Within a year of production, Kitroo’s start-up has produced the finest Pashmina fabric ever, verified by the Textile Ministry
As the artisans of Kashmir are struggling hard to make ends meet due to technology taking over human skill, the original handwoven Pashmina fabric is also becoming a rarity.
Pashmina is as akin to Kashmir as its natural beauty. So it had to be a Kashmiri native who took up the job of reviving the glory of the fabric and bring back the fine ‘Cashmere’ on the fabric map of the world.
Aaditya Kitroo, a Kashmiri Pandit, who was born in Kashmir but lived and studied in and outside main land India, decided to come back and set up a Pashmina start-up that is now revolutionizing the 600 year old handloom industry of the valley.
Pashmina is fine type of wool, in fact one of the finest of the word. The word Pashmina comes from the Persian word ‘Pasmina’ which means ‘made from wool’. The finest of the wool is found in Ladakh region of the Himalayan state. The particular Kashmiri goat whose wool is reared is called Changthangi, which gets its name from the plateau it comes from- Changthang.
“The world’s finest woollen fabric is going extinct and that just cannot happen,” says Kitroo.
He adds, “Pashmina should not go the same way as the Bengal muslin which was the finest cotton fabric ever crafted.”
So how did a guy with a secure job with the TATAs come up with an idea to make Pashmina his bread and butter that too in a conflict zone?
The idea of Jos&Fine, which Kitroo (30) started with his friend Safia Igranaissi (28), a French national, came up while he was on a break in Amsterdam in 2014.
“It came about while Christmas shopping in Amsterdam during the holiday season of 2014. While browsing through some of the fine Cashmere and other woollen scarves at a few luxury boutiques, I couldn’t help but notice the difference between the handcrafted Pashmina scarf I was wearing and the Italian and Scottish Cashmere scarves available in the market at exorbitant prices,” Kitroo recalls.
He further added, “I realised, based on my prior knowledge of textiles, that India has the availability of the finest Cashmere wool in the world (in Ladakh) and weavers whose work is legendary (Kashmir’s master weavers). Why is it that with both ingredients that make a fine fabric did we not have a single Cashmere brand that was global? Probably the conflict had taken its toll.”
Kitroo, who at that time was perusing MBA from the Rotterdam School of Management shared the idea with his friend Safia who co-founded Jos&Fine with him. Both of them went to ‘Get Started’ at Erasmus, Europe’s most prestigious incubation centre.
“It was there that we worked on the idea and decided to establish Jos&Fine,” said Kitroo.
He added, “The finest fabric of its type always has a market and one just cannot let the craft die. Clearly it was a paucity of quality control, modern branding, international design and a disorganised production chain. We decided to fix all of it.”
This Indo-French enterprise didn’t stop there. Kitroo decided to do something which would grab eye balls, produce the finest Pashmina fabric ever.
And Jos&Fine did it in the first year of production only!
Finest Pashmina ever produced
As per the certificate of the Craft Development Institute, Ministry of Textiles, the fibre micron testing of a Pashmina sample submitted by Kitroo read as low as 12.5 microns.
The certificate reads, “As per our records, the finest samples taken from a Cashmere Pashmina lot were tested at 12.5 microns and were submitted by Aaditya Kitroo c/o Jos&Fine.”
In the Yarn Counting Test too, CDI said that the finest sample of hand spun Pashmina Cashmere was tested at 2/175 count which was submitted by Kitroo.
Kitroo, very humbly dedicates the achievement to what he calls the ‘master craftsmen and women’ of Kashmir.
“I know how much I toiled for achieving this. Conceiving the idea and then implementing it on fabric. Also, looking for the best Pashmina available. It might sound easy, but trust me, it takes its toll,” Kitroo informs.
However he admits, “At the end, it’s the artisan who weaves the magic. And I have no hesitation in dedicating the achievement to the master craftsmen and women of my homeland-Kashmir.”
Although the company is not entirely based in Kashmir, Kitroo says that his product is the ‘most authentic’ because the entire production take place in the Downtown area of Srinagar.
“The design development and marketing takes place in France. It’s a marriage between the home of modern fashion and the world’s oldest shawl making industry. Thus the motto Scripted in France. Crafted in Kashmir,” asserts Kitroo.
Home coming for a Pandit
Kitroo’s story is not just of a successful start-up. He says that there is another achievement which makes him happy from within.
“I am home. When someone asks me where do I live, I say Shivpora, Srinagar. Then there are smiles back and forth. That is a feeling which can’t be explained in words, “Kitroo points out.
He doesn’t prefer to talk about the politics surrounding Pandits of Kashmir, however he does feel that in the process it was ‘Kashmir’ which suffered.
“If I tell you that it was ‘us’ who suffered more. Then you might come back at me and say that no it was ‘we’ who suffered more. That is what I have a problem with-‘us’ and ‘we’. We are Kashmiris and the loss is ‘ours’,” maintains Kitroo.
As of now the firm employs around 80 craftsmen and women which Kitroo believes will expand to 120 by 2018. Most of the firm’s clientèle is located in Western Europe, the USA and Russia.
Kitroo says there is a lot more to do and achieve.
“The aim is to be to luxury fabrics what Romanee-Conti is to wine,” says a confident Kitroo .