Rising Amidst The Chaos of The Pandemic
Conversation with Sachini Ayendra
Sachini Ayendra is a renowned and established Sri Lankan actress who has been in the entertainment industry for over two decades. She is currently a common household name and a memorable personality mainly because of her iconic sense of style and fashion. During the pandemic, when many businesses were closing and falling apart, Sachini Ayendra decided to start her business amidst the chaos. Her “Ezthara” business originated from a problem she faced during the pandemic due to the inability to access international products and delivery. She formulated her product and created a solution not just for her but for everyone else who might be facing the same issues as her.
You have successfully started and are the CEO of two of your brands. What life lessons have you learned along the journey so far?
I started my business during the height of the Covid pandemic two years ago. It was a very challenging time, and I didn’t know how to start a business in a chaotic period. We didn’t have enough resources, but I wanted to start it, so I did. I had the pure determination to make it work and to make it a success. So after two years, my business has grown so much. The best life lesson I learned through this journey is to keep moving forward no matter what comes your way.
As a business, we faced many challenges starting from the beginning, such as the fuel crisis, dollar crisis, inflation, import restrictions, Aragalaya, and numerous other problems. But it was my pure determination and focus that kept me going
‘Ezthara’ is used by many people, irrespective of their gender, everywhere. How did you come about starting this brand?
It all started after I had my two children. I have had long hair ever since I was small and never wanted short hair, so I was constantly experimenting with beauty products and hair products that could help me grow my hair back. When my hair started thinning and losing its volume, I wanted to find a remedy to grow my hair. Whenever I travel, I always use the best products I can find and the best available. While experimenting with different products, I realized using specific ingredients and combinations gave me the best result with hair growth. So I started making my own formulas to suit my hair growth needs. But then the pandemic happened, and I couldn’t access any of these products. So I decided to create my own from the formulas I experimented with since I required a good hair growth product during the pandemic. This was also when I had the lengthiest hair, and everybody was curious about how I got such luscious hair. This gave me the vision to create my brand Ezthara.
I have such high standards when picking out a hair care product that I wanted to set the same standard for my product. I didn’t want to create a product I didn’t see myself using. So I worked alongside a lab to create the best hair care product that I would use as well with the best quality ingredients. I personally tested the formulas for the product for a long time until we got it right and then created the best product.
Ezthara is a product we manufacture here in Sri Lanka, with 99.9% of the ingredients being shipped overseas from the best quality suppliers. Our jojoba oil, olive oil, and tea tree oil supplier is the same company that supplies these oils to brands such as L’oreal and many European brands.
‘Ayendra’ is another brand that you own. What was the inspiration for this clothing brand?
This was one of my dreams which was to own a clothing brand. I couldn’t pursue that because I was not equipped with the proper finances back then. Then I started Ezthara, which took most of my time and focus, but I decided to start ‘Ayendra,’ my clothing label, because I loved it. I love clothes, no matter where I go I always buy clothes. Because of my love for clothes and fashion, I decided to start my clothing brand.
Ayendra reflects who I am and my sense of style. If there’s anything I don’t like to wear, I won’t have that in my brand. Whenever I select any outfit, I question whether I want to wear it. How would I know if someone else would wear it if I don’t wear that outfit? There’s so much to choose from when it comes to clothes, colours, textures, and materials in the market. I need to be confident with what I put under my brand for people to buy. Ultimately, the designs that go under my brand should reflect who I am and be able to relate to me. Even the colours I choose are very colourful and vibrant, which reflects me.
What would you say is the most challenging part of your job as a CEO of two contrasting brands, one in skin care and the other in fashion?
I give very little attention to my clothing brand ‘Ayendra.’ That business is very small compared to ‘Ezthara’ business. One of my biggest challenges is managing my time. Because from the moment I get into the office until I leave, there is not enough time in the day to finish off my ‘Ezthara’ work. Compared to the clothing brand, the ‘Ezthara’ business is much bigger.
The most challenging part of my job is to work while managing the country’s economic turmoil. When I started, it was the peak of the pandemic, and then there were various challenges. Since we’re a 100% online company, we faced many issues with delivery partners during the fuel shortage. There were times when we had 4000 – 5000 packages piled up for weeks without having the means to deliver. During this time, many delivery services took place through bicycle deliveries, and the staff of the delivery companies dropped these packages while they left for home. Likewise, we had to adapt to various methods to overcome these challenges.
