Kashmir Indepth

These youth help artisans to revive Kashmir’s dying handicrafts art

Faizan Ahmad
Srinagar March 25 (KINS): Arif Irshad, a 29-year-old documentary filmmaker has been shooting Kashmiri handicrafts for different e-commerce websites. After seeing dying handicrafts art of Kashmir and sufferings of artisans, he along with a group of three more youth joined hands and decided to promote various categories of art.
In 2018 they formed an e-commerce website ‘Kashmir Origin’, where they promote Kashmiri handicrafts and provide a platform for artisans to sell their products. They also help farmers who grow saffron, walnuts, and almonds in the valley to sell their products and get better returns.
“We have our own e-commerce website. Hundreds of artisans are associated with us. We provide online support and worldwide platform to artisans to promote their products. We also help these artisans how to give a modern touch to their art so they have a better market worldwide,” Arif, who hails from Srinagar’s Natipora area, said.
“I have shoot 20,000 products for different e-commerce websites. I have seen the sufferings of Kashmiri’s artisans. They used to tell me about their savings and how it was difficult for them to manage things at home,” he told news agency Kashmir Indepth News Service (KINS).
Three years ago, he along with Maurifat Ahmad, Adil Ahmad and Sameer Ahmad all below 30’s, started ‘Kashmir Origin’. Except, Arif, other co-founders are from artisans families.
“My other partners know what difficulties artisans face in Kashmir. Our main aim is to review Kashmir arts so that artisans get better returns,” he said.
There are 2.5 lakh people associated with handicrafts including carpets, papier-machie, shawls, wood carving and copper in Kashmir, who are finding it difficult to feed their families.
Kashmir’s handicrafts are famous due to quality and are manmade. Gulf and European countries form a major customer base for Kashmiri carpets and Pashmina shawls. Presently, handicrafts earn around Rs.1700 crores as foreign exchange every year to J&K.
However, Kashmir’s art has suffered due to it being unorganized, poor exposure to newer technologies, absence of proper marketing. Even products produced in other parts of the world are branded as Kashmiri handicraft items.
Many artisans associated with these arts have switched to other jobs. Shawls made in other countries are being branded and sold as Kashmiri products.
Elaborating how they are helping artisans, Arif said intermediaries were creating obstacles for artisans to grow their business.
“These intermediaries were not giving artisans true benefits,” he says. 
“We are making artisans direct contact with customers. We make artisans go live or make video calls to show customers how various handicraft items are produced. We put their items on top e-commerce websites where they get better returns. The aim is to help these artisans and revive the Kashmiri art.”
Arif, who has done his MBA in Tourism Management besides PG Diploma in Mass Communication and Journalism said, “We sell Kashmiri handicraft items on various platforms besides dry-fruits including saffron, walnut, almonds, dried vegetables, which is locally produced here.”
They have also hired tailors who stitch traditional Kashmir Pheran and are then sold across the world.
Pheran is the traditional outfit for both males and females in the valley and is used during winters. In the present times, it has gained popularity in various countries to keep people warm during cold weather.
Arif believes Kashmir handicraft items have a huge market if given a proper promotion. “They need a proper promotion. Artisans need a platform where they can sell their products. Customers get satisfied when they see how artisans produce these items and purchase them without involvement of intermediaries. We make artisans go live and directly interact with customers.”
They also place a Geographical Indication (GI) tag on Kashmir’s shawls. “Artisans produce Kashmir shawls of pure quality here but there are some people who purchase shawls in other parts and then branded as Kashmiri shawls and cheating with customers. To stop this practice, we place a GI tag on our products,” he said.
GI tags are indications which identify a product as originating in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.
Sharing his experience how Kashmir Origin has benefitted artisans since 2018, a 45-year-old shawal weaver from Srinagar’s Eidgah area Abdul Rashid Khanday said their products have got global recognisation.
“People across the world know our products. Once our products are sold, money is immediately coming to artisans which was not the case earlier. We are in direct touch with customers and there is no scope to exploit artisans,” he said.
He said Kashmir Origin has reduced the role of intermediaries. (KINS)

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