The fire within – Sheela Kochouseph Chittilappilly
Walk into the plush offices of V-Star Creations Pvt Ltd, Kakkanad and you taste in an instant the elegance of creativity. The walls, the decor and the design of the office exude an aura of graceful inventiveness. You find the touch of a stylish creator in every nook and corner of the office.
It is not every day that one comes across a woman who is a successful entrepreneur; is an efficient home maker and also an artist. Sheela Kochouseph is this and much more. The exceedingly charming Managing Director of V-Star Creations Pvt Ltd, the wife of noted business man and philanthropist Kochouseph Chittilappilly of V-GuardIndustries Ltd, is simply put, many roles rolled into one persona.
Born into a business family that ran a jewellery and textile shop in Wadakkancherry of Thrissur district of Kerala, perhaps a business woman of the future was already in the making. Nevertheless, she categorically says that she never thought she would run an enterprise but for the demise of her father that left her mother in a state of dependence on the elders of a large joint family which invoked within her the thought that every woman ought to have a standing of her own born out of her own independence. However, the actual venturing out on her own into the complex world of business happened naturally once her children grew up and she appeared to have more time on her hands.In the early 90s, Sheela established a small stitching unit in Kochi consisting of ten creative individuals (designers, cutters, embroiders and tailors) creating ready-to-stitch V-Star Salwar Kameez for women. Over a short period of time, this small unit ventured into the glamorous world of innerwear and outerwear and is today one of South India’s and West Asia’s biggest manufacturers of inner garments for women, men & kids. V-Star today has a turnover touching 90 crores, with production units in Kerala and Tirupur; exclusive showrooms in Kochi, Thrissur and Calicut; Concept Stores in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The company that began with 10 workers today has nearly 17 units with more than 230 direct employees and 1000 indirect employees, 45 distributors and 4,500 dealers in South India alone. As this article is being written Sheela Kochouseph has just been awarded the Berch Empresario 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Award instituted by the Berchmans Institute of Management Studies, Kerala.
The journey from the home to the boardroom was not easy. The transition from a full time housewife into the role of the navigator of this Enterprise was a slow process, through a method of trial and error and learning ‘on the job’, acquiring many skills as time went by. Mistakes were made but each passing day imparted newer confidence and courage to a lady who was determined to prove her mettle in an arena that was fairly new to her. The plunge from the kitchen into the business world won her appreciation and respect from family members and it was a moment of personal reinforcement of position in her own private space. “I was driven by the desire, passion and perhaps the obsessive want to be independent”, she says.
But that’s not it! Sheela Kochouseph is not just all about board meetings, strategies, marketing, advertising, fabrics and so on. She is a multi-faceted individual with a deep interest in all pursuits that are creative. She is a gardener in love with her bonsais, she is trained in the Carnatic tradition of Indian Classical music and has also been creating passionate art for about two decades now. She is an artist who has experimented with water colours, acrylics but creates her masterpieces on canvas in oil which happens to be her favourite medium. Gifted with a sense of humour, she is quick to quip, “I am stuck in oil”!
In 1992 she underwent formal training in painting from her sons’ painting teacher and continues to as time permits. Despite her very busy schedule running a challenging business concern, she finds time every day for a few hours after lunch to paint in total submission to the art. Painting takes her to higher realms of life, giving vent to the creative urge within, finding bliss of life in the process of creation and in the creation itself.
Instinctively drawn towards nature and women, most of her paintings capture the beauty of nature or the rustic charm of women in mundane lifestyles. Fascinated by the forest, often her nature paintings highlight a brook or a mountain, perhaps a river bearing reflection of trees around, creating the perfect portrait for repose. The women protagonists of her paintings are generally simplicity personified. Be it a woman drawing water from a well, or a paddy field worker, a group of pot carrying village ladies or a shy yet sensuous village belle, her women radiate a certain sense of warmth characteristic of the countryside. Their countenance and body language talk of a world cut away from the rush and chaos of modern life. She captures the spirit of Indian villages in her oeuvres which transport you spontaneously into a different space of life. Sheela makes no claims of being a professional artist, and perhaps neither would these works participate in a world dialogue or create ripples in the complex world of modern art, yet, each painting is a story that instantly bestows a sense of peace and solitude.
She does not make a conceited effort to market her paintings as each painting is a product of personal passion. They are precious and she spends time studying her works long after they are done and framed. The exhibition circuit does not entice this artist, however, in 2015, upon the encouragement from Asif Ali Komu of Komu sons, Entrepreneur Sheela along with noted Malayali actress Sheela exhibited her works at the Le Meridien in Kochi in 2015 in a group exhibition called Sheela and Sheela. This was her very first exhibition and the experience remains memorable as she recollects. A major portion of the profit from this exhibition went into charitable causes in Kerala.
As she waxed eloquently about some of the causes that are close to her heart, one discovered that there is a nature loving, kind hearted soul within her who goes all out of her way to help the needy. Together with her husband Kochouseph Chittilappilly, she is actively involved in charity in Kerala’s tribal zone – Attappadi, where the tribals struggle to negotiate their day-to-day existence. Having adopted a village there, the couple has been doing sterling work by striving to improve sanitation facilities, water tank systems, school toilets and needless to say, funding tests on Sickle-Cell Anaemia and other ailments.
A person with exceptional levels of energy, the undying desire to learn new things and excel in every pursuit, a health conscious sports person who was in the university Hockey team in college are some of the otheraspects of Sheela Kochouseph. If she creates state-of-the-art innerwear and outerwear, she also bakes cakes and tarts with equal expertise! She is passionate about interior decoration and design and believes in the power of colours. Drawn towards bright colours, her office and home are done in hues that reflect her zeal and drive towards life.
She laments deeply about the lack of a sound work culture in the country and so also the lack of cleanliness and wasted youth and talent. A change in the scenario with regard to these is a dream that this entrepreneur carries within her and also strives to exemplify through her own life.
Her philosophy is as simple as she is. She says, “Each of us has a lot of potential, skill and talent within. However, caught in the turbulence of daily life and due to lack of motivation, much of these skills seem to die within us sadly. We must sharpen these skills every now and then to keep these skills intact. The fire to excel must exist in each or else one would perish into the rock bottom of life”.
The author is a noted art critic, winner of the prestigious Sir Yousuf Alayan Award for journalism, is a poet, is trained in classical music and veena