Game Changers: Meet Kashmir’s Gen Next entrepreneurs

Amid rising unemployment, Kashmir youth writing their own success stories
Game Changers: Meet Kashmir’s Gen Next entrepreneurs
GK Photo

Amid rising unemployment crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, a few of the unemployed educated youngsters have paved the way for themselves in order to create viable employment avenues and become the change-makers in J&K’s economic growth.

While the government of Jammu and Kashmir is claiming to have provided several schemes and covered many entrepreneurs and their units under centrally-sponsored schemes, Kashmir’s GenNext entrepreneurs are telling their own growth story to the global audience.

One such inspiring story is about a teenager with a keen interest in sporting activities. Twenty-six-year-old Adnan Ali Tromboo always aspired to take forward his father’s vision.

“I dreamt of promoting the story of authentic Kashmiri handicraft’s legacy, so that it is understood and endorsed worldwide by supporting the craftspeople effortlessly. I had a vision board that encapsulated all that I was and all I had to grow into; it has been my constant besides my bedside which I kept upgrading as I climbed my years,” says Adnan Ali Tromboo.

Adnan’s house always carried the essence of Kashmir, despite being in a different terrain. His parents had an uncanny ability to subtly instill nuances of traditions during their conversations, along with the belief on taking the Tromboo legacy forward.

A very picturesque amalgamation of all cultures kept the family aware and grounded. However, Adnan was still taking baby steps towards holding the reins of business when he faced the passing of his father, bringing him to the forefront of the family business.

“With an incomplete canvas in front me, it was a scary situation. The unwavering faith and support of my family, friends and associates helped me bridge the gaps in his learning the visions of Tromboo Crafts and implementing them into a story that everyone would like to be a part of,” he says.

Adnan wanted to create easy, global access for any individual who was interested in owning a piece of loving labour that is put into physical form by the admirable artisans.

“While we did have a presence internationally through our long-term clients and retail tie-ups, the changing market scenarios made online as well as offline presence equally important for a brand to make an impact, so this is where I started my journey. I picked up the pieces which my father had left off and got our business the much-needed push by being recognized at national and international forums,” he says. “The recognition helped us foray into other art and crafts festivals globally where we showcased the indigenous craft from Kashmir. We have laid our footprints at Expos in Australia, USA along with tie-ups in countries like Oman, UAE, Qatar and other geographies,” Adnan says.

‘Game Changer’

While the demonetisation of 2016 and implementation of GST in 2017 hit the market in unexpected ways, the year 2018 was a “game changer.” Tromboo Crafts was awarded the Kashmiri Shawl Artware category at the 22nd Handicrafts Export Awards held in Noida, NCR by EPCH (Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts). “Our work has been continuously recognized as being one of India’s Best MSME through the years 2018, 2019 and 2020,” he claims.

Kashmiri Group of North America

He further shares that 2018 witnessed the third community get-together of KGNA (Kashmiri Group of North America) at Los Angeles, CA. Hundreds of Kashmiris living in North America and Canada came together to celebrate, educate and promote the rich culture and traditions of Kashmir. “Tromboo Crafts was one of the largest vendors supplying KGNA memorabilia that beautifully story-scaped Kashmiri heritage as a part of a takeaway from the event for all the attendees who varied across the several Kashmiri communities and age groups,” Andan says. “In the same year, we also stepped into the Australian market by participating in the 9th edition of International Sourcing Expo Australia 2018, held at Melbourne, Victoria. This B2B fair is one of the largest and well-known annual events in Australia for sourcing apparel and textiles. Such events further enhanced our market understanding and gave us a chance to build our brand better.” he says.

Following the streak of making a mark in the developed markets, we held an exclusive show at the Torrance Art Gallery and Convention Centre in Torrance, California. We had a splendid time connecting with the diverse set of individuals at the show while sharing our bit of history and art from this side of the world.

Though Tromboo Crafts had geared up on taking their business beliefs further, they were hit with the speed bump on the creation of new union territory of Jammu & Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370. The long lockdown, put in place to maintain the law-and-order situation in Jammu and Kashmir, impacted the entire lifecycle of their business. “The halt came at a time when the traders and artisans were still struggling to revive from the aftermath of the 2014 floods and the 2016 unrest, demonetization and GST,” he says.

