After reaching the first floor of Rajuk Trade Centre at Nikunja 2, we found it a bit tough to get to the shop no. 1. After some puzzling minutes in the midst of so many fancy shops, the owner of our destined one came forward with a welcoming smile and led us towards her shop "The Tribal Crafts".
In a 12-by-10-feet room, sarees, shalwar kameez, ornaments, home decor items, showpieces, all handcrafted items, were displayed on the shelves stretching almost to the full space.
Milon Chisim has been proudly running The Tribal Crafts since 1998.
Sixty-five-year-old Milon Chisim is one of the 1,20,000 members belonging to the Sangma clan of the Garo community in our country.
"I always wanted to do something on my own to create my own identity. So, when I got the idea and opportunity after working with two reputed organisations, I started my own business," said Milon who belongs to the history of a matriarchal ancestry.
Coming from a respected family from Achkipara village in Haluaghat upazila under Mymensingh district, which is considered to be the highest concentrated area of people from this community, Milon spent almost 20 years in Dhaka before starting her own business.
Back then, the matter of an indigenous woman's settling in Dhaka for education and survival was not an oft-seen one. However, Milon made it possible.
Garo community, with 80% education rate, is proven to be more educated than any other indigenous communities in the country.
Milon came to Dhaka for her college education and got admitted in Eden Mohila College in 1970 when she was 15 years old. That journey was interrupted as the Liberation War of the country started in the following year. Milon had to take refuge in India with her 19 siblings and parents.
Returning to the country, she got admitted to the economics department of the University of Dhaka and completed her post-graduate in 1978.
The following year, Milon started working as a manager in Heed (Health, Education and Economic Development) Handicrafts.
"I had to collect and supervise new handcrafted products coming from different parts of the country. This grew an interest in me," said Milon.
There, one of Milon's colleagues, who used to love collecting locally handcrafted products and antique pieces, asked her if a long gone weaved wear of Garo women can be made again. He also told her about the aesthetic and market value of that clothing, if made properly, which can be a good start for a business.
"I found out a woman in my village only who knew how to make the attire and got one made by her. Though it was a failure, I was taken by the fancy of starting a business with various handicraft items from different indigenous communities of our country," said this woman entrepreneur.
While working with her next workplace YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), Milon Chisim started her own handicraft business, with a showroom named "The Tribal Crafts" in 1998 at Banani. This was hitherto the first entrepreneurship business initiative from an indigenous woman.
"My motto was to make a business space with the participation of indigenous people. Also, I focused on maintaining both aesthetic and market value of the handicraft products," added Milon.
With seven to eight workers and a small factory space in Achkipara, Milon started her journey with the capital of Tk1.5 lakh.
After a few days, she left her job to fully concentrate on her business.
"I feel myself lucky as I never had to face any obstacle. My sisters -- Minoti, Lipi, Popy --cooperated with me so much and with the support of my family, I could start my business so smoothly," added Milon.
Milon initially marketed traditional indigenous clothing and ornaments. Besides producing those products in her factory, she used to collect them from Chattogram, Dinajpur, Rangamati and some other places.
She herself made ornaments using bamboo, which were also very popular among the customers. She used to export the items to Australia.
Milon's Banani showroom gradually became a hub of clothing, fashionable jewelries, home decors, music instruments, antique pieces, paintings, all of which were made of wood, bamboo, jute stick etc.
After passing 10 successful years, Milon had to shift her showroom to the present address at Nikunja in 2008.
During that time, her business had to suffer a bit due to a shortage in productive workforce. Over time, she could successfully overcome that dull phase.
At present, the most popular items at her shop are mainly bamboo-made baskets, chairs, table runner, steaming bowl etc. The Tribal Crafts takes order for customised bamboo-made furniture also.
Milon, now at her 60s, still loves to travel to Chattogram, Madhupur, Netrokona for business purposes. Her saree collection comes from Tangail and Sylhet while salwar kamiz are collected from Rangamati.
Starting from Tk300 an item in this shop may cost you up to Tk4,000.
According to Milon, handmade items add aesthetic value to even simpler objects. Beside, these products can be used for a long time. Moreover, in today's world of increasing plastic pollution, people are getting increasingly interested in handmade products, which are environment-friendly as well.
Milon's initiative got recognised several times from Women's Entrepreneur Association of Bangladesh (WEAB) and exhibitions held in India and France.
This enthusiastic entrepreneur wants to expand her business with new products in the near future.
"One has to be confident and strong to start a business with a small capital. There's no alternative to working hard in this respect," said Milon.
Married for 37 years, this mother of two daughters and one son lives in Nikunja residential area with her family.
This eminent business holder opined that the cost of raw materials is not that much here, but the wages of workers are high. If indigenous entrepreneurs can make a common platform, the unique traditional works of these communities can create a good market, she said.