When English novelist Mary Ann Evans, commonly known by her writing pseudonym of George Eliot, first coined the expression ‘never judge a book by its cover’, she certainly had a person like Sunita Devi in mind.
Sunita is a soft spoken and petite Samabula lass yet behind the obvious humility in which she carries herself, she is a self-made designer and entrepreneur with her own clothing label known as SD Collections Fiji.
Sunita owns and runs Western Fashions Fiji, a small garment factory operating out of Procera Building in Suva.
Her humble beginnings started way back in 1999 when as a student, she would hand stitch doll dresses out of little designs she would scribble on paper.
“I was interested in designing and sewing from a very young age. But because of financial difficulties faced by my family, I couldn’t finish my education to pursue that dream. Straight out of high school, I decided to make a living from this talent,” Sunita said.
“My mom had a sewing machine at home so I graduated from hand stitching to sewing and would find pieces of fabric just to sew and make tops and dresses.”
Her passion and creative designs were soon noticed by her friends and neighbours.
“My friends wanted me to sew tops and dresses for them and so one thing led to another and I started to receive orders from my friends and others.”
Sunita began to pursue this business more seriously after finishing school in 2000 and continued with her mother’s machine from her Samabula home until 2004 when she received her first large order of 80 pieces of tops from a local supermarket operating in Suva.
Without any experience in mass production and working alone, Sunita completed the job after many sleepless nights.
Realising her potential and the need to increase her stocks and at the same time facing the challenge of fabric prices, she purchased plain fabrics and experimented on screen printing which not only proved effective but also saved her more money.
“I started receiving more orders from companies like Shop and Save supermarkets, BOC Gas and even Coca Cola. I did not want to disappoint my clients so I found alternative ways to get the job done.”
In 2006, Sunita approached a local garment factory to sew some of her orders from her own supply of fabric. She lost few of her clients when the garment factory approached her clients and persuaded them to deal directly with the company. This was one of the many experiences she learned from the business world.
Her fabric problem continued to be an issue. She even resorted to purchasing plain t-shirts and opening these up and redesigned them into tops for her orders.
“For me, my customers are the most important thing. I will do anything to meet their desires as I do not want to lose them. I do not need to advertise my products as they do this for me. Word of mouth for me is very effective.”
With her business continuing to grow, she finally decided to rent a shop in Suva to operate from. In 2009 she opened her little tailoring shop at Vishal’s arcade along Waimanu road. The same year she moved into the adjacent Procera building where she currently operates from. She won a bid to sell her products at the Carpenters owned Morris Hedstrom City Complex (MHCC) on Thompson street in Suva.
“Working with MHCC really boosted the image of my products. Majority of my clients are Fijians, Pacific Islanders and even tourists. I still receive orders from clients who have migrated to countries like Papua New Guinea.”
Sunita found a niche market in digital printing so she approached FDB in 2012 for a loan to purchase a digital printing machine.
“When I went to FDB, they not only financed my machine but they also assisted me with other problems in the business like fabric supplies and they were ready to assist me with whatever issues I encountered. I’m glad they are with me as the service they provide goes beyond just providing loans for us.”
Besides her custom designed clothing, SD Collections Fiji offers a wide range of kids wear; ladies clothing; men’s t-shirts, English, Indian and traditional Fijian bridal wear. She also does screen and digital printing.
“The dream for me is to continue to grow and become a garment factory such as Mark One or United Apparels and even to export my products.”
Sunita is already consulting with FDB for financing of a few more sewing machines as the demand for her clothes continues to grow.
Helping customers realise their dreams is one of the reasons FDB is the choice financier for small businesses.