KUALA Lumpur - Millionaire entrepreneur Datuk Sosilawati Lawiya's life was a colourful yet controversial rags-to-riches story.
The woman from Kampung Sri Menanti, Sri Medan in Batu Pahat, Johor struggled in her early days along with her 13 siblings, to the extent of tapping rubber to supplement the family income.
There was even a time in her early years when she had to go from door-to-door to sell cosmetic products.
Sosilawati used her savings over 13 years to establish Nouvelle Beauty Centre Sdn Bhd, the retailer of Nouvelles Visages (NV) brand of beauty products, in 1994 with an authorised capital of RM500,000 and an issued capital of RM200,000.
Within 10 years, she had 300 stores and stockists throughout the country including Brunei, Singapore and Thailand.
She and her daughter Erni Dekritawati Yuliana Buhari were the directors of the company which had total assets of RM6.37 million, total liabilities of RM5.01 million and reserves amounting to RM1.16 million.
In the financial year ended 2007, the company made a net profit of RM183,173 and a revenue of RM7.54 million.
In 2007, Sosilawati was one of the six women who won the Johor state "Wanita Nadi Negara" award for their outstanding contributions and achievements in community service, business and nation building.
Sosilawati is the sixth child of a labourer, the late Lawiya Abdullah Yusof and his wife Yatmah Abdul Rahman, 80.
Lawiya also took a second wife, Ruminah Wasidin, who bore him seven children.
In 2007, however, Sosilawati was convicted for being in possession of a scheduled poison and caught for khalwat with her present Indonesian husband on New Year's Day this year.
Sosilawati's younger sister, Rosnani Lawiya, 45, said her elder sibling had never dreamt of becoming a millionaire, let alone building a business empire.
"As a teen, all Kak Wati wanted was to help our familty to prosper. We were poor, proper meals were hard to come by, yet we were happy," Rosnani said.
Sosilawati, she added, was bent on pursuing her dreams and attended private school after failing her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM). She even encouraged Rosnani to continue her studies.
"We tapped rubber trees at a two-hectare plantation in our village after attending classes in town to finance our studies. It helped pay for our RM20 monthly bus fare and tuition fees," said Rosnani.
Upon completion of her studies, Sosilawati became a saleswoman in a supermarket for 18 months before securing a clerk's job with a hotel.
Turning 20 and being unaccomplished, Sosilawati ventured to Kuala Lumpur in search of better prospects, landing a secretarial job in a bank. She eventually married a bank manager a year later. She bore him six children before a divorce 12 years later.
Sosilawati then worked as a cosmetics agent to fend for her children.
"I remember Kak Wati relating how she had to be thick-skinned when knocking on doors to push her products," said Rosnani.
Despite rising in the business world, Rosnani said Sosilawati did not forget her roots and her promise to assist her siblings.
"She was a darling in the family and ever generous. She did not want to see us poor forever. Many of us prospered through her efforts in providing financial assistance and jobs," said Rosnani.
Sosilawati had also married rocker Nashrudin Elias @ Nash from the group Lefthanded, in a glitzy wedding in Batu Pahat, Johor on Nov 16, 2006 only to be divorced on May 26, last year.
She is contesting a claim for RM1.38 million from Nash at the Syariah High Court.
Sosilwati then claimed she married her old flame, an Indonesian businessman, at a marriage solemnised in Narathiwat, Thailand in November last year.