|Saturday, 26 October 2002|
Personality of the week - Otara Chandiram
by Ilika Karunaratne
The first time I met Otara Chandiram, she was Queen of the Sri Lankan catwalk and unmarried. But she had already completed a degree in Biology in the U.S., done a part time modelling course and worked in the U.S. as a model for a while. Today, she is widely acclaimed as the "face" and success story of the nineties. But, it was refreshing to find that her meteoric rise to fame and fortune has not changed her. She still remains unspoilt, sweet and simple; with a shy smile and look, reminiscent of Princess Diana.
I chatted to Otrara in her prized domains Odel Unlimited; to find out about her work, her recipe for success and how she copes with being career woman and mother. I was interested in knowing how the name 'Odel' was chosen. I thought it was a combination of the 'O' from her name and her mother's name, Delisha. "It is a combination of both my names. My second name is Del. My parents told me that as they had a hard task finding the name, Otara, they decided on an easy second name - Del."
Otara then got married and found her ideal business partner, is husband Raju. "Today, we divide our work and our responsibilities to promote my vision." The idea to start Odel unlimited, a one-stop shop for the entire family was a joint one. It is housed in a mansion, which appealed to them both. Built in 1860, It has old world Colonial charm with Wooden floors, 'Mal lali' etc. Otara and Raju were quick spot the aesthetics and determined to retain its charm, while converting it into a super store with modern conveniences. "I realized that fashion and a retail industry was an experience one sells. Its not only clothes; one sells a lifestyle too. So this was our vision. Like the pillars that hold the roof of my store, I too, built my business on 5 pillars. Customer satisfaction through staff training; efficiency; effective and tasteful display of merchandise, smart intelligent style." Does Otara endeavour to keep in touch with world fashion or cater to local tastes? "A mixture of both. I keep in touch with fashion trends in the world, by visiting Paris, New York, London etc and also do market research here. In Odel unlimited we have new things in all the time, ones that are slow sellers are reduced and sent to Odels at Dickmans Road." I noticed that Odel staff look happy, are eager to help and please the customer, which is rare in our country. They all look young, and cheerful. "We do realize that one has to have a happy and contented staff to run a successful business, so we try to look after them. Raju looks after the staff and the administrative side, and I do the fashions."
In spite of our "annus horribilis" from 2000-2001, Odels continued to flourish, which says a lot for the couple running it. Their relationship with their store is obviously a marriage made in heaven!
How does Otara cope with being the mother of two sons aged two and eight and running a business? "It is difficult but as we work together, we can schedule our time to include our children and my parents are very supportive too. We keep our business trips abroad short. Although they are a must to see what happens in the fashion world. We now export to the Middle East and to the UK."
From its inception, Odel has been generous in its contributions to the environment and to wild life.
They have cleaned beaches and Galle face and planted trees in an effort to make Sri Lanka greener."We always contribute to any effort to beautify Colombo. We have worked closely with the Colombo municipality and maintain some roundabouts."I recall some Christmases spent in London in my youth, when we would rush to see the theme and colours used in Oxford st. and Regent st. Here, in Sri Lanka, we all wait for the theme each X'mas for decorations by Odel Unlimited, who give the initiative for both their store and the street outside.
Odel Unlimited is undoubtedly a new concept in shopping; offering clothes for the entire family, books, gifts, home ware, tea, jewellery all under one spectacular roof. Otara's latest innovative idea is the formation of an Odels Kids Club - a children's activity group with the focus on environment.
For one so young and well on the right side of forty, Otara has many achievements to her credit: SAARC Women of Asia in 2000, most outstanding young person in 2000 (Jaycees), Entrepreneur of the year in 2001 and Zonta award for women of achievement in 2002.
She has succeeded in bringing the world's fashions to Sri Lankans and made a name for Sri Lankan fashions in the world.
One sees in Otara, a glamorous, young woman, confident, articulate, and coolly independent. A woman admired for both her power and her personality. A woman, who in that ubiquitous phrase of the eighties, is a woman who has it all. But who in spite of rising like a shooting star, has her head on her shoulders and her heart in the right place.
There in lies the secret of her success.
Produced by Lake House