This is the story of a visionary, a pioneer, an entrepreneur and a legend. Bernard Botejue believed in realising his dream and etched a pathway to spearhead an industry into a brand that today, nearly seven decades later, remains a formidable name in the apparel trade.
A learned yet humble man, Bernard Botejue began his career as a Library Assistant at the Ceylon Medical College. However, the turning point in his career emerged when he took up a posting as a Supervisor at Ceylon Hosiery Company. In just a few years, his entrepreneurial spirit had sparked and by 1948, he launched his own hosiery manufacturing company. This was the genesis of Bernard A Botejue Company, with just one knitting machine and three sewing machines to manufacture men's vests manned by a team of six including the founder himself, who functioned as the knitting machine operator and was responsible for fabric bleaching using firewood as the energy source. Times were tough as imports were popular but always undaunted, the Company's success knew no bounds. In just one year since its launch, the Company's illustrious team had grown to 38.
Another milestone was reached when Bernard wed Hema in 1955, whose amiable personality and business acumen was surely an asset to the young man's dreams of success. By 1967, the business transformed and became Bernard Botejue Industries Limited. The forward march thus planned for the Company was augmented when Hema was conferred a scholarship by The Colombo Plan for a six month training programme in Germany. The Botejue's astute management style was well evidenced when the business continued to flourish despite their absence for six months, given the hand picked dynamic managers who motivated their teams. When the Botejues returned to Sri Lanka fuelled with plans and dreams, they quickly set about expanding the business, venturing into manufacturing knitted garments, from ladies' blouses to men's Polo shirts to underwear and socks.
It was in 1979 that Texfabric Exports Limited came into being when Bernard's began manufacturing industrial cotton gloves in collaboration with John Plant & Company based in North Carolina USA. One year later, they partnered Hong Kong's Philknit Company. In 1992, when the state began promoting apparel manufacturing as a primary foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka, the Company, being a pioneer in true Sri Lankan entrepreneurship, opened its first provincial factory in Kolonna, Embilipitiya in the South Central region of Sri Lanka.
It made astute business sense for the Company to look inwards and consolidate however, which it did in 1999, when Texfabric Exports and Bernards Philknit (Ceylon) was divested, allowing it to concentrate on a burgeoning export market. The Colombo factory was downsized due to labour shortages, while focus was transferred to Hambantota to bridge the gap that emerged. In 2003, both the purchase and production functions were moved to the new factory in Hambantota. In mid 2015, having taken a pragmatic look at the business model and its functions, the Hambantota plant was fully divested, forging avenues for the business to completely concentrate in Kolonna. Expansion is also planned for this factory with four production lines being added next year.
Diversification is now emblematic of the vibrant persona of Bernard Botejue Industries. The two factories in Kolonna and Hambantota are under the umbrella of Bernard Manufacturing and concentrate on export apparel, while Sentrino (Pvt) Limited which opened its doors in 2004 initially as an embroidery plant, has now expanded into printing as well, catering to a range of export manufacturers. Sentrino also produces corporate and promotional t-shirts for the local market. Everton Holidays (Pvt) Limited caters to the discerning modern day traveller specialising in high-end customised travel solutions under the branding of, 'My Lankan Dream'. The latest addition to the expansive Bernard's Group is Bernard's Business Park, engaged in developing and leasing office and retail space through its Head Office in Kohuwala and Circus Entertainment (Pvt) Limited, which holds exciting prospects of assisting the music and entertainment industry with its state of the art rehearsal and practice studio space.