Weekly Startup Profiles > Color Lines Inc.

Color Lines Inc.
Even mothers get it wrong sometimes. But as Color Lines proves, when motherhood and entrepreneurship come together, it's great business.

Quick Facts
Entrepreneur : Bela Katrak
Age : 51
Company : Color Lines Inc.
Based in : Bangalore
Founded in : 1997
Industry : Export

Business Summary


Color Lines manufactures and exports high-quality children's clothing.

The Idea

When Bela moved to Bangalore in 1988 with two young children, she could not find ready-to-wear clothes that were affordable, durable and comfortable. "All I saw in the market was fussy, over-adorned, highly embroidered stiff clothes," she recalls. "I figured that if I was in the situation so were a whole lot of other moms." After investing over 40 lakhs opening a retail store selling high-quality cotton kids clothes, Bela was forced to concede: she was wrong.


"I realized that India was at that time not ready for an 'all cotton' children's store because cotton was difficult to maintain vis-a-vis polyester," explained Bela.


Bela, a consummate entrepreneur, knew that she wanted to make high-quality kids clothes, and if India wasn't ready, then manufacture to export was her only alternative. With that thought, her business was reborn.


The Opportunity

However, while the international markets were ready to purchase, in the beginning Bela was not quite equipped to deliver. "I had to learn to set up systems. So I took job work from existing garment manufacturers and learned from them what the systems were."


Once she got the systems right, Bela traveled to Australia to cold call buyers. "Every call I made was put down," she recalls. Finally Bela decided to simply walk into a customer's office, instead of calling ahead. "And that is how I broke through with one group," she says. "This was Target chain of stores, which was one of the leading exporters of Australia."


The firm's customer base includes clothing retailers and buying houses that stress quality over quantity. "Our customers usually have over 100 stores spread over as many countries," says Bela.


Their customers' need for smaller runs provides a good niche for Bela, and keeps her competitive in an increasingly mass-manufacture world. "We prefer to coordinate numerous orders with smaller runs rather than a small number of orders with larger runs. This gives us experience with a wide variety of products and styles," explains Bela.


Color Lines is also unique in India in that the company "provides high fashion for little ones, keeping safety and quality in mind as their skin is more sensitive to the dyes and textures of fabrics and trims," says Bela.


Color Lines has its own in-house design team and studio working closely with buyers to provide garments that are both high-quality and economically viable. "We are often presented with high fashion adult wear from international designers and asked to convert the concept into a children?s wear to be sold on High Street." Color Lines remains the only export house in India that deals almost exclusively in children's wear.


The Money

Bela, like many entrepreneurs, turned to friends and family for capital, after having been turned down by banks. "I had a business idea and they had the faith that I could carry it through. Their faith in me was the most important factor in raising my initial money," she says. The amount she borrowed was Rs 50,000.

The Team


Early experience crystallized Bela's entrepreneurial streak. While in school, she noticed that everyone wanted the wildly colored glittery pencils that aunties and uncles brought from abroad. So she went home bought some Indian pencils, scrapped the paint off them, redecorated them with glitter, colours and stickers and peddled her wares at school. "That first fifty that I made was the most important of my life. It showed me what I was capable of and cemented my entrepreneurial attitude for life."


Building on that spirit, Bela began Color Lines along with a business partner and a core team of five people. While she and her partner have parted ways, the remaining founding team members have grown with the company. "Our head of retail started with me ten years ago at Rs. 12 a day and now he heads an entire sector of the company," Bela smiles.


The Company - today and tomorrow

"We started as a 40 machine small scale factory that in a few short years grew into multiple factories with top of the line technology and thousands of employees," says Bela. The firm today employs over 4000 people.


Color Lines has established itself with top international buyers. The company is still dealing with C & A - one of their earliest customer - providing them clothes for their baby, toddler and Disney teams. Their customers also include Benetton, Mexx, Marks and Spencer.


"Making ten or even five year plans can be kind of risky in our business as the playing field changes regularly," says Bela about Color Lines' future.


However, Bela is planning to grow. Since many exporters are leaving the trade, Bela want to take advantage of the dearth of Indian suppliers to expand. "We choose to remain exclusively an export unit and are planning on opening up a few more factories in the next year that will have more technological advancements such as the E TON or SMART MRT systems that immediately improve productivity," she explains.


What keeps you awake at night?

"I worry whether the appreciating rupee will make India too expensive as a supplier for textiles in general. One can supply to foreign retail stores but if the buyers desert India and move elsewhere to obtain the product at a cheaper rate, it can't be helped. However, export of textiles and garments has been a long-standing tradition here and when one is open to working with the buyers to reach mutually beneficial solutions there really is no need for worry," Bela concludes.


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