6 November 2011 - it was 7 years ago, on a crimson autumn day that Kashmir Box came into being. The journey through these years has been an incredible one, full of highs and lows, success and failure, and above all, of empowerment. After a sojourn of 7 long years, it delights me to say that Kashmir Box has been able to empower over 10000 artisans, 200 producers and 50+ creative entrepreneurs from the remotest corners of Jammu and Kashmir, who eventually a part of our family and enabled them to brand their products the way they had never done before. Being where we are today, the year of 2011 looks reminiscent of dreams and turning them into a beautiful reality.
It was in the summer of August in 2011, when I and my colleague, Kashif Khan thought of taking the arts and crafts of Kashmir to the world. Kashif, who at that time was working with Mercy Corps had through his job witnessed the deplorable plight of Kashmiri artisans and growers and wanted to empower them. We set forth to meet various artisans from different genres of Kashmiri art and were shocked to learn that while their product sold for lakhs of rupees outside the Valley, they were given peanuts as their share. These unsung heroes of the soil were being deprived of basic recognition and timely wages since decades. Skilled they were, but due to lack of education, they could not understand the technicalities of the modern day selling and hence were vulnerable to predatory intermediaries to who grab major chunks of profit out of brilliant masterpieces while the hands of gold behind their making remained empty.
After elaborate brainstorming and discussions of the state of situations in Kashmir, the plight of artisans, Kashif and I decided on an avenue which would connect the craftsmen and growers operating at the grass-root level to people across the globe – technology. The idea was simple and unprecedented. Having realized that it was actually the intermediaries who were depriving the artisans of their rightful shares, we decided to redefine the supply chain by creating an online enabling platform wherein the craftsmen would sell directly to the customer, price their product according to their own desires and earn a better and timely given share of profit. What was more, the artisans would after centuries sell in their own name and receive their due recognition and respect. And hence we went online with the arts, crafts and other products of Kashmir. Making a website was not that big a deal, for I had just graduated in Computer Sciences and took the task to myself.
Nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. It took months together to organize, to come together, to work as a team on our newly found passion and dream. Working in net cafes, restaurants and places alike, it was on 6th November 2011 that we registered our website, www.kashmirbox.com and went live.
As they say, the ‘Firsts’ in life are always the most memorable ones! Be it your first day of college, your first job or your first major breakthrough; you may move on to greater things in life but you never forget the feeling of your first. The first products to go live for us were books on and about Kashmir followed immediately by handicrafts. And again, it was a very tedious job to bring the artisans to understand the concept of online, the virtual shop. Many artisans that we met turned us down, were reluctant to participate in the new world of e-commerce while most of them were simply dejected and had lost faith in the system that promised their upliftment but did nothing on the ground. However, there always are people, who never lose faith and are always ready to explore new paths. I and Kashif finally met some of these sorts. The first artisans that showed the willingness to work along were the Haneef Brothers of Walnut Wood Fame, the award-winning Paper Mache maestro Jan Sahab and the genius of Crewel Art - Gowhar Sahab. Up went walnut wood décor, furniture, paper mache décor, crewel rugs and wall hangings on the website.
Hence we embarked on a beautiful journey with more and more orders pouring in with each passing day. People from across the world were curious to see more of Kashmir and we in the process developed our store full of everything Kashmir has to offer.
The first year was one of struggle. The first year we did not get as many orders as we expected. However, Kashif and I would cover the entire process of sourcing, procuring, quality check, packaging, and shipping. Being new, we understood we needed to develop the trust in our customers. The major breakthrough was the mentorship of Mr. Ishfaq Mir. Under his guidance and expertise, Kashmir Box flourished a little more. He is our mentor whose ideas never fail! At the end of the first year, we set up a small office in the heart of downtown. Meanwhile, Kashif had to leave Kashmir Box to pursue his longtime dream of E-Resolute. It was hard for me but I decided to continue on this path and found respite in the guidance of my capable mentor, Ishfaq Mir.
Being familiar with the story of Kashmir Box’s inception, let me briefly take you through the highs and lows of our being.
It gives me immense delight when I see happy artisans and growers all around me and each purchase from Kashmir Box uplifting their standard of living and contributing to their delight. It gives me equal satisfaction when a customer makes an informed decision and learns about the craftsmanship before purchasing a product and I am proud that we have been able to facilitate this. There is a still a long path ahead and we will happily tread it, as long as we are being the harbingers of joy in somebody’s life – be it a customer waiting for his/her favorite piece to arrive or an artisan whose world revolves around the art form he has mastered throughout his life.
To our 7 years of being and more to come, I wish for your support and best wishes!