Rising Blankets

After centuries of use, Kashmirs’ traditional Tchader has paved way for the synthetic blanket, at huge costs to the wool-abundant state. Now, Mohammad Raafi says, a small gang of entrepreneurs is reclaiming fraction of the business by fabricating electric blankets

Power-Blanket-Making-Kashmir

Homemakers hunt for woollens marks the start of a winter-dictated shift in the lifestyle. Floor coverings, curtains, beddings and apparels change quite in quick succession and then pulses start dominating the dinner dustarkhan.

Homes still use Wagiv and Pateg, the hand-made local mats, and off late all-wool Namdas and Gabbas cover them. Pheran, the long cloak apart, people shroud themselves in Shawls, Dussa’s and fine, delicate blankets.

Blankets are the key item dominating the winter scene. It survives on the ruins of Tchadar that wool-abundant Kashmir has used for generations. It even sustained a huge cottage industry. Now, Kashmir sells around seven million kilograms of wool at throwaway prices to non-local industries.

Though in certain belts, the locally woven lamb-wool Tchader is still in vogue, it has grown uncommon in urban and sub-urban belts. Now, blankets with less-wool and more synthetic yarn from petroleum residues are purchased in bulk. From Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean mink blankets to Punjab’s inferior and altered fibre blankets, Kashmir consumes everything. Millions of meters of Ludhiana-manufactured ‘blanket cloth’ is imported for use as curtains and room furnishing.

Of late, Kashmir is fighting a cool battle to get its share in the blanket market. Entrepreneurs have rediscovered electric blanket for reclaiming part of the turf and the output is not unimpressive.

Consuming around 80 watts, almost equalling an electric bulb, these blankets are gradually moving into a commoner’s bedrooms. It’s less than Rs 1000 cost makes it affordable and a possible mass product.

Naseer Ahmad runs Dolphin Blankets in SIDCO’s Industrial Estate at Rangreth since 2008. “Each blanket gets completed at a cost of nearly Rs 650. Retailers sell it according to their markets,” Naseer says. “This sector has expanded quite fast as more people are getting into this business.” He has 12 workers in his unit and 12 others stitching and coiling from their homes.

From 8 units in 2013 to 30 in 2015, electric-blanket makers are mushrooming. In Rangreth alone, 20 units are operating. With every unit employing 8-12 persons, many of them have contract-manufacturing agreements with experts operating from their homes.

Most of these units are assembly units. They import the best quality blankets from Punjab and electric filament from Delhi and join it here. “But the expertise lies in fixing the wiring in the woollen material and plugging it to current,” Naseer says.

Hotels are a major buyer. Unlike Kerosene and LPG-fed Bukharis that would require lot of human resource, electric blankets come at throwaway costs. Most of the hotels across Kashmir use them.

Of late, these are in demand in Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand. However, the coarse craftsmanship prevents this Kashmir manufacture to get an international market. Lack of innovation is one major factor.

“Korea, China and other European countries influences customers because their blankets are highly superior,” admits Naseer. “We lack that subtle touch it in our products.”

old-times-in-Kashmir-elders-with-wearing-blankets

The demand, however, has led unit-holders to get into contract manufacturing. Muhammad Shabaan runs a workshop in Bandook Khaar Mohalla and produces 4000 units a year. He learnt the art while working in a unit. With his sons around, Shabaan is a success story. Employing 15 individuals, his workshop has Rs 50 lakh turnover. He supplies to a retailer who owns a brand.

Investors say the market is much larger than they anticipated. “Against the demand of half a million pieces a season, we produce merely 100 thousand,” says Imtiaz Ahmad, who runs Sharp Electric Blankets since 2012.

Most of the market is local. Army is a huge buyer because it is the cheapest option to keep the bed warm. “Forty percent of the production goes to the army and sixty percent is consumed by the civilian market,” says Naseer.

Lately, these blanket makers have started gauging the bigger market. Naseer, off late, started making blanket Hammams. It is just a sheet of flooring that costs fraction of a Hammam. “We just need the size of the floor and then we deliver,” Naseer says. “The Hammam blanket consumes up to 300 watts of electricity.”

They have satisfied customers too. “I bought a blanket Hammam last month and I am satisfied,” says Roushan Akbar, a medical technician. “It is cheaper and lacks huge recurring costs as is the case with other tools of warming.”

The sector is facing a problem. In the cut-throat competition, they face music when somebody drops the rates. Now they are planning a union of all the manufacturers so that quality and rates remain almost the same.

The other issue they are facing is “misconception” that if water falls on the blanket, it becomes dangerous.  “These blankets use Teflon-coated nichrome coils,” explains Imtiyaz. “These cables are highly heat and shock resistant as the Teflon coat makes it safe to use as a heating coil.”

But there have been instances in which blankets left unplugged shocked owners by bursting heat after few hours. Many hotels attributed fires to this phenomenon.

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