Kashmir and Jammu being in volatile states makes it tricky to find work options. The choices are limited to a low income government assignment or traditional time-tested business models in the handicraft and tourism industry.
Digressing from these is both an economic and social taboo. Most of the first-generation entrepreneurs (Kashmir’s third generation conflict children) have broken the shackles in pursuit of their dreams. This has gone outside the conventional within the region. Contrary to the Silicon Valley stereotypical artistes with billion dollar valuation dreams and life in the fast lane, this generation is keen on getting their ventures working with their shrewdness and resolve. Here are four startups pursing their dreams out of the common capsule and making their own trails.
Beenish Bhat, 30
As the owner of a branded boutique, Beenish quit her bank job after sitting behind a desk for two years. Deciding to start her own boutique in 2012, the self-taught fashion designer invested ₹15 lakh and opened shop in Srinagar that is branded Panache.
In the three years she has been open for business she has carved out a niche with discerning customers willing to pay a premium for her products. A customized suit at her boutique will range from Rs 2,500 to Rs 25,000. “I never believed that one needs to have hordes of customers to be a successful business enterprise,” says Bhat. With her business based in Srinagar, Mumbai and Delhi she have 5 employees on a project basis, her mantra for success is a modern packaging of “honesty, quality and style”.
Bhat, a mother of two had the support of her husband and her father to pursue the business idea. She continues to participate in fashion exhibitions through India gaining practice and familiarity on the fast changing industry. She is planning to release her own fashion brand in a few years.
Saba Shafi, 28
Originally from Seelu village in Sopore which is 57 Km from Srinagar North Kashmir, Saba was weary of a job at International Data Corporation, a global market intelligence firm, in Gurgaon. Come 2011 she decided it was time to try something new.
A graduate from Zakir Husain College in Delhi, with an MBA from Jagan Institute of Management Studies, Shafi ended her tour of Europe, Africa, and South East Asia at her sister’s home in London. Here she enrolled for makeup art courses in, among other institutes, lllamasqua School of Makeup Art, and London School of makeup art to study her childhood interest. After completion of her professional courses, her popularity grew via word of mouth referrals at nuptial functions of family and friends. With people getting in touch with her on social media, in summer of 2013 she started setting up official contracts. She is now operating out of Kashmir and Delhi.
Her charges range from RS 15,000 in Kashmir to Rs 30,000 in Delhi. Destination weddings can range from Rs 50,000 to RS 1 Lakh. In addition she also holds workshops in Delhi and hirers teams on a project basis. Her accomplishment has inspired many women to enter the field in the valley. “Every bride is a celebrity for me and I want to live in prayers and memories of people,” she says.
Suhail Rashid Shah, 29,
While pursuing an MBA in the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom in 2008, Shah toured London severally on an open roof bus. This experience opened him to the business opportunity. Shah left his sales and marketing job at Debenhams UK to return to the valley and start an open roof hop on hop off bus, the first of its kind in Kashmir.
Alongside his friend Arshid Mehraj Khan, they toiled on his dream project and succeeded in getting two 50-seater buses on the Srinagar roads. They invested 1.7 Crore and have employed 6 employees. Branded as the “Kashmir Hop On Hop Off” buses, they ply the 16.5Km section of the scenic drive, Foreshore road on the banks of the Dal Lake and the foothills of the Zabarvan mountains in Srinagar, encountering on the way, a botanical garden and the famous Nishat Bagh. During winter the buses also take the route of the world famous skiing resort of Gulmarg and Pahalgam. “Business is picking up and next year we expect footfalls of tourists as well as locals to increase,” says Shah. He states that over 2,500 tourists and locals used the services the past three months.
Fahad Jeelani, 29
Not interested in joining his family business of traditional handicraft shops, Jeelani an IT professional with an engineering degree from Dehradun Institute of Technology, was working at wipro in Bengaluru when he chose to go back to to Srinagar his hometown. Acquiring a contractor’s license. Jeelani got bored with government projects and then he came to the concept of mobile restaurant called Meals on wheels. If successful it could be converted or morphed into a chain of restaurants later. Earlier this year he restructured his truck, a Tata 407, to include a kitchen, parking on the lively Residency road in LAl Chowk. Though his family members were not too thrilled with the idea, he said they get an average of 100 customers daily.
He is in the process of fitting out another truck to accommodate educational institutes of the valley. In fact one of his patrons put up a food truck in an alternative part of the valley. Saying he is not afraid of competition, Jeelani also stated that it was gratifying to be an inspiration. “Nobody from outside will come to help us, we have to do things ourselves.”