The only silver lining during this time was that we never had any bad sales, even during the pandemic’s peak. Because of that, it kept me going as I always wanted to serve the customer.
All these challenges range from increasing tax rates to economic crisis, restricting imports, to dollar rate increasing. Everything combined, it is not letting us do business peacefully. When choosing between time management and the country’s economic crisis, the most challenging would be the country’s financial crisis considering I can stay up all night to get my work done, but there’s little to nothing I can do about the country’s state. So for me, every day is a learning experience. There will always be challenges, but it is up to us to overcome them.
This might be a tricky question, but if you were to pick favorites, what would you choose between ‘Ezthara’ and ‘Ayendra’?
Always ‘Ezthara.’ We have thousands of customers worldwide, and it has reached out to so many people. We have a 99% success rate with ‘Ezthara”. Ayendra is my clothing brand, and I love it, but it doesn’t reach the same way as ‘Ezthara’ does. It is a whole different level of reaching people. We know ‘Ezthara’ helps people grow their hair, but some people have had no hair growth for the longest time, struggling with hair loss and growth, and had their hair grown with the product. Some patients had alopecia and had gone to so many doctors with no result, only to grow their hair with the product. Some children and teenagers have no hair because of alopecia, but they grow their hair with this product. Some people come from faraway places in buses just to get the product during the fuel crisis when delivery was halted.
I have helped so many people through the product, and it gives me the utmost satisfaction to have such an impact. Most of us don’t see it and can’t empathize with these situations because most of us are privileged to have hair, but people who are losing their hair are depressed and suffering. I have had young girls and elderly women reach out to me, crying, asking for help growing their hair. Hair fall and hair loss affect people in ways we can’t comprehend. It is not just selling a beauty product and making money; it is so much more than that. Seeing this product’s impact on people and seeing them truly happy brings me so much joy and satisfaction.
If you check our page, we have many good reviews on how our product has helped customers. It has so many reviews that I can’t even finish posting in a day. These are genuine reactions and testimonials from happy and satisfied customers. There are many things money can buy, but true satisfaction isn’t one of them. I’m truly emotionally connected and invested in the product. I’m currently testing out a premium product for ‘Ezthara,’ which is the current product with more ingredients. So far, nothing can beat the original Ezthara hair miracle.
After Sri Lanka, our biggest sales come from the Maldives. They only have a population of around 521,457, but they purchase half of what we sell in Sri Lanka. Ezthara has become a global brand, and its reach is massive. Seeing the product we create brings people so much joy, and satisfaction is always nice.
Who do you consider your biggest supporter throughout your journey to starting and owning two brands?
To be honest, Nobody is supporting you. For me, it is just me and my motivation. If you expect support, you constantly expect that support system to be with you. What happens when your support system suddenly stops supporting you? How will you move forward? Let’s say I expect support from my husband, family, or children. What if they can’t give that support? Are you going to stop? Because when you’re going on a journey, your journey is different from another person so I can’t expect an average person to support me on this extraordinary journey that I’m trying to go in. Sometimes they don’t understand you or lack the knowledge to help you through your journey, so not everyone can give you the support you need or expect.
No one can give you the support you really need. The best way to explain this is two years ago, my business’s position was very different from today, and the kind of support I needed and got from my family was different. Now my business has grown to a better place, and the type of support I need now is different. They might not know the kind of support I also need since things have changed. So you can’t expect that from them. They don’t always have the capacity or the understanding to support you.
I don’t expect support from anybody. It could be completely different for another person; this is my journey, and I don’t expect support from anybody. Since I don’t expect any support from anybody, I don’t care. I do everything because I want to do it. I’m my biggest motivation and encouragement. I have dreams and goals I want to achieve, not because I know whether I have a support system. But when I achieve my goals, I make everyone else happy, which is what I believe in.
You created a whole brand out of your name, “Sachini Ayendra ” way before ‘Ezthara’ or ‘Ayendra’ came to be as an actor and a fashion enthusiast. It might have its perks and sometimes downsides as well. How is your experience managing two brands while maintaining a public image?
