Rowing against the tide
Masuda Islam's journey as an entrepreneur began in the mid 1980s, upon completion of her undergraduate degree. For a brief period she taught at a school, but the job did not gratify her enough. She wanted to do something that would leverage her creativity and the skills she had picked up during her time at university.
And one day that opportunity came, when she was in Mauchak market with her daughter. Her daughter was clad in a frock made by Masuda, which caught the attention of one kidswear vendor. So much, that he went up to her to enquire where the dress was from.
Upon learning that the piece was all Masuda's doing, he straightway ordered several iterations of the frock for his store.
"I accepted the offer on the spot, although I had no extra money on me then to buy the fabrics and accessories needed for the multiple frocks. The pay day, too, was a good few days away. Still, I decided to take the risk," 56-year-old Masuda fondly recalls.
She borrowed Tk 500 from a relative as soon as she got home and headed straight to Gulistan to get the materials. She managed to make 18 dresses in total, which fetched her Tk 1,800 in one go.
Not only that, it opened the floodgates for her: she returned home with more orders, and there was no looking back since. "It was an exciting and proud day for me."
Before long, the venture needed all her time, so she decided to leave her job at the school. Still, it was not enough; she had to call upon extra help to stitch the dresses, which were selling like hot cakes.
Empowered by the runaway success of her clothing business, she decided to try out other things. She spotted that the country was lacking in frozen snacks market, and in 1996, she started her ready meals business, from her kitchen.
She started off with supplying three frozen snack items to a large departmental store at Gulshan. Just like her dresses, her food items, too, received an overwhelming response.
In 2000, she shut down her other venture to concentrate on her fledgling food business full-time.
"The dress-making business was serendipity for me, and I looked at it solely as a source for making money -- there was no overriding passion for it. But my entry to the food business, is a different story altogether. I always had this desire to devote myself for social causes, and providing safe food was the perfect way."
Today, her firm, Protina BD Foods, makes 100 items, including frozen snacks, sweets, bakery and vermicelli, under the brand Protina. She employs 26 people, and her asset value stands at more than Tk 1 crore.
She, however, continues to supply frozen snacks to Agora and other supermarkets, with all the items made under her supervision at home for quality control.
Masuda, a mother of two, says juggling a family and a growing business did not come easy to her. “All of it would not have been possible without the unconditional support from my husband and family.”
Now that her children have grown-up, Masuda has chalked up grand plans for her company.
Next in her scheme of things: supply safe vegetables and processed carrot noodles.
However, she is not aggressive in her expansion bids; rather she wants to go slow.
"I believe in quality. If I go for a huge expansion hastily, it may be difficult to maintain quality," she says.
"I don't want to compete with others through massive expansion and sales promotion. I want to compete through higher quality."
Everyone who is engaged in food business should focus on making safe food, she says, adding that she has been working to find ways to offer pesticide-free