The Lockdown Fashion

Months ahead of getting her degree certificate, an engineer decided to choose a different career path. She flew to London and studied fashion and back home she set up a school that struggled hard to stand up and then came lockdown. Saba Gul details the entrepreneur’s struggle

Students creating Victorian costumes with the backdrop of Kashmiri heritage architecture. KL Image Special Arrangement

When models walk the ramp donning Kashmiri pherans, Zardori silks and the Pashminas, it only acknowledges the future of Kashmir’s heritage. Kashmir crafts have never aged, not at least in last half a millennium.

But it is very uncommon for a Kashmiri woman to choose a career in fashion and interior designing, at least small within Kashmir market. People attribute it to negatives of conservatism and mindset issues regarding government jobs. The trend, however, is changing.

An Engineer In Making

Insha Qazi, a mother of two is one young, talented woman who preferred fashion and interior designing over her engineering career. Born in a well-to-do Rajbagh family, this Presentation Convent schooled girl moved to a boarding school outside Kashmir.

“The boarding school at Jaipur was an enriching experience for me as I became more disciplined and familiar with different people belonging to diverse cultures,” said Insha. “It also boosted my morale and belief in myself.”

Insha Qazi, the young lady who gave up engineering for studies in fashion and open an academy in Srinagar

Appreciated by her teachers for being creative, her parents wanted her to be an engineer. “At that time, I was young and didn’t know what else to do,” Insha admitted. “I opted for civil engineering and was enrolled in the SSM College.”

While engineering was in its final phase, she realised that it was not what she wanted in her life. Her perception about her career changed and securing a job was no longer a criterion for her. She wanted to career switch-over. She had dreamed to become an entrepreneur. Following her heart, she joined Brunel University at London for masters in International Business and Interior Designing.

Students learning culinary arts and presentation of food under the guidance of renowned chefs from the valley. No age bar considered. KL Image Special Arrangement

“I worked as an internee in a couple of organizations at London but I wanted to do something different,” confessed Insha. “I knew my heart belonged to Kashmir so I always thought of creating some employment for women.”  Once she graduated, she decided to set up her own Fashion School in Kashmir and train women with entrepreneurial skills. Back home, there were not many takers.

“At that time, my difficulty was not financial but social. Also, no private fashion institute from outside Kashmir wanted to invest in a strife-ridden state,” admitted Insha.

Marrying A Friend

But she didn’t lose hope and continued chasing her Fashion School dream. Destiny had planned it otherwise. In 2015, she married her best friend of years. A liberal, he supported her idea and allowed Insha to go for it.

In 2016 she established her own Fashion Academy, the SSMD School of Fashion and Design. She launched it at Parihaspora Pattan due to her emotional connection with the campus. But during the unrest, she had to close it down. So, in 2017 she restarted her school by conducting workshops in SSM College and other different colleges. It sent a good number of students to our school.

At that time SSMD was Kashmir’s only private institution in this line. Apart from NIFT Delhi and Pearl Academy, Insha’s school affiliated with Singhania University at Rajasthan started imparting full-time courses in Interior and Fashion designing. She hired the faculty from SYMBIOSIS, Amity and LPU University.

Fashion Stigma

The negativity was still coming in the way of the new initiative. “People thought opting for fashion designing course would mean their daughters would walk the ramp with skimpy clothes,” Insha said.

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Initially, Insha had to educate parents and make them aware of this lucrative career. As if the perceptions were not enough, some rumour mongers triggered a hate wave dubbing it the westernization of Kashmir.

“Initially for female students, getting enrolled in ‘Fashion academy’ was considered as a taboo in our society but when our students took part in Amazon Fashion week India and did well, more and more students contacted us,” she said.

Later, her school tied up with the National Skill Development Council to provide future benefits to her students. Within no time her students got selected in Kazan and Russia. Most of the students joining her school were females but eventually, both genders got enrolled and studied the courses with equal zeal.

Bouncing Back

Encouraged, Insha introduced to offer some more courses in hotel and hospitality management. “Kashmir is a hub of tourism and most of our workforce comes from outside,” she regretted. “We need to empower and encourage our youth to opt more for culinary art and hospitality courses as it has a huge scope.”

For her success now, Insha credits her husband, also in the education sector. Otherwise, she said, how can a mother of two kids manage all this.

In 2019 she didn’t remain confined to her school only. Soon she wrote a book Be the CEO You Always Wanted To Marry. The book is about breaking gender stereotypes reflects Insha’s feminist ideas about women empowerment.

During Covid-19, however, Insha’s institute suffered heavy losses. It didn’t dampen her spirits though. Her faculty members shifted to online classes and made learning fun. “We made costumes and taught history of fashion by live plays,” she said. “Our costume department was working on the periodical era and together we recreated Shakespeare plays.”

Later in October 2020, her school started to impart culinary classes for all age groups. Those who couldn’t pay for the course were also welcomed during this stressful period. “We had chefs coming from renowned hotels and my objective was to keep the youth learning and busy,” Insha said.

The show goes on.

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