A professional web designer was so passionate about reviving crocheting that she gave up her job and made a successful venture using the internet to sell. She employs almost ten girls now and is training others for free, reports Mir Suneem
In Srinagar’s periphery, a young girl sits in a room crocheting a colourful floral baby blanket using a woollen yarn and a wide wooden crochet hook. Her fingers continue weaving and eyes gleam with joy and accomplishment as she displays some of her extraordinarily designed crochet items that occupy every corner of her room.
It was her creative artistic sense that led her to take up her career in Crochet designing to showcase her talent and bring innovation to the art by adding more patterns and designs to it.
Najam Qari, a 28-year-old crocheter lives with her family in Zakura area of Srinagar. She has done her schooling locally from Gulistan-i-Atufal and earned a diploma in Information Technology (IT) from SSM College of Engineering and Technology, Pattan.
Right from her childhood, Najam had immense interest in designing and art and she would always get attracted to handcrafted items. “I used to sit with my aunt for hours to watch her crocheting beautiful designs and learned the basics from her,” she said.
After college, she joined a private company called Mutnauq Technologies Private Limited to work as a web designer. Later, they outsourced her services to another company, Snowflakes Private Limited that honed her skills as a designer as she worked on international projects and dealt with the smallest details of colours and pixels in designing.
During her job, she came across some European crochet designs online that fascinated her to the extent that she wanted to adopt them. “I followed European tutorials and bought written patterns in Russian, French and Spanish and literally translated those languages word by word to learn their technique of designing,” Najam said. “Later, I used to try and practice those designs during my free time.”
When she showed her mother and aunt the new and improvised designs she had crocheted, they were impressed and encouraged her to continue.
Soon, she realized that crochet designing does not vary much from web designing. With the concept and technique almost the same, the only difference lies in the medium as the former is done with hands and the latter is done on a computer using a mouse.
“At the back of my mind, I knew that I wasn’t meant to do a nine-to-five job. Instead, I wanted to make a variety of handcrafted designs and transmit my sense of creativity and uniqueness in them,” a confident Najam said. “So I wanted to venture into a field where I could materialize my ideas. I even thought of quitting my job to get completely into crocheting, but afraid of losing my financial security, I stopped.”
In December 2015, Najam left her job due to some health issues, which eventually opened ways for her and provided her a direction to fulfil her desires of working independently and choosing her real career. She did freelancing as a web designer for a few months and simultaneously continued to learn from online tutorials of European crochet craft designing.
Sitting at home, she refused to be a couch potato. “I utilized a good amount of time in researching about crochet, its techniques, raw materials and equipment used in it and bought that either online or from wholesalers to start up this thing,” Najam said.
By March 2016, she had decided that she is going to make crocheting a full-time affair by doing away with all thoughts of job or employment. Earlier, her family thought that a stable government job would be more secure and appropriate for her but Najam was adamant and soon convinced her family too.
The best support she got was from her mother who never questioned her decisions. “Initially, I thought she was doing it as a hobby and should opt for a job, but when I saw her determination towards crochet and the innovation she brings in her designs, I realized that she is meant for it,” her mother said. “I feel proud when I see her working hard to meet her orders and growing her business day by day.”
Najam began with making small items like caps, socks, mufflers and table covers for her family and relatives who loved her designs and insisted her to make more. Some of them suggested her to display her products online to attract customers and in later 2016, she created an official business page on Instagram by the name “craftcart_k” for marketing her products online.
In the beginning, she used to have second thoughts and was uncertain if she has chosen the right field. “It took time for people to accept and buy my products. When I was making new things, a lot of products remained dead stock for a long time. I also feared that my products may not get sold but I kept working and I knew this is what I have to do and give my time and efforts to,” Najam said.
“As soon as I started my online page, orders came up real quick and people loved my products. I was overwhelmed with such tremendous response, and it proved that when you work hard, everything falls in the right place.”
Three years later, Najam has over 2000 followers on Instagram and many of them are her regular customers who buy her products every now and then.
A few months after the unrest of 2016, Najam started her business; it was very difficult for her to cope up with the situation but she didn’t let that hinder her work. She continued to make products with whatever raw material was available with her. She managed to get orders over phone specifying the details the customers wanted in their products.
“Crochet is a flexible art. It gives you the liberty to experiment with the designs by changing and twisting yarns and colours among themselves and creating various patterns through it. One can make any product with any design,” explained the master artisan now. “Many people mistake crochet with knitting but these two are quite different in terms of tools used. Knitting is done using various types of needles whereas crochet is done using a single crochet hook. However, these hooks come in different sizes.”
