauty of life lies there: in making something of our own, giving our life to something greater than we are and making a little difference with what we have. We believe Nazma’s story will push you to find your true calling and make a little difference with your one precious life.

We are a team of 130 including factory and showroom. We produce around a 1,000 pair shoes a day.

Future Startup: Tell us about yourself and your path to starting Kushum Kali Shoe Factory. 

Nazma Khatun: I was born and raised in a village in Rajshahi. I completed my primary and high-schooling there. I was married off too early. I completed my SSC in 1995. Then, I did a diploma in paramedics in 1999. I stayed at a student hostel with my little daughter in order to complete my studies. Those were difficult days.

In 2000, I got a paramedical job at Mecca Medical Center (located in Banani) and came to Dhaka. Although I was doing the job but I didn’t particularly like it. rather I wanted to do something on my own, something big.

My husband was a marketing manager at a shoe company at that time. After much thought, we decided to start a shoe company. We decided I would look after the manufacturing and he would take care of marketing. But we didn’t have much capital to start the business and our plan remained a plan for a while.

After much hustle, in 2005 I took a loan of Taka 20,000 from a co-operative society in the medical center, where I was working, which used to provide low-interest loans to employees. With that loan, we set up a small manufacturing facility. We rented a small room at BDT 1400 monthly, hired 2 workers and started making shoes from rexine that we then supplied to the local markets.

At the end of every day he went to the customers to deliver their ordered products and receive the payment. And I, on the other hand, used to make lists of what raw materials and other necessary things we would need the next day. Afterward, he would go to Bangshal, Gulistan, Siddik Bazar and several other places to purchase the necessary raw materials for the next day’s production. Sometimes it took him till midnight to return home. We kept persevering like this for the next couple of years.

I was still working full time. I used to wake-up early, plan for the day and then go to work at my office, and again work in the factory in the evening after returning from the office.

Just after a month into operations, all of our capital had been used up. I got very anxious as to how we would manage more capital. At that time, a superior at my office proposed to invest in the business from his retirement funds and become a partner. My husband and I weren’t interested in taking another partner instead I asked him for a loan which he was generous enough to accept.

I started to take loans from him and by the end of 2006, I had a loan of TK 360,000. While our loan amount was growing rapidly, our business did not grow as much as we had hoped. We started to have problems with the workers. They began to demand advanced wages and sometimes intentionally made bad quality shoes.

We realized we were in deep trouble and even thought of giving up, but knowing that we already had a huge loan to repay made it impossible for us to quit at that time. The only option we had was to stick to our business and make it work no matter what. With this in mind, we began to look for possible solutions.

Right then , I came across a news of an entrepreneurship development course by BISIC, a 15-day long free course on the basics of building a business. I took the course. After the course, I became quite confident and restarted the business with the renewed conviction that, I have to make this happen. I also started to look for further loans and fortunately managed to get one.

The first thing I did after receiving the loan was to repay the previous loan of TK 360,000. After repayment, we had TK 40,000 left to use as capital.

It was a nominal amount compared to our costs of running the business. We assessed our total cost and found out that, we needed TK 80,000 per month for our operation. It was challenging for us to score a revenue that high and manage to make profits alongside.

After much hustle, in 2005 I took a loan of Taka 20,000 from a co-operative society in the medical center, where I was working, which used to provide low-interest loans to employees. With that loan, we set up a small manufacturing facility. We rented a small room at BDT 1400 monthly, hired 2 workers and started making shoes from rexine that we then supplied to the local markets.

Despite the limitation, we decided to move forward. With a limited capital, we had to be strategic. We set a daily sales goal. According to that objective, my husband had to make a certain amount of cash sales every day. He used to take sample products to various shoe retailers and collect orders from them. Meanwhile, I had left my job and was managing the operations full-time.

At the end of every day, he went to the customers to deliver their ordered products and receive the payment. And I, on the other hand, used to make lists of what raw materials and other necessary things we would need the next day. Afterward, he would go to Bangshal, Gulistan, Siddik Bazar and several other places to purchase the necessary raw materials for the next day’s production. Sometimes it took him till midnight to return home. We kept persevering like this for the next couple of years.

After 2 years of relentless hard work, we recovered from our capital deficiency and had a residual amount of TK 700,000. We paid off the total bank loan. In 2009 we got a big order from Bay Emporium which put an end to our hectic push sales. Eventually, we became their enlisted supplier.

Bay Emporium is a relatively large brand. They began to place big orders. But our capital wasn’t enough to manage such production. Luckily, we managed to take further loans.

With enough capital and resources, business flourished. Within the next 3 years, we started to get orders from Bata and Jenny’s, besides Bay Emporium. We already had a full-fledged production unit with 65 workers working at the factory then. We rented a 4,000-sq.ft. factory located in East Badda which was later moved to Gazipur.

In 2012, disaster struck and our factory caught fire. Everything we had built over the years including raw materials, finished products, and machinery, all turned into ashes. The only thing left was a check of TK 17,71,000 that I had received day before from Bata and deposited in my bank account.

I cried a lot. I was devastated but did not lose hope. I knew that I had just lost everything that I had built up over the years, but I also knew that I could rebuild it and that I had to rebuild it. I soothed myself and told myself that not everything was lost.

