A Star is Born: A Malayali homemaker’s journey to becoming a ₹140-crore clothing mogul

Sheela Kochouseph transformed her vision of enhancing attire choices for women into a successful reality with VStar Creations, serving as an inspiration for other women.

ByAathira

Published Sep 05, 2023 | 2:00 PM Updated Sep 05, 2023 | 4:32 PM

VStar is a household name synonymous with top-quality innerwear in Kerala. (Supplied)

A household name synonymous with top-quality innerwear in Kerala, VStar Creations, has maintained an unrivalled presence in the regional market for over two decades now.

The brand’s success story is the tale of how Sheela Grace Kochouseph, a homemaker, decided to turn her passion for tailoring and stitching into a full-fledged garment business.

She was armed with nothing but a bank loan and an unfurnished office space. At the outset, her team comprised merely 10 individuals, including a pattern maker, a cutter, a merchandiser, and other skilled workers.

Where VStar stands today

Today, VStar boasts a robust monthly production exceeding 1.5 million units of inner and outerwear, serving women, men, and children across the board.

The brand thrives with a dedicated team of over 200 direct employees, supplemented by an additional 1,000 indirect employees.

Notably, VStar’s influence spans a wide spectrum, encompassing 35 distributors, and an impressive network of 3,500 dealers throughout South India.

In an insightful conversation with South First, the founder-chairperson and managing director of VStar Creations unravels the unique selling proposition of her brand and shares insights into her aspirations for the business’s expansion.

Also Read: Kerala designer wins at DNA Paris Design Awards 2023 

Q. What gaps did you identify in the Kerala women’s clothing market in 1995 that motivated you to enter the industry?

Sheela began her entrepreneurial journey in 1995 in Kerala.

Sheela began her entrepreneurial journey in 1995. (Supplied)

A. In 1995, I began my entrepreneurial journey. I aimed to provide Malayali women with a broader spectrum of dressing choices. Up until that point, they only wore sarees. Women were expected to wear sarees even during the physically demanding and sensitive postpartum recovery period!

The salwar kameez was just beginning to make its way into the market in Kerala. The existing options primarily originated from the North Indian market, featuring vibrant colours, gold accents, and shimmering designs.

This didn’t align with my taste, as I sought something more understated and sophisticated — pastel shades adorned with delicate embroidery.

Consequently, I took matters into my own hands and started crafting readymade and ready-to-stitch ethnic dresses that suited my taste.

In 2001, we started our production units in Kerala.

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Q. How did the market respond to VStar Creations’ focus on “less flashy designs”?

A. Initially, the shop retailers and their salespeople in Kerala were not receptive to my products.

They were more inclined towards gaudy designs. As a result, I had to adapt and offer garments that aligned with their preferences, even though these choices weren’t in line with my taste.

Despite this shift, I understood the importance of catering to customer preferences as advised by others.

Q. Why and how did your business pivot to the lingerie industry later on?

A. After making my mark in the garment market for four years, I decided to explore the innerwear industry. At that time, the market had only one or two modest lingerie brands with very basic offerings. I recognised the need for better options.

Departing from the conventional pointed cup designs, I focused on creating round cups that better suited women’s preferences.

 

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With the increasing popularity of outfits like the salwar kameez and a shift away from heavy accessories like dupattas, there emerged a demand for bras that harmonised with these modern styles.

As I expected, our customers were delighted with the superior comfort, durability, and appealing designs of our products.

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Q. How has VStar’s approach to product development and innovation evolved?

A. VStar has consistently evolved its products, methods, and strategies over time.

Initially, we focused on producing cotton bras with basic round stitching. However, my travels abroad played a significant role in shaping our direction.

I would frequently return with various types of bras and innovative materials, sharing them with our product team. This led to the development of products infused with novel materials and blends.

This shift brought about a significant transformation in the lingerie business in Kerala.

The Kerala market readily embraced each new type of bra we introduced, appreciating the innovative designs and packaging.

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Q. What is your approach to ensuring customer satisfaction and how does it reflect in your product offerings and innovations?

A. I am constantly driven by the thought of ensuring my customers’ happiness and adapting to their evolving needs over time.

With changing times come shifting preferences, and this holds especially true for the younger generation, the ‘new-gen girls’. Despite being in my 60s, I keep a keen eye on their dressing styles and requirements.

Sheela at the WEN Carnival held in May 2023.

Sheela at the Women Entrepreneur Network Carnival held in May 2023. (Supplied)

This approach has led to the introduction of an array of products tailored to various needs, such as sports bras, starter bras, salwar kameez bras, T-shirt bras, wired bras, and nursing bras.

We strive to cover a broad spectrum of materials, ensuring that our customers find what they are looking for.

Additionally, I took the initiative to create stretchable saree blouses made from a blend of viscose and elastane.

This unique design allows the blouse to be slipped on effortlessly while fitting snugly like second skin. Many customers, including those from abroad, purchase these blouses in bulk, particularly in regions like the US, the UK, and Australia.

Lately, we’ve introduced saree shapewear, which has garnered an equally enthusiastic response from our valued customers.

Responding to increasing customer demand, VStar even broadened its collection of lifestyle products by adding leggings, printed leggings, capris, printed capris, T-shirts, knitted shorts, track pants, nightwear, shapewear, and socks, to its repertoire.

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Q. What initiatives have you taken to promote and empower women in the business world?

A. Empowering women to achieve self-sufficiency is a fundamental principle guiding my life.

This commitment inspired me to be one of the co-founders of the Women Entrepreneur Network (WEN). Founded in 2017, it is an exclusive organisation to empower women entrepreneurs through networking, collaboration, training, and mentoring.

 

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Today, WEN stands strong with around five hundred members spread across five chapters in Kochi, Thrissur, Kottayam, Thiruvananthapuram, and Kozhikode.

Regular monthly meetings serve as platforms for learning and mentorship, contributing to the growth of our members. Periodic flea markets and events such as the WEN Carnival provide opportunities for showcasing and selling their products, participating in workshops, and engaging in a bit of fun.

Presently, over 1,000 women are actively engaged in VStar's manufacturing units. (Supplied)

Presently, over 1,000 women are actively engaged in VStar’s manufacturing units. (Supplied)

Q. How is your company spearheading opportunities for underprivileged women?

A. Almost all our manufacturing units are situated in underdeveloped regions where we’ve been able to provide opportunities for numerous women who previously had limited job prospects and low income.

In areas like coastal regions, where alternative employment options are scarce, our factories have become a source of employment for these women.

Presently, we’re proud to have over 1,000 women actively engaged in our manufacturing units.

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Q. How do you envision VStar’s future in terms of long-term growth and expansion?

A. VStar’s footprint currently extends across Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and even Gulf countries.

While we currently hold a leadership position in Kerala, we want to establish VStar as a prominent leader in the other southern states.

Following this regional expansion, our vision is to venture into the markets of North India, with the ultimate aim of evolving into a pan-India brand within the next five to six years.

To follow Sheela Kochouseph’s journey, visit Instagram @vstarindiaofficial @kochousephsheela and Facebook  @VStarIndiaofficial