Two friends are determined to revive the once famous art of crochet or Koereshi, by using social media. Heena Muzzafar met the duo to understand the challenges of working in a limited access market
As you enter Beenish Bashir Khan’s home at Chanapora, the first thing that catches your attention is a beautiful wall painting – done neatly using a melange of black and orange.
The wall is one of the many achievements that talented Beenish, 29, a teacher by profession, loves to boost.
But Beenish’s story is not confined to the wall only; she loves to call herself an artist, who loves to experiment with wool and create beautiful designs using crochet or Koereshi.
However, Beenish’s story is incomplete without her friend and business partner Omaira Qayoom Khan, also 29, who lives in Tengpora, Srinagar. “It is a joint effort,” said Beenish, who started working on crochets as a hobby.
The hobby turned into a full fledged business activity when a neighbour asked Beenish to make a pair of crocheted socks for her. “After I delivered the socks, I got a number similar request from people,” recalls Beenish.
With a number of orders in her kitty, Beenish struggled to meet the deadlines. “It was then, I came across the idea of seeking help from Omaira,” recalls Beenish.
Both Beenish and Omaira, who first met six years back in a B.Ed college, were friends ever since.
After completing their studies they joined the same private school as teachers. “We worked there for two years,” said Omaira.
Once the friends started working together on their project, making beautiful designs, like hand pouches, basket, bags, feet and hand warmers, caps and mufflers etc.
Then in 2015, Beenish’s younger brother Yamin gave them an idea, which struck right chords instantly. “Why don’t you promote your products online,” Beenish recalls him saying.
Within a few days Beenish and Omaira setup both Facebook and Instagram pages, and began promoting their products online under Craft World Kashmir banner. “I never thought that a hobby will lead to something like this,” said Beenish. “I used to make crochet items for family and friends only. But that has changed now.”
What gave them edge in the market was their ability to move one step further from the traditional crochet mats and table clothes. “With time, machine made crochet items almost became obsolete,” feels Omaira. “Though, modern replacements are much cheaper, crochet has its own charm and grace.”
Initially, Beenish and Omaira followed the traditional, and kept their work focused on limited number of items. However, as demand increased, they began experimenting with designs and hues. “We worked around traditional designs to create an attractive product line,” said Beenish.
Around same time both got themselves enrolled for masters in sociology from IGNOU. “After we completed our degree, we together joined a preparatory school as teachers,” said Omaira.
Beenish recalls, how once at this school, while painters were on job to give it a fresh look, they took brush and paint and began translating their ideas on its walls. “It was fun,” recalls Omaira.
There day would start after school hours, as they would head straight home and start working on recent orders, received online.
However since July 8, the day Burhan Wani was killed, they have failed to resume their routine as school is shut, first due to uprising, and now because of vacations. “We are planning to quit our jobs and concentrate on our business,” said Beenish, citing soaring demand for their handmade crochet products.
When they first started working together their monthly revenue was just Rs 4000, but in all these years, given their popularity, they now earn more than Rs 15000. “This we earn by just spending a few hours after school on crochet,” said Omaira. “Imagine what if we dedicate ourselves completely to this business.”
But things are not as easy as they look from outside, insists Beenish. “We have to literally struggle to get raw material in Kashmir,” she said.
With a number of ideas floating inside their young minds, all they need is right kind of crochets, wool, colours, and other related things. That too in bulk, which is rare, as not many people are not doing crochet work in Kashmir. “As professionals we met wrong people in the beginning,” rues Omaira.
“They misguided us. But thank God there were good people too in our life, who guided us.”
After making a few mistakes they finally landed in Mahraja bazaar, one of the oldest trade centres in Srinagar, and met a guy named Firdous, who deals in frills etc. “It was he who helped us get some particular tools needs for designing,” said Beenish. “He would specially get these items for us from Delhi.”
Once both confidence and business grew, Beenish and Omaira started exploring new option on their own. “We contacted a few dealers on our own,” said Beenish. “This helped us chose from a wide range of products.”
The urge to explore the market themselves was outcome of a recent experience. “As orders increased, our stock of raw material began to thin,” said Omaira.
This made Beenish and Omaira realise the importance of knowing the supply line, as well.
As a result, recently Beenish contacted Vardhman Wool’s Jammu office, asking them to deliver 22 kgs wool to their local dealer. “Our local dealer would always complain of low stock,” said Beenish.
Though Beenish and Omaira have found a way to deal with raw material issues, still staying in touch with the market has helped them a lot. However, at times, non-availability of basic components used to create different designs, hinders their work at times.
For instance, Omaira once used beads from a necklace for a new jewellery design, when she couldn’t find pearls in Kashmir.
With time they added new products like ami grumi, key chains, bookmarks, caps and feet warmers etc.
What started from Beenish’s Chanpoora house has now clients spread across mainland India including cities like Jammu, Bangalore, Meerut, New Delhi, and Mumbai.
During initial days Beenish and Omaira used to upload new products online immediately, but that is not the case now. “The moment we load images online, we get hundreds of orders,” said Beenish. “But we don’t have enough manpower to cope with such a huge demand.”
The same thinking led the friends to train two more hands: Beenish’s younger sister Mehvish and her cousin Saima. “We are also planning to start a training centre where girls can learn crochet,” said Omaira.
As of now, Beenish and Omaira are working to get brand ‘Crafts World Kashmir’ registered with Federation of Industries and Commerce. “Once we do that, we will start using our own tags on our products,” said Beenish.
It was a great moment for them when a would-be-bride placed an order for a complete set of jewellery. “She wanted necklace, earrings, rings etc. all made with Koereshi,” said Omaira.
They used famous Pakistani ‘Gotta Jewellery’- which is a combination of laces, mirrors, crotched flowers etc. for the would-be-bride. “It makes you happy when people appreciate your work,” said Beenish.