Amid lockdowns followed by global coronavirus pandemic, restrictions, internet shutdowns and political instability in the Kashmir region, scores of youth and entrepreneurs in the valley are turning this challenging situation into a “blessing in disguise” for themselves.
“We have to change our story,” established businessman and executive member Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) Sajid Shah, told Greater Kashmir.
“We have had so much happening in Kashmir over the years. We waited and we continued to suffer socially, physically, mentally and economically as well,” he says. “It is time we do the rethinking. We set our institutions right. We bring transparency and accountability into our system and we contribute back to society.”
Shah, who runs his hotel, Comrade Inn at Srinagar’s RajBagh area, has been playing an instrumental role in providing dedicated space to the young entrepreneurs, artisans and young minds for exploring their areas of interest.
“It is so heart-warming to see our young generation coming forward with some innovative and extraordinary initiatives and I am always open to provide them a helping hand in this regard,” he says. “We have to learn to grow and evolve with each other. Seeing each other’s mistakes and strengths turn us into better professionals.” “Government rather than claiming to be part of the hand holding mechanism should make the process of service delivery hassle-free. They (government) should ensure to put in place a full proof mechanism where there is no corruption and no kickbacks. Then only our youth can excel and stop expecting government jobs.”
Comrade Inn remained abuzz with business activities under Posh-e-Phulai—an event which claims to give a vibrant platform to the budding women entrepreneurs and business enthusiasts.
For Asma Muzaffar Kongwani, owner of Aswa Organics, Instagram initially proved to be a great starter. Kongwani says Aswa Organics is a purely organic, home-made brand dealing with soaps, aloe vera gels, face packs and other skincare products.
Asma, an MBA graduate got the idea for this start-up two years ago, while she was visiting a friend in a neighbouring state. “I was intrigued by the whole process of soap making and she guided me in it. The lack of organic skincare products in Kashmir valley motivated me in establishing this small start-up,” she says.
“I started in July 2019 through Instagram with the handle @aswa.organics. The range at that time consisted of several soaps for different skin issues. However, not a week had passed that the internet was shut down completely for about more than 6 months. This affected our new brand a lot as the entire business setup was handled online.” She says during these months, not many products were sold. However, her friends, and family were very supportive in difficult times.
“After the ban on the internet was lifted, it was tough to get back on track, however I did my best to gather new customers. The products were appreciated a lot by customers and I received many positive reviews. These reviews gave me confidence and a boost to promote my products on instagram more and more,” she says.
“Many new customers are joining us. It is sometimes good to hear from customers when they give up artificial and go for organic and natural products made in Kashmir,” she says.
Another woman entrepreneur, Shameen Altaf, who runs her lacouturbyhameenaliza, says that being a new mother it wasn’t easy for her to take this call but she decided to start off her own business in the clothing sector.
“This is something that I have always wanted to follow in life. Post marriage people confine themselves but I believe we should not, we should live our dreams and set an example for our kids,” says Altaf.
Another entrepreneur, Munazah, founder, Zayaan Organics—a skin and hair care brand based in Srinagar, said, she started her brand in 2019 and it was doing extremely well.
“I as a teenager faced some skin concerns and got rid-of them only by the home-made-organic blends that my mother would make for me. This inspired me to do a very deep research on these organic products which are very beneficial and harmless,” she says. “I started my own business venture and it is doing really well.”
“The key driving force was the passion towards it and also my family who pushed me only to do the best. My husband, who has been like a pillar to me in all the decision making and a true support system,” she says.
Young entrepreneurs, Azra Banday and Rabia Yousuf launched Sajwun, a start-up to provide quality services in home décor. She says that it was their dream to go out into the wild market and bring people to a new experience when people buy and try services and products. “It was back in 2018 when me and my co-founder nurtured this idea of starting up a business where we could bring on board products never seen and thought of.”
After some serious brainstorming sessions, they finally landed in China and started the business of bedsheets and quilts. “We personally went to the country of import to get first-hand experience which is very important for business when I got the confidence we dived into purchasing and importing our products and rest is history,” they say. “We have survived COVID like situations before as we are under constant disturbances in terms of business environment here in Kashmir.” They say being online and not physically in the market helped a big deal because it didn’t incur any running costs like to their business.
A young entrepreneur of Srinagar—who runs Pinkbbygal, says “we started this business because we are in an age where we have many ideas but we can’t find proper ways to implement them. We wanted to start something which could dwell for some time.” “We wanted to grow more and learn about things, so few months ago, an idea smitten my mind that, I wanted to do something in which I could explore about my own creativity.”
In order to grow and learn things happening around the world, the entrepreneur didn’t get any idea instantly. “I saw an Instagram profile based in the UK. She was a teenager earning $10k per week. We gave it a thought, we started researching how to start a business as a teenager. We explored many pages, accounts, videos. Then we finally decided that we are going to do something which would be interesting, creative and which would work. When people in the US and UK could work as teenagers, why can’t we? We gave it a thought.”
The young entrepreneur says “we didn’t have much to invest, so we saved a part of our budget which we used to get. And started from scratch, In Kashmir, we don’t have many resources, the material isn’t available everywhere. So we ordered it online and meanwhile we made an Instagram page and started learning from everyone who made handmade lip-glosses.”
Young designer and organiser, Posh-e-Phulai, Nabeela Wani, says Posh-e-Phulai is an organization that provides a platform for women entrepreneurs. “Every year we give an opportunity to young women entrepreneurs to showcase their work,” he says.
“We have been doing this for the past three years but the Posh-e-Phulai 2021 spring festival was very special as it was being held after two years,” she says. “From homemade chocolate makers to Organic health and make up products, from Pakistani suits to home decor it was pleasure to give these strong women a platform. It’s very inspiring to see young women taking their own stand in life and doing what makes them happy,” she says, adding “We believe in being strong women and raising strong women.”