As a female entrepreneur, you started your business 14 years ago. Tell us about your business and what inspired you to start Athena’s Furniture & Home Décor?
Athena’s Furniture and Home Décor started its operations in 2004. Our first outlet was in Gulshan and our factory in Tongi. The idea behind undertaking such a challenging venture was driven by my passion for creativity, and perhaps the business heritage I carried. The urge and hunger to do something in life and to contribute to the society led me to step into a male dominated world, and the expedition had not been easy for a full-time mother. I was born into a family where business had been a natural instinct, and I got married to a family where my father in law, Mr Anwar Hossain, is considered the pioneer of industrialization in Bangladesh.

Can you tell us a bit more about your company and your role in the company today?
I am the managing director of the company, which started its business with 12 members initially. Now it has blossomed and comprises around 500 members and six outlets in Bangladesh. It has not been an easy expedition with antique furniture as Athena’s focuses on mesmerizing hand-crafted Victorian and Italian designed furniture made locally from the finest Chattogram teak wood. Our aims were providing customer satisfaction and producing unique products. I decided to blend ethnicity and contemporary concepts as I was inspired by elegant and sophisticated interior designs. Athena’s is a boutique furniture outlet where you will not encounter ordinary designs. Instead each client is dealt with according to their natural taste and contentment as we maintain very high standard of quality and ethics.

Can you tell us a bit more about your company and your role in the company today?
I am the managing director of the company, which started its business with 12 members initially. Now it has blossomed and comprises around 500 members and six outlets in Bangladesh. It has not been an easy expedition with antique furniture as Athena’s focuses on mesmerizing hand-crafted Victorian and Italian designed furniture made locally from the finest Chattogram teak wood. Our aims were providing customer satisfaction and producing unique products. I decided to blend ethnicity and contemporary concepts as I was inspired by elegant and sophisticated interior designs. Athena’s is a boutique furniture outlet where you will not encounter ordinary designs. Instead each client is dealt with according to their natural taste and contentment as we maintain very high standard of quality and ethics.

CARRYING  THE LEGACY OF  TWO LEADING  BUSINESS  FAMILIES
CARRYING THE LEGACY OF TWO LEADING BUSINESS FAMILIES

Who is your role model as a woman entrepreneur?
I am inspired by all the women who are working hard every day to establish themselves in the society. If i were to choose a pioneer, I would name Rokeya Afjal Rahman, the president of BFWE and vice president of the international chamber of commerce Bangladesh.
She has associated herself in the world of commerce in such a way that many still follow her footsteps. She has created a job platform for numerous people especially women. She is the emblem of strength, bravery and positiveness. She remarkably managed to grasp success at a time when women thought twice before stepping out of the house.
Being a woman, there’s nothing more powerful than believing on and encouraging another. I admire Ms. Rokeya’s contribution. She has been an inspiration for my venture. She had never kept a bank loan pending, it’s something I learnt from her.

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Also read: TURKEY AND BANGLADESH HAVE A SHARED CULTURE

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Which have been the biggest challenges for you as a female entrepreneur?
Athena’s Furniture and Home Décor reflects the dreams and creativity of a rather reserved housewife and her ideas in a male-dominated business. My initial budget was very limited; my husband discouraged me to take bank loans. He loaned me the initial capital and I had to work very hard in order to return it. This had been one of the most difficult challenges. I came through it with more encouragement which significantly helped me to deal with other tough problems in my business.

What has been the most rewarding about from Athena’s Furniture & Home Décor?
The most rewarding part about setting up Athena’s was the representation of local crafts on a global scale. As I mentioned, all my furnitures are hand-crafted by skilled craftsmen. They are brought to stunning finishing which can’t be achieved with machine. Athena’s has contributed significantly to the economy by creating a job platform for several skilled artisans and workers. It has also been fortunate enough to represent Bangladesh globally at several expos like Index Design Services 2018 at Dubai World Trade Centre and India International Mega Trade Fair.

What are the three most important lessons you have learnt from your company?
I have learnt several important lessons from Athena’s. If I had to sum it up into three most important lessons, they would be:
1. Women are capable of multitasking; they can manage home and business at the same rhythm and still have time to spend with friends and for themselves if they plan properly.
2. You have to keep calm and patient if you aim for greatness. Supporting staff will not only bring out the best in them but also keep them happy in the long run.
3. The people of our country are highly skilled. If their crafts are valued and the amateurs are given proper training, they can exceed expectations with super level of experience.

What does success look like for you?
For me success is carrying on the legacy of business leaders. Creating job platform for almost 500 employees also defines success for me. They are happily employed and have a work income that provides for their families. The designs are being appreciated locally and globally by customers from Germany, London, Australia, etc.

What about your family? And how would your friends and family describe you?
My friends and family would describe me as a friendly and supportive person apart from a multitasker. For me, my family comes first. It is more important than my professional life. I think a healthy balance is necessary between work and social life. My friends always appreciate how I make time out to attend their parties or get together. My family becomes elated when I take time out to cook for them or spend an evening just enjoying a match or a movie with them.

What do you do in your leisure time?
My leisure revolves around my family. I love spending time with my children and do small activities like watching movies or listening to their favorite songs. I also try to meet my friends if I am free. My passion is gardening. I have a roof-top garden with fruits and vegetable plants. Another hobby that I enjoy is cooking. I love to cook for my family and see them relish their favorite dish.

CARRYING THE LEGACY OF TWO LEADING BUSINESS FAMILIES

How do you maintain a good work-life balance and mental health?
In my opinion, prayer is the most important thing which helps me keep work-life and social life balanced. I feel if the almighty showers his blessing on me, I would be able to do it all. Prayers help me through difficulties and find peace. Apart from that, I try to work out at home. I do yoga sometimes to relax. Sometimes I take a walk by the lake to get fresh air. I talk to my mother and try to spend time with my family. Listening to music also gets me through a long and hectic day at work.

What type of person do you think should be an entrepreneur?
I think entrepreneurs have to be strong enough to realize their dreams and make them real, because with it come dedication and hard work which will lead them to success. It is essential to remain calm and patient to establish something new and even hard to go through the matters like profit and loss.

What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs or women who may be in the position that you were in 14 years ago and wanting to start a business?
For the women entrepreneurs who are looking forward to new start-up business, I would advise them to believe in themselves first. It is important to have self-confidence and faith. They must analyze the market and study it in order to get a clear idea of the existing demand and requirement to do something unique and creative. One should have a clear idea of the history and heritage of our land which will inspire her. The keys to success are integrity, inner strength and patience. Don’t be demoralized by failure, try learning from it instead.

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