Rather than becoming part of long unemployed list Ruqaiya Mehraj chose to run women exclusive shop in male dominated downtown marketplace. Heena Muzzafar tells her story
Since last four years Fashion Secret – a cosmetic shop in conservative Nawakadal area of Shehr-e-Khas, Srinagar, is ‘safe’ stop for college going girls, working women, would-be-brides, and housewives.
Run by Ruqaiya Mehraj, 25, a graduate in Music and Fine Arts from Women’s College Nawakadal, the shop caters to basic day-to-day fashion needs of local women. “There was no cosmetics shop run by women in this part of Srinagar,” says Ruqaiya, while attending customers. “Women don’t feel comfortable while asking for things from a male shopkeeper.”
In 2012, when Ruqaiya opened the shop shutters for the first time, entire marketplace began talking about a girl’s entry into ‘male bastion’. “I was first girl to open a shop in Nawakadal. So the attention was understood,” says Ruqaiya with a smile.
But Ruqaiya’s decision to sell cosmetics rather than study further, or try her luck at some other profession was a conscious one. “I never wanted to be part of long queues seeking government jobs. I could not have afforded to sit idle either,” says Ruqaiya.
So after completing her graduation Ruqaiya managed Rs 50 thousand investment, used part of it to refurbish her father’s shop – from where he used to sell barbeques till his old age forced him to stay home – and used rest to buy items for her cosmetics shop. The response of local women, especially college going girls and working women, encouraged Ruqaiya to expand her business. The first step was to help her younger brother, a Class 12 student, open a small mobile recharge outlet adjacent to her Fashion Secret. “He works part time to support his studies,” says Ruqaiya.
In 2015, after earning good profit from her business, the second step Ruqaiya took was to shift into a more spacious shop.
“I also purchased stocks worth Rs 13 lakh to meet the growing demand,” says Ruqaiya.
But this time luck was not on her side as within a few days of shifting her base, Ruqaiya’s entire stock was stolen from her shop during a mid-night robbery. The loss was to the tune of Rs 11 lakh. “It was a huge dent to whatever I have managed to achieve so far,” says Ruqaiya. “But I didn’t let myself get disappointed by the loss. Rather, I came back more determined than before.”
Already a role model for educated but unemployed girls of her locality Ruqaiya credits her success to her family’s unrelenting support. “Unfortunately there are still taboos attached with girls running shops in male dominated marketplaces,” says Ruqaiya. “But I am thankful to my family for letting me try my luck.”
Initially Ruqaiya was sceptic of operating a business in Nawakadal as the area witnesses continues shutdowns, restrictions from government, and protests, on regular basis.
“With active support from shopkeepers in Nawakadal I managed to survive through bad times,” says Ruqaiya.
After helping her father marry her two sisters (elder and younger sister), Ruqaiya is now managing expenses of her five member family almost singlehandedly. “I am happy to ease my father’s burden. That was my dream as well.”