The remarkable story of Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, the founder of Lijjat papad will inspire many entrepreneurs. At a time no one talked about enterprise, Popat and her team of women not just created a brilliant business and a brand, they also create employment for women. 91-year-old Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat has been awarded the Padma Shri Award by the country this year. SheThePeople met her at her home in Mumbai for this story.
When Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat and seven other neighbourhood women started makingÂ papadsÂ in 1956, they did not have the slightest idea that their company would grow into a multimillion-dollar industry, decades later.Â
Popat’s capital investment was just Rs 80. This too was borrowed from a social-worker. Lijjat Papads became a household name. Not just that when people went to the market and asked for papads, they would say Lijjat Papad no matter which brand.
The business was initially set up in Mumbai’s Girgaum area. The seven other women who helped Popat begin the business are Parvatiben Ramdas Thodani, Ujamben Narandas Kundlia, Banuben Tanna, Laguben Amritlal Gokani, and Jayaben Vithalani.
Gradually, seven became hundreds and currently, thousands of women are working in this huge industry. Along this successful journey, Popat trained and supported many women under her to achieve financial independence.
SheThePeople met Popat in her home in Mumbai and spoke to her about the journey from a small business to a big scale one. Making and sellingÂ papads was just a desperate step to contribute to the family income for Popat. All the women including Popat used to make the papadsÂ on their house terrace. They had sold only four packets ofÂ papadÂ to a businessman initially. But the demand increased and they started supplying on large scale to various parts of the country later.Â
Popat transformed a small home business into a large cottage industry over the years. Today, Lijjat Papads has over 60 branches and employs around 42,000 women.Â
Currently, theÂ papadÂ is sold all over the country as well as exported to other countries including England, the USA, Singapore, Thailand, and the Netherlands.
The ingredients for success
Popat did not have any knowledge about running a business when she started. But she gathered up courage and perseverance to make a profit out of her business. Further with hard work, her business grew so much that herÂ papadÂ brand is now a popular household name all over the country.
This women-centric business now has a turnover of over Rs 800 crore. But what is more significant is that it employs so many rural women who are illiterate but skilled.Â
Indeed, the eight women who began in 1956 pushed boundaries with the only skill that Gujarati housewives knew the best, i.e cooking.Â
Popat’s highlight ingredient is nothing but providing employment and empowering women of our country. A perfect example of the diligence and talent of women.Â
Success through determination
The industrialist from Maharashtra has been honoured with Padma Shri for her efforts and hard work in establishing and promoting the women’s workers co-operative.Â
While speaking about receiving the award, Popat told SheThePeople, “The credit of Lijjat Papad goes to every woman working here. This recognition is the fruit of their hard work.” She proudly said that each woman working at Lijjat is considered as the ‘malik’Â and not as a worker for they contribute equally to its success.Â
When asked if she ever got tired during her journey, she replied,” Never I have felt like giving up as I was getting good money from the business.” She also added that financial independence is the major motivation for more women to join Lijjat Papad.Â Â
‘Lijjat’ means tasty in Gujarati. When the business was set up first, the company was named Shri Mahila Gruha Udyog Lijjat Papad.Â Later in 1962, it was renamed Lijjat Papad. Out of the initial establishers, Popat is the sole surviving member now.Â
Being one of the world’s oldest co-operatives to support women through employment opportunities, it stands on some core values. From providing quality products at reasonable prices to having a solid distribution network, Lijjat has earned its success through sustainable entrepreneurship and the trust of customers.Â
The story of Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat and her Lijjat Papad is one of the inspirational tales of women’s empowerment in India.Â Â