She always wanted to do it. But given the lack of support and help for her dream, the founder of Virya Couture realized it didn’t matter how passionate she was about her plan. That wasn’t until the general election in 2015. She finally managed to give life to her dream by founding Virya Couture.
Now it has been in operation for over a year. The word ‘Virya’ is a Pali term which can be translated as ‘energy’, ‘diligence’, ‘enthusiasm’, or ‘effort’. She gave that name to reflect the fact that everyone driven by diligence and persistent efforts will be successful.
But more than a passion for design and fashion, this lady in her thirties is also supporting women who don’t have formal education.
Virya Couture provides tailor services, making fashionable clothing using traditional textiles according to the customers’ orders. They also sell readymade clothing. Ma Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw is now planning to expand her ready-to-wear clothing into the international market.
“I feel complete when I am making clothes. I feel so happy when I am doing it that I even forget to eat or sleep. Profit or loss is important to your business. But so is passion,” she said wearing a sweet smile.
Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw learned the art of sewing with her grandmother when she was a little girl.
Although she was passionate about sewing, her family forced her to prioritize formal education. She did go to school but never stopped learning about tailoring and working in the field; she even opened a shop and began accepting orders.
Along with the opening of our once-isolated country, she opened her business. At first there were difficulties in finding skilled workers, capital investment and a location for the shop. But now, thanks to her colleagues, her business is on the way to success. Her shop has so many orders that they don’t even take public holidays off.
‘‘Had I done this in the first place, I would have been more successful. It inspires me to work harder. I also give training and mentor young girls who, like me, want to do something—especially to those who did not have a chance to attend and pass high school,’’ she said.
She gives free training as well as cost-shared training to the young women who range in age from 18 to 25. Just recently she started a second training programme. The training not only teaches sewing but also shares knowledge which is beneficial to the business world. It also teaches participants to be self-confident and to develop a long term plan.
There are so many people who do not have access to formal education and there are many who are not lucky enough to attend and pass high school. Therefore, she believes that helping the community while doing business can be possible and it has become her main drive and purpose.
‘‘I’m still trying. But this is a message to society. You can’t expect to have skilled tailors or designers every time you give training. It’s not easy to support a person for months and years, or to teach them,’’ she said.
As she works for customers from NGOs, the British Embassy and other development programs, she has support both from local and international communities.
Both local and foreign customers tend not to like bright colours or hot fashion, she said, but prefer darker clothing and simpler fashion. Most of her customers are women in their thirties in various fields of profession. Virya also guarantees the quality of its textiles for they are directly bought from the weavers. She has six employees in her business and is even attending classes to improve herself.
Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw is also planning to step into the online shopping business even though she doesn’t have much time. It takes three weeks or a month to finish a traditional suit and costs at least K40,000 per outfit, while ready-to-wear clothing would cost at least K50,000 to K60,000 per outfit.
There are only a handful of shops in Myanmar that offer this kind of service of making both fashionable and traditional clothes. Despite a whole year of business and demand for the services at Virya, she doesn’t think of herself as successful yet but someone on the way to success. She is also planning to open a new shop under the same name.
She said that forming traditional textiles into modern styles and designs is good but she also notes that it is important not to destroy or reverse the course of tradition.