The Christmas countdown is well on its way and for some, Christmas shopping has already begun in earnest.  But for those of you who are still looking for more gift selections, you may want to drop by the newest kid on the block of El Grande that just opened last month, Sukhi Gifts & Treasures.

Owner and proprietress, Sheryl B. Manlulu used to work in a trading company and it took awhile for her to finally find her niche in the trading industry.  An entrepreneur at heart, she loved purchasing and selling and she gets to do just that in her her store and business, where she has put her knowledge and experience in trading to good use.

Sukhi Gifts & Treasures is a retail store offering giftable items, stationery products, bags, organizers and other "must haves" that are both fancy and functional. "My idea is to have a store that will cater to middle and upper class consumers (including students) who look beyond the crowded retail mall for a special shopping experience. In addition to offering a wide array of unique quality products, the customers will enjoy friendly customer service in a convenient and uncongested location," she says.

A resident of Alabang, Sheryl chose BF Homes for her shop because of its diversity.  "It is not only a residential area but a commercial area as well. I can only start small, but I want to have enough exposure to keep my business thriving. And I think BF Homes is the best choice of place for me to begin," she adds.

A traveler along El Grande going towards Lopez gate will not miss the large and bold sign outside her store.  Aside from an attractive logo, Sukhi Gifts & Treasure also has an interesting story behind its name.  Sheryl's first choice was the obvious "suki", the Tagalog word for a loyal and frequent customer; she thought there was a nice catch to it.

"My second choice for a name was "happy" in a foreign language, since I wanted to create an idea of "fun" in my store and in the items that I will sell. When I tried to search for different translations, I came across the word "sukhi" which is the Hindi word for ''happy.'  I instantly liked it. It's like playing with the word "suki" by adding an "h" to it, and at the same time it was describing my store and my personal feelings for this business," she reveals.  Some may call that a sign of good fortune.

She is off to an auspicious start, already attracting corporate clients and other buyers.  She can customize a product and help conceptualize products that will fit her client's need and budget.  She also offers promotional and party giveaways.  For her opening promo, she is giving away cute character pens for every P250 worth of purchase.

Looking back on her beginnings, she fondly recalls her business mentors with gratitude.  "I always look up to my uncle and aunt (Tom and Mike Onate) when it comes to having a business. I saw how they started and I want to be like them. And it was they who encouraged me to start my own business since I already have the knowledge and the experience. I will always be grateful for all their help."  And if your aim is making people happy, how can you go wrong?

Sukhi Gifts & Treasures

"Fashion fades.  Only style remains," so says Coco Chanel, the eternal diva of style.  And when one who has faded from the fashion scene to raise a family decides to come back to embrace its lifestyle once more, a thriving business is born.

Sheila Amora, mother of two, former commercial model, and now savvy businesswoman and proprietress, has gone back to the fashion world she left behind and put up Funky Plum, a vintage clothes shop that has caught the avid attention of many women--from 16 to the ever-young -ty somethings--since she opened her doors just over a month ago.

With a supportive hubby and two pretty daughters behind her in her new venture (who help mommy in the store), she attends to her clients, personally looking after them.  It's all part of her vision "to bring their zest for fashion back to life by introducing them to their own individual style. It's all about creating their own set of fashion rules to tailor-fit their  lifestyle."

"Funky plum," she explains, "would like to offer every woman a chance at bringing out her best through the services we offer:  One-on-one styling services; one-on-one make-over sessions (where we teach you basic make-up tricks); wardrobe consultancy services (we look through what you already have in your closet and help you mix and match).  We can even re-work, re-invent, and alter pieces you already have to make them look more pleasing to you.  We also custom-make clothes from casual wear to formal wear."

Fashion, she notes, is constantly evolving, which has its pitfalls.  "Many women," she observes, "get lost in translation due to the various trends and fashion rules they feel they need to keep up with. Due to all the pressure brought about by the cruel rules of fashion matched with the daily pressures of their everyday lives, they choose to let go."

Uh, I can definitely relate to that.  Some days, I wake up feeling like a queen with nary a care in the world and other days I wake up feeling like the world has descended upon my shoulders. But didn't I just read in the news the long-overdue admission that women can't have it all?  It's a truism that Sheila understands and infuses into her business philosophy.

"Our thrust is to make women of any age, shape, or size feel wonderful about themselves when they wear our clothes and not be limited by the dictates of fashion. Every woman has the potential of looking their best without having to follow every latest trend. A woman just has to know what looks good on her and work from there," offers Sheila who's own style looks enviably effortless, making her her own best advertisement. 

