Janaki Amarasinghe is the sole proprietor of DJ Products, a successful business involved in handlooms and spices. Today, her business is the source of livelihood for 168 employees. Her prowess in entrepreneurship was even recognized nationally when she won the Women Entrepreneur Gold Award under the medium enterprises category by the Women International Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka in 2018.
Like every successful entrepreneur, her entry into the field of business was not rosy. She started her journey as a businesswoman by trading in salt. Janaki tried to sell packets of salt which she purchased from the Ceylon Salt Corporation to bakeries and hotels.
From humble beginnings
Her initial attempts were not successful. Nevertheless, her tenacity and determination saw her developing a steady range of customers for her salt which included restaurants and bakeries. Gradually her salt business grew into greater heights.
Her entrepreneurial vigor meant that she was not going to confine herself only to salt. Her business acumen saw the opportunity to venture into spices by leveraging on her already developed business contacts from salt trading. She gradually expanded her business by moving into spices such as chili, tamarind, turmeric, and pepper.
Turning point and re-launch
“I got the opportunity to supply spices to the CWE (Sathosa) in 2002. They were satisfied with the quality of our products, and we were given the opportunity to become a supplier to the CWE. Soon I was able to supply spices under their Sathosa brand around 2005.” Janaki described the growing phases of her business.
However, her happy business dealings with Sathosa came to a standstill when the CWE was privatized. With the closure of the CWE, she lost her businesses with Sathosa.
“They owed us Rs. 4.2 million. We even filed a court case, but we could not get our money back”, she reminisced the ordeal she had to undergo. But Janaki was too strong a woman to lose hope and get discouraged. The subsequent re-opening of Lak Sathosa saw her again supplying spices to the newly established state retail trading outlet network.
“Many people asked me to refrain from giving supplies to Lak Sathosa, as we got a raw deal when the CWE was closed. But I told them that I had lost everything, and the only way I could recover was to restart my spice trading with Lak Sathosa”, she revisited how she emerged from the crisis. Soon Janaki was able to supply under Lak Sathosa brand.
Lak Sathosa has about 400 retail stores across the island. Today, Janaki has become a large-scale supplier of spices in the country due to her longstanding business relationship with Lak Sathosa.
Her entrepreneurial drive was further rewarded when she got the opportunity to move into handlooms. Having observed her success, she was invited to take over a handloom project in Ihala Madampella – a village in Divulapitiya DS Division – by the then director of textiles in 2010. The village is known for its traditional handloom textile manufacturers.
She was given the task of reviving a handloom factory which had been closed down by its previous owners.
“When I came here, there were women who got only Rs. 100 for one saree that was weaved. Today, I have three handloom factories altogether with one each in Mirigama, Kottala, and Ihala Madampella.”
So many handloom factories had been wound up before she arrived at Ihala Madampella. As a result, those who were dependent on the handloom industry had been in a state of despair. Janaki started to pay them higher amounts for the sarees that were weaved. She provided yarn and machines to women in the village and started to empower them.
Secret to success
“The secret to my success is that I pay the weavers generously compared to others. I treat my workers as if they are part of my family, and I never forget to attend a funeral of a relative of an employee. My treatment of the employees has enabled me to come up to where I am today”, she explained.
Currently, the sarees of the teachers of Buddhist and Christian Sunday schools throughout the country are made in her handloom factories. She also runs a highly sought after handloom retail shop in Narahenpita. Thanks to Janaki, those families who were left in doldrums before her arrival to Ihala Madampella are now breathing a sigh of relief.
Export market and support
Her next biggest ambition is to penetrate the export market through her handloom products such as sarongs, shawls, lungis, and shirts. Even now, she does some export orders to the USA but on a limited scale. Janaki was quite grateful to the support given to her by the Industrial Development Board and the Export Development Board (EDB) for her progression as a successful businesswoman.
Int’l trade fairs & scholarships
The EDB had given her the opportunity to participate in two international trade fairs that were held in India, Thailand, China, Malaysia and South Africa. She noted that the exposure she gained by taking part in such fairs was quite useful and knowledge enriching.
The EDB also facilitated her to participate in a scholarship programme - “Australia Awards: Women Trading Globally” fully funded by Australian Government for two weeks in Melbourne and Sydney in 2018.
She has also been given the opportunity by the EDB to take part in various training and capacity development, product development and market development programmes to assist her in succeeding in the international market.
Her work as a women entrepreneur has also been encouraged under the EDB’s Women Entrepreneur Development Programme.
Apart from her businesses, she had been gracious enough to share her experience with other up and coming entrepreneurs through her association with the National Chamber of Commerce as its secretary of the Federation of Associations since 2009.
Janaki’s accomplishments epitomise the resilience of successful women entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka who contribute silently towards the economic prosperity of the nation.