“As they say, where there is a will there’s a way. At Tromboo Crafts, we utilised this time by shaping their online presence through strengthening their digital storefront, as well as building connections by sharing their story of Kashmiriyat on social media platforms. While we started working on our brand presence. It dawned upon us how we had everything in place already, all we needed was the right direction. The whole process took time, but the end result brought together products which were a mix of heritage handicrafts with modern sensibilities.”

Each of these pieces of art had a story behind them which made every buy unique in its own special way. These stories were what made us special and helped us portray all of them on our social media pages.

He says keeping in tune with our ways of working was Pernia’s Pop-up shop where we became one of the first brands from the valley to be placed in their physical stores as well as their website.” Adnan said.

“We decided to turn the tables as soon as the markets started to revive post pandemic. Tromboo Crafts was already a company on records and all it needed was an identity. As the digital presence was something we had already worked upon, we upheld it as our strength and got us registered as a true brand. Our logo and name carry the story of our heritage as well as our promise of being genuine to every individual whose life we touch through our art.” Adnan says.

Tromboo Crafts is and will be a work in progress that will fuel Adnan to keep dreaming on, aiming high, and striving hard to achieve all that he and my support system has dreamed of... to bring Kashmiri Art and Craft on world map!

‘Birth of Maiden Kashmir & Friends Forever’

Every year, Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing few of the inspiring stories—taking the center stage. In an interesting turn of events, three school friends—who like any other strugglers in their early twenties, were trying to pave their career paths. The long Covid lockdown restriction had just started to ease down, when the three decided to catch up after a long haul of 3-years with each being in different states while pursuing their Bachelors.

For Mehr Shaw, Daheem Amin and Shoaib Guttoo, ‘Chai pe Charcha’ was full of reminiscing their golden days at DPS, Srinagar as Commerce Students, how their college days passed and finally what next? There were apprehensions brewing; COVID -19 had changed the trajectory of life, economies, education and what not. The evening passed by, the catch-up was refreshing and the three minds got re-energized and started brainstorming for new ideas and options. After 3 days, Mehr called them, quite excited and asked them to meet at the earliest. She bought with her a tinted glass bottle and quickly poured out an amber-coloured liquid for her friends. Casually, they started sipping from it and gave genuine compliments on the taste and freshness of her juice. Voila! This is it people! And this is how Maiden Kashmir was conceived. Kashmir’s very own first cold-pressed Apple juice with no additives or preservatives.

About 50 years ago, Mehr’s grandfather, Mufti Abdul Gani, an avid nature lover and a health enthusiast was posted in remote regions of Ladakh. Landlocked for 6 months, hope for fresh fruits was but a dream. Bringing together traditional know-how of the elders and experiences of the cultivators and practitioners, with a unique combination of native apple varieties, this juice took shape. The juice was a perfect formula to substitute for the non-availability of fresh fruits.

With a family history of high blood sugar and diabetes, Mufti was very particular that the formula for his juice did not have any artificial sugar but the natural fructose that would give the juice its trademark taste. Three generations down, it had become a cherished family tradition with nostalgia, nutrients and health benefits.

“However, to bring it to the consumers, we had to research from scratch; the know-how of the Food and Beverage industry, do feasibility studies and work out a road map. The easier it sounded, the more daunting the entire process that followed was. The juice had to go through various testing labs within and outside Kashmir to stand upto the standards set by Food Safety & Standards Authority Of India (FSSAI.)

“We even began to make a few variations in the juice for quality control and standardisation while simultaneously working for the licensure,” says Mehr. “For this, we sought help from SKUAST and related professional guidance pertaining to horticulture and food processing.” This journey too, was dotted with hopes, support and contrarily constant discouragement as well on several fronts, from the field and the harsh ground reality.”

She further informs that “time and again we were commented upon as to how our product would collapse due to its non-glossy, non-fizzy appearance and the absence of preservatives. See? This is the extent to which we have become so dependent on artificial processing that a natural product might seem as a complete alien or futile project”. The team, however, was determined on their notion of a ‘no additive’ product.

The team worked relentlessly at making this project a reality and soon added Apple Cider Vinegar and Honey to their high-end quality products. What started off as an energy drink for fitness, sports enthusiasts is now a very likeable product amongst all sorts of conscious buyers.

‘MK’s Journey to Retail Stores’

Maiden Kashmir has currently tied itself into the hospitality sector and is now penetrating into the retail stores across Kashmir and Delhi. Why did you not choose the conventional path of government jobs, corporate.

