Making inroads in a world of business and breaking taboos in a male-dominated society, the women of Kashmir are going an extra mile by carving their own niches. Despite economic instability due to the conflict, they are treading new paths in sectors which were, until now, limited to men only.
When a curious 8th grader Mansha Pandit first learned to pick up the needle and thread from her mother and grandmother, no one had an idea that she would emerge as the poster girl of Crochet Art in Kashmir, ten years down the line.
Between then and now, lie the countless hours of labour of love, making her a successful young businesswoman of Kashmir today. But recognition and rewards didn’t come overnight.
She had to master her skills for seven odd years, before making her first public appearance in 2015, at the age of 20.
“I’ve already earned enough out of this business now,” says 23-year-old Mansha, who comes from Srinagar’s Lalbazar area. “I want to work on the welfare of the art now, for the larger good.”
Many of these young enterprising women carry clear heads on their shoulders. They’re out there to do business with a difference. Mansha seems no exception in this regard.
She sells her handmade products online, using social media as a business endorsing tool.
In crocheting, she explains, the artist makes a piece of needlework by interlocking and looping the thread with a hooked needle. Mindful of its familiarity in Kashmir, Mansha uses it to strike semblance with the masses.
Her demeanour and body language make it certain that she has already cemented her place. She carries her crocheting business along with pursuing her Masters in Statistics.
“Once I was drawn into it completely, I became certain that one day I’ll establish my own crocheting business,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I was never interested in the rat race or in government jobs. I knew I was going to create a mark by staying independent.”
That confidence now reflects in her work.
She makes cushions, wall-hangings and earrings, besides silk yarn products. Mansha happens to be the only recognised face in Kashmir who’s doing crocheting art with silk thread.
“It was all possible because of my parental and clientele support,” she says. “All of us can overcome our odds, if we dare to think independently and out of the box.”
But while Mansha is working to make crocheting relevant and fashionable in Kashmir, a journalism degree-holder has created her own Hijab brand to offer a wide scarf variety to Kashmiri women.
At 24, Uzma Bhat, hailing from Srinagar’s Chanapora area, runs a successful Hijab venture, called Avraah.
Despite financial woes, she started her venture soon after completing her university degree, with her pocket money.
“I’m fond of Hijabs, so are many women in Kashmir,” she says. “Wherever I would find a unique Hijab in the market, it would catch my eye.” But it was hectic to find them in different textures, colours and contrasts as they were not easily available in the market, she says.
Once she realised that many other young women were also finding it difficult to get Hijabs of their choice and liking, she saw an opportunity.
“I would order Hijabs from Turkey, Iran, Korea and other places,” she says. “But again, I realized why not to open my own venture.”
It didn’t take her much time to conceptualise and materialise the venture. And once it got noticed, Uzma’s Avraah became the new Hijab address in Kashmir.
“You only need determination to do something in life,” Uzma says, “the rest will follow.”
Today as her tribe of successful young women is growing, many among them are leading by example, for rebuilding their businesses from the ‘edifice of broken dreams’.
When Mufti Sadia lost her ‘investment of love’, her designer outlet to the 2014 floods, she found herself at the crossroads. But once the flood fury subsided, she decided to rise above the sense of loss to rebuild her lost world.
Moving away from her flood-torn outlet in Lal Chowk, Sadia opened her new outlet in Sara City centre mall in Srinagar. She toiled hard as she wanted to achieve a notch higher than what she had lost. Eventually the hard work paid off.
At 24, she’s counted as a well-known fashion designer in town, who sells her own designs under the brand name, Hangers the closet.
Her closet contains long gowns, Pakistani suits, dresses, Pherans and many other designer outfits. Her unique designs have been sold worldwide.
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In 2018 winter, Sadia shipped and sold over 500 Pherans worldwide. She tries to add different detail to each Pheran, the outfit which is Kashmir’s traditional winter dress.
“I started with a low-budget, with a motive to make my venture different from the existing ones in Kashmir,” she says. “Today when I’ve already created my own identity in the market, some people are copying my designs. I’m happy that people get inspired by my work.”
Before starting her brand, Sadia had worked in the Human Resource Department of a few private companies. But she would always dream of becoming an independent businesswoman one day.
“I always wanted to do something out of the box,” she says, “so I decided to start my own enterprise.” At first, she faced stiff opposition from her own father, “but with time, he was happy to see me doing good.”
Kashmir is full of talent, she says, but lack of proper guidance often results in a confidence crisis.
“Being successful means exercising the free will in a very positive and progressive manner,” she says. “If one can do that, without bothering what naysayers say, then one is bound to create one’s own world.”
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