LACE AND BATIKS HER FORTE: Kamala Uyanage, the owner of 'Anuja lace and batik' tries to revive the Beeralu industry which is still the way of earning a living in some villages. Starting with rupees five hundred at present she provides employment for many." My grandmother was the start. She taught me to knit. At the beginning my sisters and father assisted me," she said.
"Mostly German tourists came to buy my products. So I learned German to make business easier. With that knowledge I was able to help the tour guides in the area. I knit table clothes, blouses, cushion covers, table mats and bed sheets. I can do any design. There are new designs that suits today's market," she explained.
In 1995 she went to Germany for three months. She took lace and batik works with her. At that time she had only two workers. "What I took there was not enough. There was a good demand. Germans liked the handmade things I took," she said.
She has won several awards including the President's Award and the Best Woman Entrepreneur Award (Southern Province) for her outstanding work. She also holds several posts in various societies and associations through which she does a lot of social work.
"Winning the Best entrepreneur Award in Galle District in 2001 from the Agro-mart Foundation was special. I got the opportunity to visit Thailand. There I participated in a women's development programme in which we were taught to make sweets and toffees without using artificial flavours," Kamala said.
However her local market is based in Colombo. She supplies several shops in and out of Colombo with her creations. She often participates in fairs as it enables her to develop her contacts. "Finding the local market is difficult because of the imported items. In India they manufacture lace just like the Sri Lankan one and they export it at a cheaper price. What we knit is durable but people buy the cheaper one," Kamala explained.
She did not have a smooth way towards success. Her small business could not escape the mighty tsunami. She lost most of her machines except hope and courage. After three months she received machines and started building her business again. "I believe in hard work. I don't want anybody to donate things for me. When I earn my living working hard and shedding sweat I find a lot of pleasure," she explained.
"At the moment around sixty people are involved in my business. I employ six workers. I buy lace and batik from producers in Beliaththa, Magalle and Tangalle areas. I take their products to the market so that they can earn a living through this industry," she said.
"I also can make jams, chutney, cordials, cakes and sweets. I do not want to do the same business. I want to experiment in other ways of doing business. I do cloth painting as well. When the business is diversified you can hold on to one way or other," Kamala added.
She is keen in sharing her knowledge with others. "I do classes for those who like to learn what I know. I want to share my knowledge with them. Sometimes people invite me to teach. I do it most willingly," she said.
"There is a good market in countries like Germany and Japan. I want to take the handcraft industry to the international level. There are many industries that fall under this. I want to reach the international market together with others. First I have to increase the quantity.
The production at the moment is not sufficient for exports," she pointed out. Kamala does a lot of social services. She has helped many tsunami victims to build houses. Children who lost their parents due to tsunami have also received her assistance. "In countries like Thailand and Germany women do any type of work.
They work in the markets and even in container yards. It is not a shame for them to sell vegetables or fish by the roadside. But in Sri Lanka women are shy. I hope to bring the women who are still trapped between the walls of kitchen out of it.
They can do a lot to improve their living standards and their contribution for the development of the economy is essential," Kamala revealed her plans.