*The following story is narrated in a first-person point of view
As I sit down to pen down my story, memories of my journey from a fresh university graduate to a successful small business owner in the world of handcrafted dowry businesses come flooding back. My name is Nila Septiana Wulandari, a handcrafted dowries businesswoman in Tapung Hilir, Riau, and my story is one of resilience, creativity, and the unwavering belief that success comes to those who dare to dream.
Dreams of the city
In 2013, when I walked out of university with a degree in Accounting, my sights were set on a lucrative career in banking. Like many fresh graduates, I envisioned myself working in the bustling city, navigating the corporate world, and climbing the corporate ladder. However, life had different plans for me.
Job hunting in big cities turned out to be a cycle of rejection emails. While I fought not to let frustration set in, I found myself back in my hometown of Tapung Hilir village in the Riau province, helping my parents with their palm oil harvesting business. It wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself, but sometimes life has a way of nudging us onto unexpected paths.
Down the path of marriage
While lending a hand to my parents, I also began a side hustle selling hijabs. It wasn’t the most glamourous job, but it helped pay the bills. However, it was during this time that I stumbled upon a business opportunity that would change my life.
While attending various weddings in my hometown, I noticed something. Many Muslim brides weren’t adorning henna, the traditional halal plant-based dye used for temporary body art. This struck me as a potential business idea I could tap on, and I decided to step into this market. Fuelled by my passion for art, I started offering henna services to brides-to-be in my hometown.
As my henna business began to take off, I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for more wedding-related opportunities. This led me to my next venture: flower board arrangement for weddings. I noticed there were no providers for flower boards in my village and so, in 2015, I took a leap of faith by expanding my wedding-related business.
Crafting dreams and handcrafted dowries
My journey then took on a fascinating twist in 2016 when I decided to go into handcrafted dowries. The inspiration for this venture came from noticing that the dowries used in weddings around my area had become too mainstream. You would see the “same” dowry in every wedding. I was determined to create something unique, something that would stand out and make weddings even more special.
With limited resources, I turned to nature for inspiration. I began using dried flowers from corn and other local plants around me to handcraft rustic-styled dowries and wedding gifts. The process was challenging – it takes a lot of diligence and thoroughness to finish one dowry set – but the satisfaction of creating something beautiful from scratch is immeasurable.
In 2021, a new chapter of growth began in my journey as a small businesswoman. An opportunity arose that I couldn’t pass up – the chance to participate in Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) training initiated by GAR, part of a broader Bright Future Initiative.
The timing was both challenging and serendipitous, as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, I was determined to see this through. Alongside other small start-up owners, I joined an online training called Lokakreasi, eager to take my entrepreneurial dreams one step further.
The training, which covered product development, bookkeeping, and market expansion, broadened my horizons and equipped me with the skills to take my business to new heights. Inspired by the training, my focus shifted towards marketing my handcrafted products digitally, a domain I had hesitated to enter.
While I was familiar with various e-commerce platforms, the thought of opening my own online shop had been a daunting one, primarily because I lacked background knowledge on how to navigate the complex world of online retail and sales. However, the training provided me with the confidence and tools necessary to take that leap of faith. Today, my e-commerce shop is thriving, and my products have garnered attention even beyond the borders of the Riau province.
Embracing digital transformation
Other than starting up my online shop, one of the achievements I’m most proud of in my business journey is the successful modernisation of my sales operation. Prior to this transformation, I was handing everything manually – from creating sales invoices and merchandise labels to coordinating delivery schedules. Not only was this time-consuming, but it also left room for errors.
However, with what I learnt from Bright Future Initiative’s training, I transitioned these processes to a seamless digital system. I even managed to obtain a Business Identification Number (Nomor Induk Berusaha / NIB), a step that significantly enhanced customer trust in my business. The modernisation of these critical processes not only streamlined my operations but also enabled me to provide more efficient and reliable services to my customers.
Triumph over skepticism
Looking back on my journey, I can’t help but reflect on the skepticism I faced when I returned home after graduating from university. People around me couldn’t understand why would I pursue higher education only “to be a farmer and a small business owner”. But today, I stand before them, not with a sense of vindication, but with gratitude for every twist and turn in my path.
Today, my handcrafted products, whether henna, flower boards, or dowries, are not only well-loved within my hometown but have found their way into the hearts and homes of people in distant regions. My gratitude knows no bounds – to my parents, my community, and the MSME training programme that unlocked the door to further success.
I’ve learned that success isn’t always about following a straight line to a predefined destination. Sometimes, it’s about adapting to the circumstances, seizing opportunities, and pursuing your passion relentlessly. My journey from a job seeker to a thriving business owner has taught me that the road less travelled might not only lead to the most beautiful destinations, but that the view on the way can be more breath-taking than you think.
Point of view/Narration: Nila Septiana Wulandari is a handcrafted dowries businesswoman in Tapung Hilir, Riau, Indonesia. She has been running this business since 2016.
Bu Nila is one of the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) supported by GAR’s Bright Future Initiative.
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