The fire had broken out in the factory on the 25th of April, and on 30th I called all my workers together. I paid their salaries and released them from their duties.

I had a relative who had a shoe factory in Gazipur at that time. Hearing about the fire, he told me to come to Gazipur and take over a portion of his factory and restart our production. Another company agreed to provide me 3 machines on rent. I called my raw material suppliers and explained my situation. I paid the due payments and told them that I would be able to start all over again if they agree to provide materials on credit, and thankfully they all agreed.

BATA also came forward to help us. Generally, they have a credit term of paying after 60 days of a purchase. Considering our situation they proposed that they would pay us the very next day if we manage to deliver their shipment on time. They made this arrangement for the next 6 months.

Then, I re-hired 16 of my previous workers and within a week re-launched the factory. The factory became a success within a month. We started to receive an incredible amount of orders and managed to purchase the remaining portion of my relative’s business within a year. The land was worth of TK 10 million then.

When the number of employees started to grow, it became a challenge for me to manage everything. Managing people is a complex job. To gain more practical knowledge about managing human resource, I took a short training from SCITI Bangladesh on HR. I did several other training programs from SCITI on bookkeeping, finance, export marketing etc. When my business started to grow I realized that I needed to improve myself as well, so that I could do more for my business and push it forward.

Soon the business became stable and was growing fairly. Later, in 2013, I started to look for expansion opportunities. I thought as I have already done business in the local market, I should go for the international market. Then, I paid a visit to Malaysia and researched the shoe market there. I found out that foreign companies were allowed to open production facilities and run businesses in Malaysia.

That same year, I raised the required capital and flew to Malaysia to establish a company there. We currently have our own showroom in Kuala Lumpur where we offer shoes on both retail and wholesale levels. We have a trusted partner there to oversee operations and sales.

After that,we thought we have been making shoes for a couple of the most respected brands in the country for all these years, so why don’t we try to create our own brand in a small and lean way as a part of our expansion drive. That’s how Vinca came to exist. We are now selling our products under the brand name Vinca both in, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

We are a team of 130 including factory and showroom. We produce around 1,000 pairs of shoes a day.

We have only one showroom in Dhaka but we plan to open several others soon. We also have plans to establish a hundred percent export-oriented compliance factory within the next year.

Vinca showroom in Dhaka

Tell us about the business and managerial challenges you faced in the early days. Do you face any challenge just because you’re a woman entrepreneur? 

In my early days, I experienced embarrassing situations just because I am a woman. For example, sometimes when I went to BATA to attend a meeting or deliver products, some used to question that, why I didn’t send a male agent instead of going there myself. It was not a big deal, though sometimes it was a setback for me.

But I never let the setback stop me, rather it was a challenge I took upon myself. I simply replied that I like to take care of my business and that I had gone there to work not to explain my presence to anyone.

When the number of employees started to grow, it became a challenge for me to manage everything. Managing people is a complex job. To gain more practical knowledge about managing human resource, I took a short training from SCITI Bangladesh on HR. I did several other training programs from SCITI on book-keeping, finance, export marketing etc. When my business started to grow I realized that I needed to improve myself as well, so that I could do more for my business and push it forward.

You started your business from scratch and have come this far. You have both local and foreign operations. You have been also investing in building your own brand. Tell us about the key challenges you are facing now.

Competition has grown fairly over the last couple of years. BATA, for instance, currently has quite a good number of suppliers, you have to make best products at a reasonable price in order to sustain in this competitive market.

How did your relationship with IDLC ensue? Tell us about your experience of working with IDLC.

One and a half years ago, I took a SME loan from IDLC in order to further expand my business. It started very smoothly. So far it has been wonderful working with IDLC. Beside loans, they sometimes provide valuable business advice as well.

I started my business in 2005. This is 2016, and you have just come to know my story. It took me all these years to be eligible to tell my story. For all aspiring women entrepreneurs, I would like to say that no matter what stick to your business. There will be setbacks, it will take longer than your expectation but never give up. Giving up is the easiest thing you can do but then you would not achieve anything. Get involved, have skin in the game. If you are not doing your business, no one will.

What lesson would you pass to young women who aspire to become entrepreneurs?

Chalk out every smallest detail of your plan. Make sure that you know and understand everything you need to do and will need to keep doing going forward. Planning is incredibly important, although everything does not follow a plan but it prepares you for both the known and the unknown.

I started my business in 2005. This is 2016, and you have just come to know my story. It took me all these years to be eligible to tell my story. For all aspiring women entrepreneurs, I would like to say that no matter what stick to your business. There will be setbacks, it will take longer than your expectation but never give up. Giving up is the easiest thing you can do but then you would not achieve anything. Get involved, have skin in the game. If you are not doing your business, no one will.

And most importantly, have a dream, be a radical optimist. Dreams are good things. I have always dreamt of doing something big, of something that people would talk about. Yes, I had to work harder than most and go through experiences that were not pleasant all the time, but I have made it this far. Compared to where I started, today I am, probably a little bit closer to my dreams and that is all that matters.

Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Rahatil Ashekan, Images by IDLC Finance Limited

Type to Search

See all results
Shares