“Sometimes, in life you do realise where one can fit better. Corporate, for the three of us, was big no. Not that we have something against it or didn’t try, we did! We did have our short stints at corporates, only to return back, drained and disillusioned,” says Daheem.

“Undoubtedly, the job security offered in Government jobs is precious and so would be the perks but the feeling of getting lost into this rut in your early 20’s is more killing”, says Shoaib.

Mehr, who has an academic base in Psychology, Environmental Studies and Entrepreneurship from Ashoka University, one of the leading universities in India, has a different take though. “I have been blessed to be in a very conducive educational setup throughout my life”. She credits her alma mater, Presentation Convent and DPS Srinagar for her positive spirit and enthusiasm. “My quest to explore different subjects and my entrepreneurial endeavors was harnessed at Ashoka, specifically. Being exposed to a multi-disciplinary spectrum and a wide array of experiential learning has widened my horizon.”

With a growing interest and proper mentorship in Environmental Studies, specifically Sustainable Agriculture, the seeds of ‘Maiden Kashmir’ germinated.

“I clearly wanted to do something where I could put in my very best. For Shoaib, who is a Business Studies graduate from a leading college in Bangalore, it was not easy going either after his graduation.” “

I didn’t apply for any college placements, because clearly I knew even if the mundane happened, my creative or explorative sides would be put to rest.” We knew we might fail at this startup or even succeed but the guilt of not trying it out would be even more daunting than a failure. Everyone has their journeys of exploring within and outside.

“I strongly believe we will only be able to choose whether or not a job works for us only when we have some clearer idea of who we actually are as a person. Every job or chore can be fun as long as you know there is a calling from it and you keep hearing it,” says Daheem.

Initiating a startup is not as easy as it seems. There were gruelling phases which we still are experiencing. Food industry comes with a lot of challenges and promises. “Despite being meticulously calculative, issues can pop up out of nowhere, making you believe you are on a precipice with hardly any time to make one retrospect and simultaneously demand swift action,” says Daheem. Thankfully, as a team they are able to back each other in these unprecedented moments. This is when they confront situations which no education or mentor could have prepared them to face. “These situations have made us realise deeply the insecurity that a business may position you in. Nonetheless, we have never felt the urge to back off or reminisce about other professional alternatives. The feeling of being on toes and harping on our abilities and instinct has been a real learning experience which a corporate or a govt job would definitely not provide us with.”

‘Leadership & Women Factor’

For Mehr, working with men mostly be it her team or the male-dominated arena of entrepreneurship has had its own share of a roller coaster ride. “While training to be a psychologist which is my academic forte, I carry a wide experience of having worked in several setups, my experience in my home turf has been relatively different”. While I was mentally prepared for it, there have been uncanny facets of the business, entrepreneurial sector which I am trying to handle articulately,” she says.

“There have been times when one’s efforts and voice get unacknowledged or side-lined especially in a male dominated sector, but my zest has always kept me prodding. I would earnestly encourage more efforts and urge more entrepreneurial ventures from women and become stakeholders in this field to balance the tilt and prove their mettle. Coming from a family of strong, self-made women who were all economically empowered in their own capacities, from shawl weaving to academia and business since the last five generations, I did not have to look outside for my role models.”

She says that the need to create my own space, financial independence and be empowered in my own capacity has been drilled into me since I was learning to walk. To be empowered gives a very different kind of freedom and thrill to every woman, whether in the crafts, agriculture, academia or the business world.

“As a closely knit community, there is a stronger need to create a safe space and a conducive atmosphere where all enterprising women practitioners can mutually grow and holistically develop their own particular niches and fulfill their part in strengthening the local economy of the region,” Mehr says.

‘Women & Economic Prosperity’

The ground reality of Kashmir has its own challenges and constraints but by dint of hard work and optimism, one can overcome obstacles and swim across. “With our own peculiar context, there is a crucial need to recognize women participation in all economic activities from agriculture to horticulture, in handlooms to our local food industries, where they have largely played a non-prominent and behind the scenes role,” she says.

“Maiden Kashmir is currently partnering with the major supermarkets in Srinagar, Kashmir and taking online orders through their website and Instagram handle. They can be reached at www.maidenkashmir.com and https://www.instagram.com/maiden_kashmir/.”

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