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Lidia Khyla is a new entrepreneur from Melitopol whose story started out rather glumly, but not unusually. After 19 years at the local Technical Inventory Bureau, a housing agency, she was laid off during staff cuts. Rather than being disheartened, Khyla interpreted the dismissal as a sign that it was time to start her own business, something she had long dreamed of. One year, constant training and incredible enthusiasm later, Lidia Khyla won a business grant from the UNDP under the EU4Business Initiative to open her own Shveikamlt Tailor Shop.

Making lemonade out of a lemon

After she was laid off, Khyla took courses in accounting, business Ukrainian and the basics of tailoring all at the same time. She also visited her employment centre regularly to ask about vacancies—and just network with people.

“I told the girls working there that I wanted to go everywhere and try everything, so if there were any events, I was keen to get involved,” Lidia Khyla recalls. “So, I visited one seminar on how to find your real self, another on how to start a business as a woman. I knew everyone there, and when they learnt that I had received my tailoring diploma, they told me about an EU-supported UNDP grant competition.”

That was Khyla’s first competition. She says she considered it a gamble and had no expectations of winning. She simply wanted to gauge her strengths and understand whether she was able to write a proper business plan. “I wanted to start respecting myself,” she says.

Having gained a friend’s support, Khyla began to put together a project for which she could apply for a grant, and decided to focus on sewing bed linen. She consulted with some owners of resorts to understand if there was any demand for such products. Khyla then calculated the expenses, wrote a business plan in three days and applied for the grant.

When she recalls those days, she laughs, since she could not believe that someone “was giving money away just like that.” However, her project was selected for the competition, and won: Khyla was given UAH 142,000 to purchase sewing equipment.

Shifting gears like a pro

Lidia Khyla opened her tailor shop on March 2, 2020, just a few days before the coronavirus quarantine began.

“We found out that there were no masks in the pharmacies, so we decided to try sewing them,” Khyla recollects. “We learnt to do this well, put out an ad and got a great deal of orders. Demand was so high that I had three seamstresses working at a time.” But then everyone started sewing masks. Meanwhile, the tourist season had suddenly become very iffy because of the quarantine, so resorts were in no hurry to order linen. Khyla was about to give birth to her second child, so she decided to sew things for kids, instead.

While she was telling her story during a zoom interview, the newly-established tailor breastfed her newborn. The two children are no obstacles to her business, she says, but, rather, an incentive and inspiration to look for new ways to earn money. After all, Shveikamlt was involved in the government’s Baby Package Programme.

“I was issued a bank card for receiving goods under the programme, and as I walked out the bank door, I suddenly thought: ‘Hold on, we sew items for children, so we can also participate’,” Khyla laughingly remembers. “I went back into the bank, and the staff told me they didn’t know, since the programme had just started, and advised me to make inquiries at the social services office. I went there and they told me to contact the ministry. Welcome to the modern world: if there’s a phone number, make a call, if there is an e-mail address, write. So I did.”

At the Ministry of Social Policy, they told Khyla what documents she needed to submit, and then she had to go through a few rounds of hassle to connect a payment service on her website. Finally, Shveikamlt became the first point in the city where young parents could buy baby items under the programme. At first, there were many orders, Khyla says. Later demand fell off somewhat, but people who used to come with a state card became regular customers.

Doing what you have never done before

In April, Lidia Khyla's video about her business won third place in the Big Stories about Small Businesses competition. The series of stories tells about entrepreneurs from Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts who started businesses from scratch. UNDP and the EU have been running this social campaign for five years in a row, together with the Molodiya Festival. Its goal is to show people who, despite the difficulties, start their businesses and grow their oblasts. The winners are voted on by the audience and will receive financial assistance to promote their businesses.

“First of all, winning these competition has been a good impetus for me, even more so than money,” says Khyla. “The first grant gave me a new lease on life, the opportunity to gain new knowledge. Winning the video competition gave me confidence that I was doing things right. I once heard the phrase, ‘If you want to achieve something, you have to do what you have never done before.’ All my life, I’ve been guided by this.”

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