In a bid to counter ‘westernization’ and promote Kashmiri culture, a 30-year-old Sarnal girl of South Kashmir’s Islamabad has started her brand of clothes and accessories, which has become a trendsetter within a few months of its journey.
Sama Ashraf Bég was driving on Khanabal-Pahalgam road in 2012 when she spotted a boy wearing a T-shirt saying: ‘I love New York’. The sight set her thinking, wondering about how to chip in with some innovative intervention.
And well before wrapping up her holidays, this native of Islamabad began to consider launching her own brand with a local identity as its USP.
Five years later, on May 2017, Koshur Wear was launched in Islamabad.
“The thing is,” says Sama, who spent most of her life overseas for studies and work, “I had never seen anyone in US promoting my Kashmir in any way.” At the same time, she says, the idea to promote and preserve “our own culture through the brand of clothes struck my mind.” Through her brand, she wanted to promote the Kashmiri culture.
Before returning home to start her own brand, she grew up in Saudi Arabia, getting exposed to its worldview and emphasis on native culture. Later as she went to the US to peruse her Masters in Health Administration from University of Florida, she observed how global brands are being built with or around native sense. Even as she started working as a manager, Healthcare Innovation with Brooks Rehabilitation in US for three years, these observations persisted.
Finally in 2015, she decided to quit her job in the US and move back to Kashmir.
“Besides taking care of my parents,” Sama says, turning thoughtful. “I left US to contribute something good to my society.” Her way of ‘doing good’ was to brand the idea that struck her on Khanabal-Pahalgam Road during her 2012 Kashmir trip.
Back home as she started formulizing her concept of starting a new brand, she faced some glaring obstacles. To begin with, she says, some of her relatives criticized her work.
“They thought doing such kind of business in Kashmir has no scope,” she says, smiling. “But Alhamdulillah, I’m all set now!”
In April 2017, Sama did a soft launch of her brand at a Kashmiri gathering in North America where the Kashmiri diaspora in Canada, America and other counters came together and gave er a boost. A month later, she launched Koshur Wear in her hometown, Islamabad.
“I knew doing something unique always involves risk. But I’ve got a good response. People have really liked my idea,” she says.
What makes her brand different and appealing is how she’s using Kashmiri proverbs on them as a style statement.
For that, Sama has hired graphic designers who design her products by using typical Kashmiri proverbs like, ‘What The Tratth’, ‘Kalle Kharab’, ‘Batte Jinn’, ‘Proud To Be Kashmiri’, etc.
“When any design or proverbs comes to my mind,” she says, “I discuss it with my friends and relatives through a WhatsApp group. I take their feedback and then move forward with that design.”
Sama manufactures her clothes and accessories from Tripura, Tamil Nadu. After finalizing the graphics, she sends them to her team in Tripura and instructs them how to use the graphics and proverbs accordingly on clothes and accessories.
To make the public aware and to provide online services to her customers, Sama has created a website which delivers the products, and till now, she says, around 400 customers have ordered products online.
“I’ve customers from Jammu, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh etc,” Sama says. “My first customer who ordered the product from my website was a Kashmiri living in Dubai. He liked the T-shirt with words ‘What The Tratth’ written on it.”
Among her products are T-shirts, Sweat shirts, Hoodies, Tote Bags for girls, Pin Badges and Bumper Sticks.
Sama has made three categories of designs, which she uses on her products. She has given the name Tratth to first category. This category is for those who’ve typical Kashmiri humor and where she has used proverbs like “What The Tratth”, “Batte Jinn” etc.
Second category is Tengul. This category is for the ‘patriotic’ ones, in which she has used proverbs like “My Heart Belongs To Kashmir”, “I Love My Kashmir”, etc.
And the third category is Tsratth. This category is to run a social campaign and is for those who want to make social change, like “Save Hangul” etc.
Instead of Cart, which one can normally see on every shopping website, she has used Tukurr. While Contact has become Raebti on her website, she has used Maal for Products.
“You are our zuv and our krehn maaz,” Sama has added a sentence in the customer service. “We want to see you happy. (But hey, we’re a start-up, so please be a bit forgiving…wyaen kyah, panun chuk na.)”
Besides making her visitors feel proud of their roots, the usage of typical Kashmiri words is apparently spreading smiles around.
As a logo for her brand, Sama has used a Snow Leopard because it’s native to Kashmir and is an endangered species, found in the high altitude areas of Kashmir. “The elegant confidence of the snow leopard encompasses the philosophy of our brand,” Sama says.
Alongside Koshur Wear, she now wants to open her own health care venture.
“My goal isn’t just to set up my own business,” she says, “but to preserve and promote my culture and to express my own identity as it gives me immense pleasure, especially when I see someone wearing a Koshur Wear with a typical Kashmiri word written on it.”