Walt Disney once said that all dreams come true if there is courage to pursue them, and nowhere does it resonate more than in the case of Tania Wahab, the owner and managing partner of Karigar, a thriving leather goods company.
Fresh out of university, with just Tk 10,000 in hand and opposition from her family, she set about in fulfilling her childhood dream of owning a business. And that company today, after nine years, has managed annual turnover of over Tk 1 crore.
“It was incredibly tough in the beginning. I had no support from my family and I came from a non-business background. But, I always had the strength of conviction in me.”
Her venture of choice was a leather goods manufacturing company, having obtained a BSc from Bangladesh College of Leather Technology. “The four-year educational background gave me immense faith,” she recalls.
She bought a sewing machine, hired a worker and rented a dingy small room for Tk 3,000 at Hazaribagh. And to make up for her non-business background, she spent days on end at the cluster of leather factories in the neighbourhood to learn the nitty-gritty of the trade.
Back then, the majority of the leather firms would copy designs from a select few external sources, meaning their products would more or less end up looking the same.
Seeing the gap in the market, she opted to design the products herself and infuse novelty in them such that they stand out from the crowd.
Karigar initially concentrated on corporate gift items, with Tania Wahab personally marketing the products door-to-door. “I did it all myself. But, I was always confident that I would get there.”
Her big break came when Eastern Bank Limited commissioned her to make 600 diaries—and there was no looking back since.
Indeed, her creations were a hit in the corporate world; so much that in 2008 she had to find a bigger factory space nearby to fulfil all the orders.
Karigar now employs 20 full-time workers and 100 part-time ones and its clientele includes British American Tobacco Bangladesh, Grey Dhaka, BASIC Bank, Mutual Trust Bank, East West University, Chevron Bangladesh, Grameenphone, Sanofi Aventis and Orion Group.
Reassured by the success of her corporate gift items, Tania Wahab decided to expand Karigar's portfolio. She included handbags, purses, photo frames, jewellery boxes and leather garments.
Meanwhile, she cracked the export market as well. Her first direct export went to the UK in 2008, following which she sent out items to Switzerland, Japan, India and Cambodia.
“But I am more focused on the domestic market, which is huge in size,” she said, adding that 80 percent of Karigar's products are sold locally.
Tania Wahab, however, is disappointed that the country's leather industry has not progressed as much as she had hoped.
And for that, the traders are partly to be blamed: they still prefer products made in China, Thailand and Taiwan.
“But, we can make the same product of the same quality. And the fact that we manufacture for the export market as well is testament to our capabilities.”
As for her future plans, she said she wants to make Karigar a household name and set up a dedicated factory complete with modern amenities for the export market.