While talking about the high points of crochet, Najam said it is a fancy and decorative art, easy to learn, fast and used to make many different things. Apart from this, it has health benefits too. People suffering from anxiety and depression can keep themselves busy with this art and reduce stress.
She uses wool, acrylic wool, pure wool, silk, cotton and its other types which she buys either from the local market or online shopping sites to make various crochet products. Unlike other crocheters, Najam provides a colossal variety in terms of products and their designs. She started off by making caps and mufflers and later added foreign designed items like Russian style cowls and neck warmers too.
Najam also makes blankets, bedcovers, cushion covers, sweaters, shrugs, socks, tissue box covers, slippers, mittens, baskets, mobile covers, organizers, hooded cowls, grocery bags, jewellery, stoles, shawls, wraps, cardigans, hooded cardigans and mostly kids’ items like baby coats, booties, hoodies, baby cocoons or baby bags (which is a new launch), baby boots, baby slippers, caps, baby skirts, ponchos and mufflers.
“During winters, the flow of orders is so high that most of the things go out of stock within no time. Many people still can’t accept that these many products can be made with crochet. I even get ideas from my customers. They sometimes demand certain things that I could have never thought of and put so much trust and confidence in me and my talent that I feel obliged to fulfil their demands,” she said.
But what makes this all distinct is that Najam is a first-generation entrepreneur. Her father is no more. She lives with her mother, a government employee, and two brothers, one is an architect, the other a journalist. They all have supported her.
Apart from her family, Najam gets even more support and encouragement from her in-laws. “I got engaged two years ago and I feel very fortunate that my in-laws love my work,” she said. “They are equally proud and encourage me to move forward with the same zeal and zest.”
Investing her own money to buy the raw material, Najam works on her orders at home. “My room is my office now. I manufacture my products and stock them here. My clients either buy the readymade products I post on Instagram or ask for changes in the designs according to their tastes; I love to cater to their demands.”
While hand-made products require enormous labour and hard work and consume several working days, they are obviously expensive. But Najam doesn’t fleece the customers. She feels that a reasonable and affordable price attracts more customers.
The other interesting facet of Najam’s operations is that she has not confined this art to herself but trains other girls too. Currently, she has ten girls in her team whom she has trained and now they work with her to meet customer orders. This has helped her to create a cluster and make her an employer.
“I used to get many calls and messages from young girls requesting me to teach them crochet designs,” Najam remembers. “The girls approach me from various places of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Pulwama, Nowgam and other places; some of them were too passionate and determined to learn that I couldn’t resist but take them in my team.”
An undergraduate, Ambreen Ali from Natipora is one of her team members. One day, she accidentally met Najam in a shop; Ambreen’s work here impressed the other. “Najam Di readily agreed to my request when I asked her to teach me more. It has been three months since I am working with her, and in this span of time, I have learned a lot,” she said.
Atifa, another trainee, belongs to Baramulla and has been working with Najam for the past one year and has crafted beautiful designs alongside her. “I live at my uncle’s home in Lal Bazar, Srinagar and was lucky to get introduced to Najam Di through one of my relatives. When she saw my dedication towards this work, she took me in her team.” Atifa said.
For Najam, art is something that should not be restricted but shared with others. The more people learn it, the more it gets rich. “I feel blessed to get this opportunity where I can help other people earn their livelihood,” Najam said. “It makes me really happy. I never charge someone who wants to learn. I believe art isn’t something that should be charged for. Girls learn from me and during that process only, start working.”
During various exhibitions, many elderly women impressed by her talent and astonished to see such great variety got inclined to the level that they also requested her for lessons. Interestingly, some of them remained in her contact for several months to learn the craft.
Najam is very particular and choosy regarding her designs and patterns. She makes sure that her originality doesn’t fade away from her products during the time of heavy demand and production. Moreover, she is in a continuous struggle to make something new and ideal through this artwork.
“My goal is to bring out a unique and indigenous product of crochet every year in the market and I along with my team members work very hard to achieve that. Last summer, we launched crochet jewellery; this year we wish to launch crochet clutches and pouches,” said Najam.
As per Najam, she has reached a point where she earns enough profit to meet her expenses and no longer feels any need to do some job or get into some other field. She has flourished her business “beyond expectations”.
Crochet craft designing is not a new thing in Kashmir. People here especially women were doing it for quite a long. However, not many commercialized this art.
Earlier, people used to make basic crochet patterns mostly using crochet hook of a single size to weave table covers, cushion covers, bedcovers, caps, and just a few other products with basic designs usually meant for their family members. But some new-generation artists like Najam have revived this art using their immense potential by incorporating innumerable patterns and designs and marketing them online to attract customers.