Weaving it Big – M-Tex
Karandaaz Women Entrepreneurship Challenge is supporting one textile design and production business owner to grow her business and reach new heights.
Samina Masood was an education services administrator for eighteen years. During her long service at the head office of a leading school system in the country, she was known to be a hardworking, diligent and effective professional for whom no challenge was too big and no job too small. She was also known for always being sartorially elegant.
“Dressing for work requires careful consideration. I paid attention to how I dressed,” recalls Samina. “My preference for fine fabrics and embroidery led me to make my own clothes. My colleagues, friends and family members appreciated my attention to detail. I never knew this would somehow become my second vocation!”
On insistence of her colleagues and friends, Samina started to make outfits for them as well. These were always small orders of 10 to 20 suits at a time. Once Samina retired from her job, she started to work on more orders. With time on her hands and a few more resources, she was able to collaborate with local machine embroidery set-ups and got an order of 250 suits made based on her own designs. These dresses were sold out within days and were highly appreciated by customers.
Based on feedback from customers and with the support of her husband, Samina decided to invest some of her savings in making 500 suits in partnership with a well-respected textile company. They were known to have latest machines for digital printing and embroidery and Samina was excited about her entrepreneurial venture. However, as luck would have it, something went wrong.
“My entire order was ruined,” Samina says. “I gave the order and invested a lot of money into it. Sadly it was new technology at that time and both the embroidery and printing were misaligned and defective. I couldn’t sell those suits and felt pretty dejected!”
When she pursued the matter with the management of the textile company, she was told by one of the directors that she should try setting up her own machines and see how difficult this work was. “That was the moment when, regardless of this being said as possible sarcasm, I took the advice to heart,” Samina says. “I decided that I will do this on my own. I will set up my own textile design unit.” This was five years ago.
Samina took stock of all of her savings and invested them on buying embroidery machines and setting up the business under the name M-Tex. She started from one unit with a few machines, but now she is running two units with 24 embroidery machines.
“In the beginning, it was almost impossible to run this business,” Samina says thoughtfully. “This is a male dominated field. The consumers are entirely women but it is the men who own and run these textile mills and design units. There were so many naysayers, from industry competitors and contemporaries to even labourers who came in to seek jobs. Every man around me had advice for me. I had entered the field with a vision but I was initially intimidated till a point came when I decided that enough was enough. I laid some ground rules and asserted my plan. After that, even though my journey has been full of struggles of all kinds, I have been able to earn the respect of the men who work with me and around me.”
Samina is candid about learning the ropes of the business on the job and reaching out to bigger clients to seek orders with earnestness, without advertising or elaborate pitches. But what she lacked in experience, she more than made up for it in sheer drive to get the work done in the finest was possible. Her tireless work ethic and no-compromise attitude earned her many clients, and today, she works with some of the biggest names in the fashion retail industry like Sapphire and Bareeze.
“For different customers we offer different solutions,” she says. “We design, punch the sketch, set up technical specifications, and make samples. The samples are sent to clients who select their preferred designs and order a lot of anywhere between 200 to 500 dresses in each design. We finish working on the lot and it is sent to the customer to complete the order. With bigger clients like Sapphire, they send us their own designs and we honour the order in that way for them.”
With large orders coming in and the scope of her work expanding exponentially, Samina realized that she could no longer work with a fragmented workplace and would have to unify and streamline her business.
“I had bought the land but I had no money for actually building a factory according to the needs of my business. Initially I reached out to three banks for possible loans but I soon realized they were rigid, the markup rate was too high and there were certain conditions that as a business owner I would be unable to commit to. In my work the nature of earning is very cyclical. Whatever profit we get is often reinvested into the business so there is no room to do more.” Samina reports that it was her husband who saw the advertisement for Karandaaz Women Entrepreneurship Challenge 2018 in the newspaper and encouraged her to apply for it.
Karandaaz Pakistan, established in August 2014, funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation promotes access to finance for micro, small and medium – sized businesses through a commercially directed investment platform, and financial inclusion for individuals by employing technology-enabled solutions. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Challenge is a flagship initiative of the organization, funded by DFID, through which women-led businesses across Pakistan can apply for business advisory and financial support.
Samina’s business met the criteria and out of a large pool of applicants, her’s was one of the successful applications. She got the business support services and then also went on to secure growth capital from Karandaaz after the competitive process.
“As opposed to the banks, Karandaaz team was helpful, approachable and genuinely interested in working with us. The cohort that I belong to received trainings, mentoring and just support on how to best to utilize our resources.” Samina plans to invest her WEC18 grant into building one extensively accommodating factory unit where she will unify all operational, design, manufacturing and quality control departments of her business for better organization and output. She is convinced this will help her find more dedicated labour in the long run and she will also be able to hire and train more women to work in various departments.
“Presently I employ some 25 women in the quality control and clipping department of my factory, but with Karandaaz’s help, I’ll be able to provide employment to five times this number of women. And once our factory is complete, I plan to train women to operate embroidery machines as well just as we see them doing in the instructional videos that come with the machines we have bought from China.”Samina’s ambition, however, isn’t limited to her business and empowering women alone. She wants to create a safe and productive working environment for all her employees who may come to her untrained, but must leave her having mastered their skills.
“I am acutely aware of the issues related to poverty, exploitation, lack of technical skills and education, and gender disparity in technical workspaces,” she shares. “This is why there will be a dispensary and a school on the premises of our new factory for our employees and their children. What Karandaaz has essentially helped me with is supporting my dream of going upwards and onwards with my dreams, without having doubts.”