It was a mélange of colours on display at the 6th annual international buyer-seller meet literally. Saima Bhat talks to buyers from across the world to get snippets of their experience and the idea of market for Kashmir’s handmade products abroad
Riding on a whopping 1700 crore worth of exports in 2014 the handicraft industry of Kashmir is eyeing to take the exports even further this year: towards the realization of this goal and promotion of ‘Brand Kashmir’. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) held a three day ‘Kashmir Expo’ at SKICC (May30-June 1).
At this 6th International buyer-seller meet around 70 potential buyers from over 21 different countries interacted with handicraft makers from the Kashmir valley.
The ‘initiative’ to garner a larger market for the handicraft industry of Kashmir and be able to contribute at a much larger level in India’s overall export of handicrafts; was launched in 2007 and the initiative has served its purpose to a large extent.
Handicrafts and fashion related businessmen from around the world have been selling Kashmiri products for decades now but without any interaction with Kashmiri artisans and sellers.
The event provides a platform to such people who come and delve into the intricacies of the art and purchase without having to rely on a middle man or a third party for that matter.
Like Micheal, who runs an art gallery in California, USA, “I have been selling Kashmiri rugs at my gallery without having the faintest idea about the place and/or the artisans”.
Michael holds Kashmiri rugs at par with rugs from other parts of the world and is hopeful that he will be able to close in on some deals before he leaves.
Despite a cap on the number of visits (maximum three only) a particular buyer can make, there are buyers who have already exhausted their two visits in consecutive meets and are quite happy to be back here in Kashmir. Even some had come along with their families.
Serean Unsal is from Istanbul Turkey, and has been buying Kashmiri Shawls and stoles for more than 10 years now.
“This is the sixth time I’m visiting Kashmir, my second visit to the expo. I am looking forward to widen the range of purchases for this time around,” Unsal says.
While calling the artisan as ‘golden hands’, Unsal is contemplating to invest into Papier-mâché products, bags and other accessories, “My orders worth USD 300000, will be an increase of around 200 per cent compared to my earlier purchases.”
The Papier-mâché products remain in huge demand abroad, particularly in Europe, during Christmas. But regarding the Kashmir products that he is buying from last one decade now, he says, “Art should be developed more in Kashmir. I wish if more of modern designs and technology gets introduced otherwise the Kashmir products are doing well in our markets”.
“Chain stitches are there from a long time, I mean same designs but I believe if artisans could introduce Picasso designs, as they are preferred more for its modern look,” feels Unsal.
The biggest group in the Expo was from Tunisia and Turkey. “We are a bridge for Kashmiri products as the products go to Europe through us,” Unsal claimed.
Kashmiri products, particularly the rugs and carpets, have been described by the buyers from Turkey as cheaper alternatives to the famous ‘Persian carpets’ which are also manufactured in Turkey.
Gulgun Soysaldi, a fashion store owner from Turkey, says the carpets from Kashmir match the Turkish ones in color blend and durability.
“It’s heartening to see that despite facing a tough competition from the local market Kashmiri carpets and rugs are doing very good.” She adds, “Kashmiri artisans should go for more simple designs as they sell more than the shawls which are fully embroidered.”
Another buyer from Turkey, named Alp however feels that the Kashmiri carpets need to be packaged and advertised better to be ready for the competition abroad, “They do not lack quality but advertisement has become an inseparable part of business globally. There are very less people who understand what Kashmir made products are and how they are different from others.”
Moreover the ‘Expo’ is slowly but surely breaking the ‘replica’ market operating from Amritsar in Punjab and some other parts of India.
Machine made products are being sold in the name of Kashmiri handicrafts in parts of India, including the capital city New Delhi.
Alizebeth Kanth, runs a store of handcrafted furniture and luxury home décor in Los Angeles, United States.
“I am a frequent visitor to India and I have often found people trying to sell machine made products. I don’t get cheated because I know my trade well but people do get cheated,” Kanth says.
Kanth stresses on having a hologram or a tagging system to maintain the originality of Kashmiri products.
Moreover the expo has been able to bring silk to limelight again. The silk produced in Kashmir, with the advent of affordable wide range of fabric, had lost its sheen over the years.
Like M Nazih Tawakol, from Eygpt says he has placed an order for minimum 25 meters of silk carpets in this expo. “I am really impressed with the fine quality of silk that is why I didn’t waste much time to finalize my deals.”
Tawakol was for the first time in Kashmir but he is planning to visit Kashmir again next year along with his family and more business associates. He says, “I am into import and export of carpets and I was purchasing Kashmiri carpets as well. But the orders were not that huge. Now I am planning to place more orders for the Kashmiri handmade silk carpets.”
There were some silk carpets in the Expo which could be folded like a handkerchief that was what impressed Tawakol more.
In the Expo 2015, Tawakol said all handicraft items attracted him and it became difficult for him to resist that attraction. “I am stressing only on carpets because that is my business. I must tell you Kashmiri carpets are doing well in my country in comparison to the carpets from Iran and Afghanistan. Iranian carpets are too expensive and not many people can afford it. But Kashmiri carpets come at a better cost with good quality and longer durability.”
Seconding Tawakol’s thoughts, Sameh Al Nakhebi says, “I am one among the biggest exporters of UAE and I would like to add after Persian carpets, it is Kashmiri carpets that have good quality and market.”
Franchasqa, owner ‘Live style designs’ furniture stores in Los Angles, is in Kashmir for the first time. Back in her country she runs two stores of beddings and furniture.
She says, “I had placed a sample order for pillow covers but I am yet to get satisfied with the order as the seller, has used a low grade of material on the back of pillow covers. I can’t compromise with the taste of my people because I am known for my brand.”
“So I am working out with him because I don’t want to leave this order. I was really impressed with the neat and clean art work on the front side,” says Franchasqa. “I already started with two deals and booked an order for a 40 high cube container,” she adds blissfully.
Besides that Franchasqa was not impressed with this Expo for providing them, exporters’ limited options to choose. They should have added more stalls, she shares.
Rafiq Ahmad, a Kashmiri born settled in Germany was quick to add, “If state Government is really interested in promoting brand Kashmir, they should work on the issue like travel advisories so that more people would feel like coming to Kashmir, which will automatically promote this industry.”