I always wanted to be in business. I graduated in commerce and dreamed of being a successfulArifa Jan IKC entrepreneur. My opportunity came when the Crafts Development Institute (CDI) opened in Srinagar.I graduated in Craft Management & Entrepreneurship. The diploma project I worked on was the declining tradition of felt woolen rug, locally popular as namda. It was my heartiest wish to help the artisans to improve their standard of living.
In my research I discovered that export percentage of namdas had dropped to shocking 98% in just a decade! This decline was directly related to a decline in quality inherently resulting from the poor wages earned by artisans. The wool used was a blend of wool and cotton with not so much of strength and quality. Whatever I had learned in CDI, I implemented it to the core and started manufacturing Namdas using pure merino wool. Also, for coloring I chose azo free dyes, which are environment friendly and don’t bleed.
My first breakthrough came in 2010 when I participated in Craft Bazar at Delhi. I went with 60 namdas of my making and was overwhelmed by the positive response. It was a total sellout! All of my 60 namdas were sold. I was so happy. Since then there has been no looking back.
I have been working to set up a women-only cooperative with artisans as shareholders so that everyone benefits from the revival of this dying craft and where the profits will go back to the group. Artisans in Kashmir have always been given unfair wages. They are our golden hands, they deserve much more than they get. For now I am working with 25 workers, including 12 women, and I pay them three times the amount they usually get. Also, I am working on a project that involves 28 underprivileged woman that aims to empower them and live a dignified life.My company, Incredible Kashmiri Crafts, has helped crafts persons of a dying art earn a sustainable livelihood. It is a very fulfilling job for me as I get to be a part of reviving the rich Kashmir heritage at the same time creating better opportunities for the working artisans.
Kashmir has witnessed a huge change. People are more accepting now. There was a time when no one would have digested a women being an entrepreneur but now it has become like an everyday news. More women are stepping up and taking their work upfront. Now it is more than just marriage that people have their minds on. Girls want to do something, achieve something and then get married. Even the thinking of men has now changed. Now, I can think of becoming someone, before becoming someone's wife. And it is true for every woman. You can be anything you want. No one can stop you from being you.
Click to Explore the beautiful handcrafted Namdas by Arifa Jan.