News of Cotton Collection (Pvt) Ltd divesting to Softlogic Holdings PLC, invariably raised eyebrows and sparked the predictable questions.
Everyone is familiar with the famous retail brand known for its quality and style range. If you’re looking for anything from women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, kids clothing, accessories to shoes, jewellery or designer wear brands, Cotton Collection’s flagship store in Colombo ‘CC’ is the place to go.
With a youthful energy, modest vibes and central location, it is quite hard to beat as being the go-to place for almost anything fashion related.
We sat down with our very own fashion magnate and Founder of Cotton Collection, Niloufer Esufally Anverally, who spent some time with us reflecting on her journey.
Niloufer belongs to a family of two brothers, a sister and herself; she revealed to us that she spent her childhood at her residence in Jawatta Road, which is currently the Cotton Collection Corporate Office. She thought back,
“They were happy times; we were a very close-knit family.”
After concluding her primary and secondary education at St. Bridget’s Convent Colombo, she moved to India to pursue her higher education at Sophia College, Mumbai. It was here that she gathered her distinct Indo-Western fusion influence which is evinced throughout her clothing. One of the key features about her childhood was the fact that she was a national tennis player who not only represented Sri Lanka, but also her College in India when she won the Maharashtra State Open Tennis Tournament. She added,
“Tennis was a big part of my life, and these are proud moments that showcased my drive even at a young age.”
Birth of Cotton Collection
After returning to the island with an independent streak, young Niloufer felt the constant urge to do something with her life. It was when she got herself employed at her first job (at American Express) that she wished to pursue something of her own. Considering herself to be privileged to be able to travel overseas and witness trending international fashion at the time, she realised that Sri Lanka reflected a rather benighted sense of fashion. While noticing that Sri Lanka was undoubtedly equipped and instilled with the potential to reach higher ground, she noticed that the lack of a binding force with an eye for fashion would result in its downfall.
She then went on to start quite small by picking out a few bits and pieces of clothing and selling them. Whilst revealing to us that it’s always been a slow journey for her, when people began to become aware of her small business, word spread like wildfire which subsequently resulted in the myriad offers that came her way.
“The secret to my success is having an eye to choose fashion which is nice, and I always had a very different sense of style. I’m a very casual and carefree person by nature, so my clothing represented that style,” she noted.
Her store which has now established itself at the heart of Colombo with almost an acre of land – spacious enough to accommodate parking for nearly sixty people – has unquestionably come a long way since the opening of its first store at Majestic City in 1991.
Coming from a business-minded family, Niloufer was privileged to have very understanding and supportive parents who always encouraged her to achieve her goals and targets.
“My father was very supportive of the fact that I was instilled with an entrepreneur’s spirit, which was a stepping stone for me.”
She, moreover, observed that she faced no notable obstacles for the trade she associated herself with which was rather refreshing and was more of a woman’s world.
A woman’s world
Speaking about a woman’s world, Niloufer who’s also a strong believer of the empowerment of women, has contributed immensely to not only develop, but also facilitate this aspect in her own way. 72% of her team comprises women; most of whom are now married started off as young girls. She added,
“They’re doing a balancing act. I admire and respect how they do it because it’s not easy. For me, that’s women’s empowerment.”
Large networks of employees who work under her suppliers happen to be female workers as well and she revealed that she empowers them as well. She believes in creating a world which facilitates women to make larger and greater contributions, for being a financially stable and independent individual is imperative when establishing your stance in today’s society. She further highlighted that she addresses the issue associated with newlywed couples where husbands essentially don’t let their spouses come back to work.
“We wish to work on this as a team and to encourage them not to do that.”
The birth of Leather Collection
It is worthy to note the duality when considering this brand as a whole, i.e.; Cotton Collection the clothing store, which specialises exclusively in clothing that has been designed and manufactured using pure cotton, and Leather Collection which specialises in extravagant and reasonably priced leather items such as shoes, bags etc. that is mostly pure leather.
Leather Collection came to being a year after the launch of Cotton Collection. Seeing the beautiful and elegant leather items during the years she spent in India inspired her to open this store.
“I bought it down as a passion and not a business.”
Whilst having to divest Cotton Collection, she revealed to us that she intends to continue to have Leather Collection within her possession for she has a burning desire to contribute to the fashion industry in our country.
“I’ll continue to express my creativity through my new store Leather Collection.”
Sustenance is key
Niloufer also happens to be quite conscious about the sustenance of the environment and has put forward viable means through Cotton Collection, such as the discontinuation of the plastic bags they’ve been using. They’ve resorted to change the material to a more biodegradable kind. They’ve also introduced a reusable bag which is sold at a really low and affordable price with unique quotes and slogans to make it look interesting.
Q: What would be your ideal go-to clothing piece?
A: Anything casual that’s black and white.
Q: Fashion tips?
Q: Your favourite brand?
A: Cotton Collection (without a doubt!)
Q: Any obsessions?
A: Long, long lists, I have lists for everything!
Q: What distinguishes Cotton Collection from all other retail stores out there?
A: A couple of things. Firstly, my brand ethos; whilst we’re bohemian in nature, we feature chic and casual clothing to nurture our climate, and secondly, my team; they feel it in their hearts, because without that, it would be difficult for me to singlehandedly grow the brand.
Q: Word of advice for future entrepreneurs?
A: Nothing comes easy in life, you have to work hard. But the working hard part becomes much easier when you love what you do, and then it doesn’t really become work!
From selling clothes at her very own home which led to huge sales, then supplying clothes to fashion chains at the time, to the opening of her very first store at Majestic City, everything ultimately led up to the establishment of the brand at the heart of Colombo.
While it has indeed been a rather interesting turn of events for Niloufer, her journey will continue and we will wait ever-so impatiently, to witness what she’s got in store for us next!
By Chenelle Fernando