Business Times

Weaving a tale of life, commitment and entrepreneurship

Revitalising the Velona brand

MORATUWA - Hemalatha(one name) started out her job at 15 years, at the reputed Velona factory since it commenced operations under its founder Mr. Ruskin Fernando. Today she still works, but now at the Thread Works factory run by the grandson Mr. Gehan de Soysa who believes in keeping old hands on the job.

Sewing. Pix by Amila Prabodha

Though the Business Times didn’t have time to catch up with her, Mr. de Soysa informed us of her commitment and how he had re-hired former employees since the company was liquidated back in the 2008.

The business started out by Mr. Fernando back in 1940 and was first through the knitting of towels, which eventually grew into a diversified company that expanded into tourism, farming, animal husbandry, eco tourism. However the focus remained on the manufacture of garments that would comprise 20-25% of the product portfolio.

Identifying his grandfather as a “management scientist”, Mr. de Soysa said it was this “visionary” that created the Velona brand that became a household name in the country. However, since Mr. Fernando’s demise in 1974 his sons that took to business following the completion of their studies in the UK were unable to hold it that led to its liquidation in 2008.

Mr. de Soysa dismissed rumours indicating the Velona company had run into bankruptcy.
He noted that on the other hand, they were able to provide compensation to all employees.
At the time of liquidation the company had nearly 2000 employees and currently Thread Works has some of these employees in addition to other factories as well, Mr. de Soysa said.

At the opening

Employees’ welfare

He noted that they were considerate towards their old employees and would allow them to continue even after they reach the age of 60. It was pointed out that sewing secrets known by a few and the method of working is understood well by these people and so they are retained on supervisory capacities without causing them to be overburdened with too much work.

“What I do is, when efficacy has dropped I transfer them at the same salary level from machine operator to helper so that it’s not physically demanding,” he said. The factory that started out with only 75 has now grown to 250 people, he said adding that their manufacturing has received the required certification for standards as well.

He pointed out that with most sewing companies facing the issues of low labour, the stigma and dignity of labour with most taking a liking to upgrade their education levels has contributed to this.

Producing Velona
Mr. De Soysa observed that today they have a wide range of locally branded products like Arista, Top Gear, Baby Love, Velona Petticoat, Body Fit, Velona Cuddles and Just for Kids.

The main intention is to launch scientifically produced garments with Body Fit exclusively marketed by Hameedia, he said. In 2012 Thread Works would launch the new diaper range to the market with the intention of becoming a market leader in the infant nappy category.

It is believed that this nappy would help eliminate harmful chemicals and bacteria thereby attempting to become the locally manufactured diaper that would be able to regain the reputation Velona nappies managed to maintain in the past.

Talking numbers
The company has been capable of producing a volume turnover of a half a million pieces per month, Mr. De Soysa said adding that this has grown since they commenced operations in 2008. He noted that cotton prices had quadrupled in 2010/11 and in this respect, the company has been eyeing the volume growth. Mr. De Soysa pointed out that they had invested over Rs.75 million and later diverted attention towards the local market in 2006 and have since then launched the numerous brands.

New ventures
The Velona brand is likely to take a shift from being an undergarment manufacturer to becoming a designer label in the future. Mr. De Soysa observed that the company would transfer itself to entering the fashion industry in a bid to occupy the same place as it did back in the 1960s and 1970s.
In this respect, they intend on changing the fashion landscape in this country to becoming one that owns its own brands, he said.

They have also introduced the ladies linen range Calidora, a denim range called Tough and Tumble, Pink and Pink for girls with a focus on kids clothing. In participating at a fashion show in the country they also intend on launching a kids range with its designer Ms. Dilukshi Ho.

He noted that while it is not known what the business landscape of the future would be like, but if in time to come there would be some change they would consider remaining flexible. “We will not let go of our manufacturing totally,” but will “do it simultaneously,” he said.

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