I only have to look at her to see that she lives and breathes the essence of Funky Plum, an individualistic style that highlights  each woman's personality and brings out her hidden fashion sense.

Where does she get her clothes?  "We source designer mod vintage clothes for everyday wear," she answers.  "We make sure that every vintage piece we have is stylish, of very good quality, and suitable for women of all ages.  We have one-of-a-kind pieces that range from extra small to extra large from casual wear to formal wear so that we make sure that we can cater to the needs of any woman of any shape and size.

"All our pieces are dry-cleaned and/or hand-washed, depending on the fabric; we ensure that all our items are fresh-smelling and ready to use. We also offer alteration services on our one-of-a-kind pieces." 

Funky Plum also designs its own casual to formal wear and has its own line of vintage-inspired pieces.  Its own designs extend to one-of-a-kind accessories to match every outfit in the store.  To finish off the look, it additionally sells pre-loved designer bags and shoes.

All in all, Funky Plum is a heady mixture of irresistible products and pampered services, all housed in a one-stop shop for women on-the-go who've no time to browse the malls, and run by a vivacious, stylish woman who lives by the philosophy of Coco Chanel.

It's a potent combination sure to help any woman look good.

Funky Plum Alterations and Vintage Clothing Store

Moist Chocolate Cake
Ever wondered what it would be like to quit the corporate world to pursue your dreams to become an entrepreneur?  For example, what if you wanted to bake and sell cakes but you didn't know how?  What if your first cake was an utter failure?  Would this stop you?

You may want to ask Mitchie Ganal.  " The first chocolate cake I made was a disaster!" she laughs.  "It was salty and rock hard.  I followed the recipe but used rock salt instead of iodized salt because the recipe just said salt.  I didn't know any better."  That was back in college, where she took up Social Science in UP majoring in Area Studies.  She considered shifting to Business Management but her mother discouraged her.

She muses that she has always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur.  "It was always at the back of my mind even when I was studying or working.  I started secretly selling stationeries that my mom bought for me (for my personal use supposedly) when I was in Grade 2.  Not that I needed money back then but because I was happy selling them.  When I was a bit older and had two younger sisters already, during summer breaks my mom would cook something or have something for us to sell in the village just to keep us busy," she recalls.

As in her younger years, she did not really need to engage in business; her salary was enough to get her the perks she wanted, but she found going into business fun and exciting.

She went on and worked for various companies.  When UP Manila offered Masters Courses, including Business Management, she signed up without telling her parents until a few days before the start of classes.  Although she did not pursue her business plan cum thesis of putting up an internet cafe and coffee shop, she found time to go into the buy-and-sell operation during the "ber" months.

What followed seems like kismet.  Finding her Management Trainee job physically taxing (she headed three departments towards the latter part of her tenure), she decided to take a one-month sabbatical a year ago in order to rest, wanting nothing more than just to eat and sleep.

But finally having had time to think and not one to be idle, she thought of occupying herself with a hobby.  Suddenly, her disastrous college experiment loomed large in her mind -- maybe she could redeem herself by going back to baking.

This time, Mitchie was determined to make it right.  She bought and read a lot of cookbooks and enrolled in a short course at the Heny Sison Culinary School.  She did not have much time to rest as it was October and the Christmas season was just around the corner. Starting with just two recipes--chocolate cupcakes and oatmeal cookies--she plunged headlong into the bazaar circuit, going from one bazaar to another together with her sisters who sold their own products. 

To distinguish herself from her competitors, she focused on making bite-size mini-cupcakes; after improving her recipes, she expanded her business by customizing her designs according to her client's wishes.  Orders poured in.  She further grew her line by including cakes for all occasions.  Although her most popular cakes are her pink birthday cakes, she wants to specialize in wedding cakes.

Now resigned from her job, she still gets calls from various companies to go back to corporate life; she has turned them down with no regrets.  But she credits her work experience for giving her the right attitude and strategic knowledge that has served her well in her own business.

Mitchie is presently savoring the sweet taste of her hard work and perseverance.  "At the moment, I am very much enjoying being an entrepreneur and the success I have, however small they are. 

"I'm very happy and satisfied -- proud even -- that in so short a time, I have started this business and have pushed my limits with success.  I didn't have any formal training in baking so I am really happy with what I have accomplished so far," she marvels.

"I've succeeded in the many challenges I faced while working for others.  But the challenges brought about by starting the business and the demands of the clients are far from what i have faced in the past.  And, i have not had enough of it yet.  Maybe I wont ever."

Mitchie has come full circle. 

Mitchie's Sweet Petites