I’m an artist in Sri Lanka, and I have worked for nearly two decades as an artist, so people know me. I also have built a reputation over the years for who I am and how I talk and dress. When I launched my own product, people thought it could be working. Because today, almost every artist has a brand. It was easy for me to launch it because of the name I had created for myself. I just had to say I’m launching a product, and everyone was interested, but I can use my fame to launch the product and maybe sell the first stock, but afterward, if the product is not good, people will not buy that. So the product has to be good to retain my customers. Even though my fame helped launch my product and give it publicity, the product had to be actually good to sustain itself in the market.
Some people don’t even know it’s my product because it has reached far more people. They buy the product solely because it is a good product. I also prefer people to not know it is my brand because my purpose is different. My aim is for everyone to use the product. That’s one of the many reasons I made it reasonably priced and accessible, and I give free delivery islandwide and worldwide. So I don’t care if my name is associated with my brand. I intend to make a good company and reach as many people with this product as possible.
What is your experience as a female entrepreneur in a cut-throat industry?
Everyone I work with in this industry, from suppliers to buyers to transport, all are male. But the fact that they know me and I’m famous helps to a certain extent. If the person I’m calling knows me, they take their time to give extra attention and to get what needs to be done. But I believe it is the way you deal with people. You must be confident in yourself and show that you’re there for business and business only and know what you’re doing. They will show the respect you deserve if you are confident and handle yourself well. I have not experienced any sort of discrimination or any negative aspect in this industry except the positives which come with my popularity.
What is some advice you wish you had before starting your business?
I don’t wish I had advice because it was always a learning experience from day one. I am learning every day, from doing things differently to how to do them better and many more. All the advice in the world is not enough when you run a business. Running a business is challenging because it takes so much of your time, energy, and focus. You must have an immense amount of self-discipline and the same energy levels throughout the day until night to keep the business running. I had grown my business by 2000% from the time I started it; to have that level of growth, you need to give so much of yourself to your business. All the advice in the world combined would not have been enough to teach me what I learned through this process and to reach my target. There’s so much learning, practicing, and putting your learning into action. It’s a constant process.
There’s always a lot to learn because learning is the only way to grow.
Do you have any future plans for Ezthara and Ayendra?
I want to grow the collection for ‘Ayendra’ at this point. For ‘Ezthara,’ I plan to make it a global brand. Ezthara only reaches several countries, so I want it to reach every country globally. We have the patent for Ezthara, an innovation I take pride in, so I want everyone worldwide to use it.
What are the meanings behind your brands?
“Ayendra” is part of my name, but as for ‘Ezthara’ my husband came up with that name. When I heard it, I knew it was the name I wanted because until then, I searched for so many names, but nothing felt right until ‘Ezthara’ came along. I never wanted the skincare brand to be under my name. So when I heard the name Ezthara I knew I wanted that to be my brand name.
Do you plan to branch out your brands to other industries besides skincare and clothing?
At the moment, no. Because, at the moment, I want this product to reach its full potential. I don’t want to come up with many products because many still have no idea what ‘Ezthara’ is. I want everyone to use this product. I think I’ll branch out to different products once I reach that level.
According to statistics, the apparel small and medium enterprise sector has been growing, especially in 2022. How would a new entrepreneur or a brand like yourself adjust to the current market conditions?
Compared to many start-up businesses, we have outdone ourselves. We are at a much better place in terms of growth and profit than where we started. This business has been an exception. I can’t compare it to a regular start-up since it has done exceptionally well. Every company has faced every issue for the past two years I met, but the business owner’s courage and determination will keep the business going and growing. It could be an amazing idea, but the business owner’s determination, focus, and efforts could make the business a success. It’s always in our hands to keep the business afloat and thriving. It takes so much time out of your day and your energy to make a business grow. You don’t even need to have a crisis, but some businesses just close down after a few months or years. Approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of opening, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 4% survive, and only 2% are profitable.
What are your visions for your two brands?
For ‘Ayendra’, I want a department store with clothes, accessories, and everything else. I want to import my products and make them affordable for anyone to walk in and buy beautiful clothes. I still need a store for Ayendra where people can walk in and buy whatever they want, so one of my goals or dreams is to open a store to make that dream a reality. I want to be able to handpick everything that would go in the store. For ‘Ezthara,’ I want it to be a global brand for everyone around the world to use it.
By: Garisha Herath