Every morning, Priti Ajay Hinge walks the dusty road from her home to her shop in Maharashtra’s Wathoda Village. The 30-year-old mother of three ignores the occasional snide remarks and whispers that being the only female carpenter – a profession regarded as an exclusively male domain– earns her. Because she is on a mission…to own the biggest furniture showroom in her village.
Priti knew very early on that she wanted to do something different. “I was always fascinated by the work the men in the village did, whether it was construction, masonry, or carpentry. I told my parents that I wanted to be like them, and work alongside them,” she says.
Her father, who is a carpenter, was amused at how different his daughter was and encouraged her to join him when he went to work. The young girl would watch closely and learn as actually working side-by-side with him would have ruffled a few feathers in the village. “People were gossiping, and my own family tried to discourage me, but my father told me to ignore them all and do what I wanted. I learned everything just by watching him, and made my first cupboard at the age of 20, which I managed to sell,” Priti says, adding that she opened her first workshop eight years ago, after the birth of her first daughter. Her daughters today are nine, five, and three-years-old.
Priti Hinge is the only female carpenter in her village (in her shop). Trained in business development under the Skill India mission, she now dreams of opening a large showroom someday.
But business was slow, and Priti recently decided to improve her skills by signing up for a 15-day business development workshop at The National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD)a premier organization of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and part of the Skill India mission.
“The workshop was very helpful, and the classes were six hours long. I learned about how to run a business and the finer details of how to be a successful entrepreneur,” she says.
Today, Priti is applying the skills she learned, and the business is growing. In addition to business picking up, Priti says the biggest change has been in her husband.
“He was not happy when I started this business, but today, he takes me seriously. My shop earns about Rs 30,000 a month and he is very impressed. He even comes to the shop with me if I need help to load larger pieces of furniture,” she says.
Priti says her favorite thing to make is a couch. “When I started the business eight years ago, I would only make furniture legs. Today I can make everything from cupboards to sofa sets. I used to do all the work myself, but I have now hired a carpenter to work with me. With three small children, I can’t put in the hours I used to. But I still supervise and check everything,” says Priti,
She says her application for a loan to open a bigger shop is still pending. “I pawned my gold jewelery to open the shop that I have now. Luckily, business has been good, and I am able to pay the installments on time. But the Rs 2 lakh loan will go a long way in making my dreams come true,” she says, adding that a bigger workshop and showroom will allow her to hire more people and help fight unemployment in the village.
A recent visit to a furniture showroom left her hugely disappointed in the quality. “Many of these fancy showrooms may sell things that look good for cheap, but none of these are built to last. People will end up having to replace these pieces frequently.
Her own business has grown rapidly in the past few years owing to word of mouth. “Customers bring their friends and relatives to my shop to give orders at my shop. They also come back if they want anything new made. This is the only reason I am successful,” she says.
She also wants to leave the showroom, some day, to her youngest daughter. “I can already recognize the signs that she will follow in my footsteps, and I want to gift this to her some day. My older two are not interested and the eldest has said that she wants to be a doctor. I want to encourage them to whatever they set their mind to.”
Priti says she gets very annoyed when she hears people saying only men should do certain things and certain jobs are exclusively for women. “There is no such thing as men’s work and women’s work. Everybody can do anything if they put their mind to it. Also, no work is too big or too small. To succeed, just follow your dreams and keep at it by working hard.”