Self-made sewing tycoon is the sort of entrepreneur Jilin counts on
It's late evening and Jiang Meiying sits by the sewing machine at home, carefully stitching embroidered flowers onto curtains for a customer.
She usually leaves this sort of work to her employees but, this time, the customer's requirements were so important that no one on her staff felt confident enough to take on the job.
Ms Jiang's embroidering skills have won the admiration of all 14 of her employees - however fastidious customers might be, she always seems able to satisfy them.
Her employees also admire her for her success and hope to emulate it one day. She has managed to do something almost too good to be true: rise from being a retrenched worker to a boss operating five haberdashery shops, with her own car and a spacious home.
But for Ms Jiang, her life today is the fruit of long years of desperation, tears, sweat and, most importantly, hope. She was the second of four children in a family native to Changchun , the capital of Jilin province . She became the pride of her parents as the first, and only, child to go on to college for a three-year course in machinery manufacturing.
After graduation, she became a technician in a state-owned machinery factory in Changchun. Her first month's salary of 260 yuan (HK$297) in the summer of 1993 is barely worth mentioning today, but back then she could not have been happier.
'The small salary given to me at that time was not important; it was the sense of worth and independence that felt so good,' she said.
One year later, she married a colleague, another technician in her office and they had a daughter in June, 1995. The couple had to carefully budget their 825 yuan combined monthly income to make ends meet, but the quiet and happy life was enough for her.
The peace did not last long, though. In 1998, the machinery factory where she worked announced it was cutting its 3,500-strong workforce in half after floundering in deficit for almost five years.
One part of the final arrangement was that one member of each couple working at the factory had to leave if it was to avoid bankruptcy.
Ms Jiang left and her husband stayed because he had worked there longer and was more skilled in machinery technology.
The first years of staying at home were deeply disappointing. Daily life suddenly became tougher due to the 30 per cent cut in the family's income. Her daughter had reached kindergarten age, but they did not have the money to send her.
She tried to find a job in other machinery companies, but without success. They were looking for people with higher qualifications.
Every rejection was followed by days of depression and a sense of futility. 'Those days were the darkest time of my life,' Ms Jiang said.
One benefit of her long stay at home was the spare time, which made it possible for her to resume a girlhood hobby - sewing and embroidery. Partly to kill time and partly to save money, she started to make clothes for her daughter and husband.
Her work was good - from time to time, women in the neighbourhood would inquire where she had bought her daughter's skirts and her husband's suits. That greatly boosted her confidence and renewed her enthusiasm.
She started to visit the Northern Marketplace, the largest textile trade centre in Changchun, more often to buy the cloth and thread she needed. Gradually, she noticed that the bedspreads, sheets, pillowcases and curtains on display were not as attractive as they had once been. She thought she could make them prettier by altering their styles and embroidering them.
'At that moment, it suddenly occurred to me: why couldn't I open a haberdashery shop myself?' Ms Jiang said.
In March 2000 she bought a shop for 110,000 yuan, of which she and her husband put up 30,000 yuan, with the remainder coming from parents and siblings.
The business turned out to be a great success. Her customers were not only attracted by the large variety of finished products Ms Jiang procured by travelling to Beijing, Shanghai, Hubei and Guangzhou, but also the unique features she added with her skilful embroidery.
By last year, she had gained some renown in the industry in Changchun. She wanted to open more shops, expand into larger communities and launch a chain of stores, but she lacked the necessary capital.
But then she got lucky.
The Jilin government came up with a three-year small business promotion scheme in February of last year to encourage people from all walks of life to borrow from banks and start up new businesses. Ms Jiang received a 600,000 yuan loan, which she used to open another four shops and hire 14 staff. The five shops earn about 60,000 yuan a month, with a net profit of about 35,000 yuan, she says.
The Jilin authorities are hoping people like Ms Jiang can invigorate the non-state sectors and bring more jobs to the province.
As one of the rust-belt provinces in the northeast - traditionally centres of heavy industry - Jilin has struggled to create enough jobs as the state-owned sector of the economy declines.
The government is pinning its hopes on thriving private businesses.
'We must lower the threshold for private start-ups, scale down the entry standards and strengthen supportive policies to push for burgeoning private businesses,' Jilin governor Han Changbin said. 'Private businesses should become one of the new growth engines for the development of the whole provincial economy.'
The provincial government has promised to allot more than 500 million yuan to support medium- and small-sized private enterprises this year, local media reported.
Ms Jiang said her next dream was to develop her own brand of cloth accessories named after herself, Meiying, meaning 'beautiful flowers'.