With an effort to uplift the artisan community of Kashmir, Insha Mir, a Naropa fellow, hailing from Srinagar started her own clothing brand EcoKash, that happens to be Valley’s first sustainable clothing line. The sustainable fashion brand not only promotes environment friendly apparels but also revives the traditional handicrafts of Kashmir.
Launched in October 2021, the brand is an amalgamation of organic fabric, natural dyes and Kashmiri handcrafts. In a short span of time, she has been able to make her presence in the national and international market.
While pursuing her Naropa fellowhip, which is a yearlong Post Graduate Academic Programme in Entrepreneurship and Leadership, Mir got an insight on Sustainability while she set the stepping stones of EcoKash.
She pitched the idea of sustainable fashion while preserving the authenticity of rich handicrafts of Kashmir, as her project during the fellowship.
Claiming to be Kashmir’s first sustainable fashion brand with handmade works, she has involved artisans from most of the districts of Kashmir on board. Her team works directly with the artisans, curbing the involvement of middlemen.
She said, “We took the help of the Department of Handicrafts in getting the artisans onboard. Whatever the artisans tell us, we pay them and share some profit percentage with them too. We intend to give artisans as many opportunities as we can and try to involve more artisans in our team so that we are able to provide quality to the customers while being true to our word.”
During her fellowship period, she pitched her idea to Ritesh Agarwal, an Indian entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of OYO Rooms, who recognized and supported her brand among the other four startups by offering them a non-equity grant.
EcoKash, as the name suggests, is a fusion of two words, Eco meaning environment friendly and Kash, catering to Kashmir. The brand offers 100% sustainable fabric and the dyes required in the dyeing process are plant-based dyes and azo free dyes. The brand offers a variety of cotton fabrics which includes organic cotton, Khadi handloom cotton, handloom cotton and Corduroy cotton. As Insha says, they also have recycled cotton that they have incorporated as well. “Sustainability is about recycling.” Mir elaborated. While taking us through the terminology, Insha explained the variety of Silk fabrics that they use. She said that they use Bamboo silk, Khadi cotton silk, Tasar Katiya, Hemp silk, Orange fabric and Ahimsa Silk-that is produced without harming the silkworm.
Clothes and dyes always work hand in glove. Taking us through EcoKash’s dyeing process; Mir said that the fabrics were colored with natural dyes after which they were processed for printing. “The entire dyeing process from beginning to the end is taken care of in Kashmir only,” Insha emphasized.
“We are working with GI tag Pashmina and we are in contact with some manufacturers. We precure fabrics directly from manufacturing units to get the fabric in authentic and the purest form,” she added.
People often consider sustainable fashion as expensive but Insha emphasized that her brand was affordable and long lasting.
“We have an affordable collection for the customers. Sustainable fashion is also long lasting which many people think it’s not. Generally, if you take proper care of clothes, that will last,” she said.
She believes that the brand caters to the consumers, globally. Initially, it was not intended for the local market but to her surprise, she got a huge response from the locals. She has participated in a number of exhibitions where she not only won appreciation but also made good sales. “We were surprised to see the response of the locals. We have customers pan India and we have made our presence in the international market as well,” she added.
Her one of the collections with the name Pamposh incorporate the patterns of embroidery that are inspired by the flora of Kashmir. They extracted the vintage designs from various sources and gave them a contemporary look.
“The flora of Kashmir is very huge and we were inspired by the flora of Kashmir which is beyond Chinar,” she added.
The intricate motifs of Tilla, Ari and Sozni embroidery over the designs add a contemporary look. They have collection of accessories in Papier Mache art, thus adding new life to the fading art forms of Kashmir
While growing up among the artisans in the old city, Srinagar, she was intrigued by the rich handicrafts of Kashmir.
“I have grown up in the scenes where women would take up some skill and make their livelihood out of it. You would rarely find young girls doing all these activities nowadays. Downtown was full of skilled artisans but with time, these artisans left the craft because it didn’t yield them much money due to many reasons, usage of machines being one of them,” she said.
She said her grandfather left his government job to take up the business of wood carving because it was considered a good job back then. “My father couldn’t take up the art and this is what happened with many and we suffered a lot of setbacks,” she said.
She said that when Sufi saint, Shah-e-Hamadan visited Kashmir, he introduced more than 50 art forms but now only 12-14 art forms are practiced and the rest have somewhat diminished.
“It is hurtful to see that the art is diminishing here and the artisans are struggling to make their ends meet. We have become quite detached with the art and I believe we all owe something to revive it,” she said. Influenced by the richness of the handicrafts of Kashmir, the idea of doing something that benefits the local artisans came to her mind.
In future, she wants to develop the product by improving the vintage designs with contemporary touch and to give the authentic feel of the Kashmiri art.
She said, “We want to reach globally and focus on supporting the society environmentally and economically. We have to grow by uplifting others.”