In Love With Textiles

A widely traveled English woman’s love for fabrics and Kashmiri rugs brings her back to the valley despite dealing with consequences of a stroke she suffered in 2007. Ikhlaq Qadri profiles Jenny, the woman behind two success stories – Shades of India and Kashmirloom.

Jenny Housego

She was passionate about ceramics but landed up in the business of textiles. Though she wasn’t too interested in it at first, but fell in love with textiles and has many inspiring stories to tell. The Englishwomen who now runs a successful upscale business out of India is Jenny Housego. Jenny is a textile historian by education and textile exporter by profession. Stationed in India for the last 22 years, Jenny often visits Kashmir.

“It all unfolded in London when I joined the textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum- the department I worked in later on for some time,” says Jenny.
When Jenny got involved in the textiles fully, she began loving it. Initially, she decided to work on Chinese textiles and made catalogs.

The urge to learn more and more and excel in the field continued till her migration to pre-revolution Iran with her ex-husband David Housego. David was transferred to Iran officially and he motivated Jenny to come along.

The interest in art, specifically in carpets, prompted Jenny to study the trade in detail and visit the population associated with the trade. “I used to spend a lot of time looking at carpets,” says Jenny.The couple stayed there for seven years and traveled across the country.

After her stint in Iran with her husband, who was offered a job in ‘The Economist’ Jenny went back to London and wrote a book ‘Tribal Rugs of Iran’asa reference on the Iranian art. Published in 1975 the book qualified Jenny as a carpet expert.

Her love with textiles inspired Jenny to set up Oriental Rug &Textiles Society of Great Britain.She again later had to move with her husband to Paris for six years. It was again her husband’s job with Financial Times that brought Jenny to  India in 1989. Soon after coming to New Delhi she began writing a book ‘Bridal Durries Of India’ that took her around Punjab. “Punjab at that time was fabulous,” says Jenny.

Jenny has launched two textile export companies and adopted a village of weavers in Haryana. She was the inspiration behind her first company called “Shades of India”. During her travels in Punjab and Haryana she discovered women there possessed a great skill for embroidery. Jenny tried and succeeded in getting skilled women together while sourcing fabrics for the Shades of India. She always loved working with weavers and embroidery people.

Finally in Delhi Jenny met 15-year-old Kashmiri carpet seller Asaf Ali, who was working with his uncle. Asif had gone to see Jenny to show her carpets as she was considered to be an authority on tribal rugs.

After a few years, Asaf met Jenny again in Delhi. Innovative in the craft, she once told Asaf, that he had a difficult job and he should try something different.

Jenny wanted to create a fabric of wool from Kashmir for the Shades of India. She gave samples to Asaf to try and develop them in Kashmir. Jenny, Asaf and his two brothers, Hamid and Zahid started a company – Kashmirloom. “She (Jenny) is my godmother, guru, and friend. She has a great love for the crafts.”

Kashmirloom has around 200 workers now and boasts a turnover of 5.5 crore rupees. The retail network is spread in twenty cities worldwide, including Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, London, Madrid and New York.

“I love Kashmir. I was fortunate to come here,” Jenny says enthusiastically.

In 2007 she suffered a stroke that left her left side paralysed. It has reduced her frequency of visits to the valley but not her love for the Kashmiri rugs.

She is presently in Kashmir nurturing her love for the land and the rugs and is working on new strategies to safeguard the future of the craft of making rugs.

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