Moving beyond labels and breaking stereotypes, Ruwini Jayarathne explains why she considers herself extremely fortunate.
By Thushanthi Ponweera
In the age of utmost political correctness, and people taking offense at the tiniest slight and then posting about it on Facebook, I did take more time than usual preparing for my interview with Ruwini. After all, this was a woman who recently revealed on her Instagram account that she was born without an arm, a fact that, if not for her honesty, would have easily remained unknown to her adoring following. “Growing up, I could never find anyone I could gain inspiration from, especially not in Sri Lanka”, she says, and I believe her. When looking for a photo shoot featuring models without a limb, I found just one article and image taken a few years ago for a UK magazine. I ask her cautiously if we too can follow a similar style and she agrees enthusiastically. “I want to be open about it, to show others like me that anything is possible”. She is well on her way to being the inspiration she so often wished she had for herself. After her post, the messages poured in from those who shared similar challenges. “So often we are put into a box simply because we are different- in the eyes of others. It’s important not to let yourself believe that you are limited”.
The sky seems to be the limit for this ambitious 29-year-old. Ruwini Jayarathne Jewellery is one of the most sought-after new brands in the local jewellery scene, and she has worked extremely hard to get here (fun fact: her family name, Jayarathne roughly translate to ‘victory+precious gemstone’). Her recipe for success seems to be accessibility. Even during the interview she is constantly answering calls from clients, and I can only imagine how an hour spent with me is creating a backlog of messages she needs to reply to. Her target demographic is mostly the modern woman who appreciates jewellery with a difference, and judging by her frequent posts on Instagram, they love to interact with her. Her customers even have their own hashtag- #RJJSquad. “Interaction is vital if you’re running a business on social media. This is my only platform and my customers are the reason the business is where it’s at today. When someone messages me to inquire after the price of a piece-that’s my opportunity to start a conversation. Conversations lead to relationships, and relationships lead to business”. She seems to know all the secrets to entrepreneurial success already: have faith in yourself, work as hard as you can, value your customers. “And trust”, she adds. “Trust is important in this field- jewellery is a valuable after all. I can’t take an order and an advance, and then go silent”. It is at this moment I remember my own order for her, and hand her a family heirloom- a ring I want made into a pendant. It doesn’t occur to me to ask for a receipt. “See, this is what I work towards!”, she says happily.
She’s learnt from the best. Her father runs a business which he built from scratch. Ruwini’s eyes shine with love when she speaks of him. “He is my idol. If you look up the definition of self-made, my father’s name should be next to it.” But as much as her parents adored and accepted her, they didn’t place any expectations on her, which she thinks is perhaps due to her disability. “This drive is all mine”, states Ruwini proudly. “I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I didn’t care what it was. Even if it was a small redhi kade (clothes shop), I wanted to do it.” After obtaining her CIMA qualification, a stint at an auditing firm, and marrying her childhood sweetheart, she finally decided to pursue her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. It was then that she was introduced to the world of gems. “There’s so much more to gemstones than Blue Sapphires and Rubies. I wanted to work with the unconventional stones- the underdogs, so to speak!”. Not wanting to do anything halfway, she immediately set out to get accreditation as a professional Gemologist. Soon after, she was named as the ‘Jewellery Designer of the Month’ by the Jewels of Ceylon magazine, which was when she realized she had finally found her passion. “That, and the fact that my products were so well received, of course”.
Juggling a two-year-old, and running an online business is no easy task (I know, because I’ve personally tried and failed), but Ruwini is organized, working late into the night after her son is asleep if she has to. She admits she needs to hire some staff soon though, to help with ensuring that all processes are running smoothly, and give her the time she desperately needs to communicate with her clients. She that last part work though- as communication most often translates to constant feedback and appreciation. “The excitement I feel is so much more palpable when shared with my customers. It fuels everything”.
The conversation veers towards future plans, and it’s clear that she is well on her way to smashing all personal goals. “I’m currently working on a website, which will give access to everyone who loves my work in Sri Lanka or internationally to own a piece of our handmade jewelry, and join my wonderful #RJJSquad…And charity!”. I’m momentarily confused by the sudden change of topic, but Ruwini says she wants to engage in philanthropy as much as she wants to build her business. “My dad always made it a point to give, no matter how much or how little he had. I’m turning 30 next year and I haven’t been methodical about charity. I plan to change that soon. You shouldn’t take time for granted”. Another personal goal is self-improvement. “I think you win in life only when you can remain unfazed in the face of success as well as failure. I want to master that art”
There is one more question on my list, and by now I’m confident enough to ask it. Does she ever feel sorry for herself? Her answer is instant and one that I won’t forget for a long time. “Never. I don’t need to be. I’m so privileged with everything life has given me to ever need to feel sorry for myself!”
As appeared in Pulse Magazine Nov/Dec 2019 issue
(Featured image courtesy Pulse magazine)