Reviving broken bonds

The third Buyer Seller meet in Srinagar is attracting good number of international buyers besides reviving the tradition when buyers would visit Kashmir. A Kashmir Life report.

There was a time when most of the foreign customers would come to Kashmir to buy handicrafts made here. Besides doing business here they would enjoy the natural beauty of the valley, combining work and leisure. At the end of the visit, a buyer would return satisfied and relaxed. A cool holiday on a business trip cannot be found everywhere and Kashmir is among the few places where business and leisure go hand in hand.

Purchasing Kashmir handicrafts here has always been a different experience for a buyer as he would see the artisans and the work that goes into making of the products. “A customer once saw a Papier-m?ch? product I had made. She wanted to see who had made it. The dealer accompanied her to my house, where she saw me working. She was so amazed and baffled that she gifted me a shirt,” says Ali Naqash, a Papier-m?ch? artist from Srinagar. The skill on display would make a lasting impression. A buyer would come again and again, he says.

However that changed after 1990s. As the buyers stopped coming to Kashmir, most of the business shifted their base to Delhi and other places. They buyers would purchase Kashmir handicrafts from places like Delhi. This created a disconnect between the artisans, sellers and the buyers. And trade suffered.

What used to be a round the year trade, became seasonal. The whole chain from an artisan to a buyer was disturbed. The development had a severely adverse impact on the handicraft sector in the state. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry realised it and the made efforts to rejuvenate the artisan-seller-buyer link. The KCCI initiated the buyer seller meet; where-in buyers are invited to come to Kashmir and interact with traders directly.

“The aim of organising buyer seller meets in the state is to get buyers to the source, wherein they see the workshops and places where it is done. Here they would interact with the traders, sellers and artisans directly,” says Nazir A Dar, President KCCI. The buyer seller meets are sponsored by the union ministry of commerce.
The first meet was organised in 2007 and the second in 2009. The third is being held from May 14, this year along the banks of world famed Dal Lake at SKICC Srinagar.

“The Buyer Seller meet is a very good thing for promoting trade,” says Dr A M Mir, who owns Pure Wave Fashions – a firm dealing with embroidery shawls. “The meets will be very fruitful, and will have long term benefits for exports from Kashmir,” he adds.

Ahsan Ahmad Mirza, the owner of Mirza Sons – a firm dealing with a variety of Kashmir handicraft products, says that meets like this go a long way in promoting trade. He participated in the 2009 meet and feels the response was encouraging. “Some buyers did come to us, and we generated some business in the meet,” he says. “Due to circumstances, we had to move our bases outside Kashmir, but it would be nice to have those days back, when international buyers used to come here to buy. Meets like this are a step in the right direction to achieve that goal.”

Almost same views were echoed by a number of traders dealing with various handicrafts. Tariq Ahmad Shah, deals with crewel embroidery and has been in the Buyer Seller meets held earlier. He says that the earlier meets were good as he could interact with buyers from all over the world. He hopes that this year the meet will be even better, and would generate more business.

It is not just the sellers who are optimistic. The community of artisans and handicraft workers also have high expectations from the meet. They feel that the meet will bring more business and give the world an insight into their art.

Shabir Ahmad Mir, a resident of Hawal area in Srinagar has worked as a papier-m?ch? model maker for 30 years. He says that every handicraft product goes through a number of stages and processes. “At every level and stage of its making, a skill set is involved.

This needs to be seen by the world to fully appreciate the art and crafts,” he says. At the meet, Mir would be given a chance to display his art. An artisan has been selected from each handicraft to display their crafts to the buyers. “They will see directly what is the effort and skill we put into each item we make,” he says.

Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh, a crewel embroidery artisan who will also be displaying his craft hopes that the meet will give a boost to the business as there would be new orders. “When there would be new orders, there would be more demand for artisans and we would get more work,” he says. More than 300,000 people in Kashmir are associated with the handicraft trade, most of them artisans. “The meets promote marketing, and business, which would be beneficial to us all,” he adds.

The artisans feel that if international buyers come to buy directly from Kashmir, it would be good as quality works will get better prices and the buyers would also be assured of buying original products. “When buyers come to Kashmir they will be able to see the variety on display, and would have more choice,” says Fayaz Ahmad Najar, a wood carver. “The buyers are also guaranteed of buying original, and not fakes as a fake would be easily identified in Kashmir which is not the case in Delhi or in any other city,” he adds.

While the traders and artisans are enthusiastic about the event, the international buyers too seem to be happy to participate in the meet. Sara Calderoni associated with Jute & Co, an Italian company which deals with handicrafts, feels that the 2009 meet was a resounding success.

“I met new suppliers of handicrafts, hand stitched rugs and cushions,” she says. Sara is coming to the meet this year too. “I was very happy to meet the real manufacturers and not just exporters as often happens in other Indian (trade) fairs regarding Kashmiri handicrafts,” she says. The same holds true for other buyers too, as many are coming to the Buyer Seller meet this year also.

Handicrafts sector is a major component in Kashmir’s economy, which provides livelihood to hundreds of thousands of people here. It has an export turnover of around 1500 crore. However, Nazir Ahmad Dar, President KCCI says that the business has a potential to reach 30,000 crores. “The need of the hour is promotion and right marketing. A Buyer Seller meet tries to achieve the same, and is one step in the process, and many more (steps) are planned,” he says.

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