In conversation with Sonam Chorol, owner of Superb Ladakh weaving unit

By Nawang Palkit LEH, Mar 18, 2017
Sonam Chorol started her venture Superb Ladakh in the year 2008. The unit mainly deals in weaving, dyeing, milling and finishing Pashmina and woolen items.
Till now the weaving unit has trained 25 women and at present 16 women are rendering their service to the factory. Despite being a single mother, she balances motherhood and running the business, and is one of the successful business women in Ladakh.
Prior to that, she worked as an instructor at Ladakh Scouts family weaving center and Leh cooperative society for few years before starting her own weaving firm. In two years, Superb Ladakh has gained a good reputation nationally as well as internationally.
She started her business with ₹11 lakh. In 2006, she applied for Prime Minister's Rozgar Yojana (PMRY) loan. In 2007, she applied the District Industries Centre (DICs).
Q. How did you come up with this entrepreneurial venture?
Before the establishment of Superb Ladakh weaving unit, I was the instructor at Ladakh Scouts family weaving center for few years after which I also worked with Leh cooperative society. These are the place where I built my foundation in the handicraft sector and came up with my own venture.
In 2006, I applied for a loan under the Prime Minister's Rozgar Yojana (PMRY) scheme. In 2007, I applied in District Industries Centre (DICs). In the year 2008, with a capital amount of ₹11 Lakh, I started the business. By 2010, the entire loan amount was liquidated.
Being a single mother, balancing motherhood and business was very challenging.
Q. Brief us about your business and the work you are engaged in?
Today we’ve grown much bigger. We’re around 16 women handling and rendering service to this weaving unit. We work five and half days a week, that is from Monday to Saturday afternoon. Around 25 trained women passed out from this factory and doing other works related to handicraft.
Our production is based on demand. We mostly deal in weaving, milling, dyeing and finishing the woolen items. We further make a shawl, stole, gents scarf out of Pashmina and yak wool on order basis.
Q.  What kinds of materials are used? Do we have the availability of every material in Ladakh itself?
We mostly deal with wool and Pashmina. The raw materials are bought from the people of Changthang region and it cost around 200-300 per kg depending upon its quality. Regarding the availability of raw materials, the migration of nomads in search of better livelihood in the city leads to limited production of Pashmina. Limited snowfall and rainfalls have also affected the health of goats and sheep. During these few years, the presence of dandruff in Pashmina has affected business the most, since we do not have any chemical to wash dandruff. In fact, there is a decrease in the availability of raw materials.
Q. Apart from Ladakh do you sell your products outside? Who are your target customers in the market?
Yes, we do sell abroad. However, being a single mother, I have to take care of my children and household thing and also it is difficult to handle production as well as marketing at the same time. Once the product is made, I sell them to Jigmet couture and other shops. They further deal with product marketing either online and offline nationally as well as internationally. Sometimes I do marketing online through social media like WhatsApp.
Q. What are the challenges you faced to run the business smoothly?
The original products come in the market will be later on copied and are made available at half the rate of the original product. They make knock-offs every product that we associate with. I was so surprised to see the duplicate Pashmina shawl in the market for half the rate of original one. It is very difficult to identify from the original one. These kinds of activities somehow affect the business.
In today’s economy, consumers have numerous choices for everything. The only downside is that these products are not even half as good. Making good value products makes people buy the original one.
Q. In what rates your products are being sold?
We make the finest and purest product. We do not do material adulteration. If we adulterate wool and Pashmina, we label it with the adulteration. Our product ranges from ₹4000 to 12000.
Q. Being a woman entrepreneur, what challenges do you face and how much scopes are there for the young generations?
I never went to school during my childhood. I started learning basic conversational English after becoming a mother and joined Adult education and cleared the class 10th examination.
At the beginning of my business establishment, I used to sleep only 3-4 hours and engaged the rest of the hours with work. Moreover being a single mother, working alone is an indeed unpleasant experience. However, I never give up and continuously worked harder to shoulder the responsibility of being an entrepreneur as well as the mother.
In my view, it is still a man's world. Women are still viewed as not smart enough to establish or carry on any business.  I was hardly supported by my family and husband in terms of finance and impression to run this business. Furthermore, they discouraged me. 
Patience and ability to think different is needed in life, which is strong within me.
There is a good scope in terms of Pashmina dealing. There are around 25 units in the Leh area, which has indeed created a competitive environment. I have noticed that people come up with a Pashmina business establishment and carry on the business for a few years and they do not have any willpower to carry on furthermore.
Q. Green business is all we are talking about. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur?
Yes, green business is being said by every one of us. All of us should be responsible for preserving the earth and our surroundings. As an owner of a weaving factory, I always think that the products we make have never affected one's health and the environment. The products we make are degradable, unlike other synthetic materials.
Q. In the market where customers are more inclined towards readymade products. How you promote your products?
Indeed the world is becoming competitive. Human wants are never-ending. Our desire and thrust toward materials consumptions are increasing too. With the change in time, people are more inclined toward fashionable products. A few years back, Saklat and Namther textiles were very trendy and highly demanded. 
Nowadays with the progress in one’s living standard, people are more brand conscious and more into organic materials like sheep and yak wool etc. Moreover, nowadays all the raw materials are processed through highly mechanized technologies which give a good finishing, unlike olden days. In my opinion, it is all a matter of time.
Q. What are you planning to further grow your business in the future?
At present, there are stiff competitions in Pashmina dealing business. There are around 25 units in Leh itself.  I am thinking of opening an electrical workshop with my daughter who is currently studying electrical engineering. Since it is very challenging to become a government employee, associating with this kind of electrical repairing works will definitely make us self-sustenance.
In addition, I am planning to open a tailoring center where I will be making souvenir like keychain, puppets of wildlife with Ladakhi classic touch.
Q. What is your contribution to the growth and promotion of handicraft as an entrepreneur?
Around 25 women passed out from this factory trained and 16 women currently working in this weaving unit. They are trained in weaving, milling, dyeing and finishing products. I feel blessed that they are trained here and making their living out of it. As we see that there are ample of unemployed women in our society. By giving them employment, I feel proud that I am contributing something for the betterment of society.
Q. How do you personally connect to the art, culture, and heritage of Ladakh?
The work I am indulged with is centuries old activities. In ancient time, people used to weave at their homes. Promotion of our own traditional material is financially benefiting nomads as well as farmers. Nowadays we give the attires a traditional and modern blend in terms of coloring and designing.
Message to the readers
Education is very important in one's life. True education is about training both mind and heart leading to positive thinking. We should know how to cope up with situations of our day-to-day life.
Always be willing to take a risk. Without risk, there is no way to know whether you will succeed or not.