As published on Dailynews newspaper on 2005/06/29 about humble beginnings of Ravimal Bags
An economist, they say, is a man who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday did not happen today.
In this sense Shantha Wijesinghe is no economist. For, as the Chairman of Ravimal Bags and Gifts (Pvt) Limited of Gampaha, he knows how to predict the twists in the market and adjust his business activities accordingly, so that, when tomorrow comes he is ready to meet the unseen challenges.
The only son in a family of four, Shantha, who grew up in the serene surroundings at Warapalana in the Gampaha district recalls being driven to school by his father in a CN 6420 Morris Minor way back in the early sixties. Having graduated with a degree in physics from the University of Peradeniya, and begun his career as a teacher, he might have continued to be a teacher all his life if Fate had not decreed that he visit a friend working at the Laksala showroom in Gampaha one Saturday.
Pointing to the bag in his hands his friend Nimalasiri had asked him “Muchang there is great demand for bags like these. From where did you buy it?” With those words ringing in his ears Shantha had returned home that day with some yards of clothe and asked his sister, who had stitched the bag, to make some more bags similar to the one she made for him. “She stitched three bags. It cost us Rs.30 per bag, Laksala bought a bag at Rs. 70 and sold it at Rs. 130. All three bags were sold within a day”. Recalls Shantha.
When the orders increased he travelled to Colombo every Sunday and brought the material needed for the bags and used these trips to visit the shops in Pettah in search of new orders. “Collecting the money from these shopkeepers after the bags were sold was more difficult than getting the orders” says Shantha. “There were occasions when I had to visit them six or seven times to get what was my due from the sale of my bags”.
Obviously not an entrepreneur who plunged into the unknown come what may, Shantha waded into the deep end step by step, to hit gold. But not alone. His University batch-mate and now, lifetime-partner, Sujatha Wijesinghe was with him every step of the way.
“When I was an undergraduate I travelled by bus from Gampaha to Peradeniya. Sujatha, who was also in the science faculty in Peradeniya, used to get into the bus from Kaluaggala. I offered her my seat once, twice and when she offered to keep my books for me found the courage to speak with her…” reminisces Shantha while Sujatha laughs quietly beside him. Love blossomed beneath the benign Hanthana Mountains and three years after graduation they tied the knot in 1983, proving to Shantha the long journeys standing all the way to Peradeniya were worth it.
By 1988 Shantha and Sujatha had built their own factory in Bandarawatta, with four workers and four machines and coined a name for their bags Ravimal, the combination of the names of their sons Ravisha and Malith. Today with a staff of ninety they not only meet the requirements of the local market but export bags to England and Australia as well.
“When we found it difficult to compete with imported bags from China in the local market we diversified the business and started to sell silk flowers and ornaments. But our priority is still Ravimal bags and one day we hope to conquer the international market” says Shantha.
Having retired from his teaching career in 1991, to dedicate his time completely to the business he began from three homemade bags, Shantha gives a simple answer to the question “How far can you go in life?” The whole distance! If you are willing to work.