Why Kashmir Matters

Why Kashmir Matters

No hashtag, no selfie, no poster or post even. Just straight talk

It is time to write an ode to Kashmiri crafts and textiles. Among those who read and follow us, some may find this timely, untimely, political or presumptive. Some will question our focus on crafts and textiles of a region which is right now under siege of tumultuous tensions between two countries in the aftermath of terrorism. Others will ask why talk about artisans when it is the soldiers we must support and sing for.

Because it is right inside the fearsome innards of a pulverising terrorist attack on a region and a country that its soft power, its artisanal soldiers, the non-warring, yet equally injured and harmed people also risk their moral and might.

It is time for a ballad for the diaphanous and soft pashmina shawl you may proudly own and wear, the dexterously woven colourful Kani that took many weeks to pattern, a bowl or few made out of papier-mâché, an exquisite handwoven Kashmiri carpet, a namda rug or a painstakingly handcarved box of walnut wood. It is time to write that note of sentiment for the many in Kashmir who embroider and weave, chisel wood and spin yarn, design and mould, who potter and paint despite electricity failures, police crackdowns, military interventions, terrorist attacks, assassination of innocents, loss of kith and kin, lockdowns, curfews, blackouts, floods…


Artisan on a loom.

The Kashmiri artisan, mostly deprived of consistent exposure to urban design movements, cyclic fashion and design education, handloom and textile conferences, mentoring by global-local experts, local exhibition opportunities guided by India’s top curators, business or idea exchanges with brand heads of luxury houses who travel to India seeking talent, fashion week debuts or shows … still continues to create.

Their work, their spirit is also currently eclipsed by the darkness at noon that surrounds Kashmir. As of those who trade in Kashmiri goods bringing them to cities, social workers who work unflinchingly with craftspersons in the Valley, brilliant rural innovators who have made mobile hand weaving looms so that women weavers can work from their homes, war and insurgency widows who try to earn a livelihood by spinning new model charkhas.

This is a story of resilience. It is not a tear jerker.


Photo: Instagram\kashmirloom

A campaign shot from Kashmir Loom’s pashmina collection.


As the country deals with the scars on nationhood amidst the rising tensions between India and Pakistan, The Voice of Fashion has begun work on a series of articles starting today on what Kashmir stands for in the design, textiles and crafts vocabulary of India. What are the immediate and long-standing challenges for artisans and craftspeople given the current situation? How can the mainstream fashion industry help?

Is it about building bridges with new markets, following the karmic footsteps of societies like Dastkar, the ongoing work of CtoK (Commitment to Kashmir Trust), the Dastkari Haat Samiti and other such crafts organisations? Is it about market focused collaborations like the one between designer Rohit Bal and the artisans from the Usha Silai institutes of Kashmir enabled by IMG Reliance that saw the light of the day at the recent Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai? (The collaboration leads to retail opportunities for artisans beyond the ramp event). Is it about designer Zubair Kirmani behind the label Bounipun—a former winner at the regional round for the International Woolmark Prize—and his conscious decision to relocate to his hometown Srinagar to help local karigars navigate the cold and steep path towards regular employment and motivation?

“Beautiful art and craft needs peaceful and motivating surroundings. That’s the bottom line,” reiterates Asaf Ali, co-founder of Kashmir Loom, a Delhi-based destination for artisanal Kashmiri creations and shawls. But the Kashmiri artisan has seldom ever had that.

Perhaps it is time to study the resilience of the Kashmiri craftsperson beyond just a struggle for survival.



A Kashmiri artisian with a half woven Kani shawl at his workshop in Srinagar.


If the business of Kashmiri carpets and hand done crewel embroidery has dwindled a bit, the supply of other textile creations, the Kani shawl for instance has remained stable.

If three most significant buzzwords from the fashion and design landscape of the world—luxurious, handmade and sustainable—had to be employed, all three resonate in Kashmir. How and why?

We will ask these and many more questions in our Kashmir Series. Our aim is to highlight what matters, to underline the nuances of cultural soft power, which is otherwise the stuff of subjects that get relegated to academic conferences. We want to help find opportunities for all those involved with Kashmiri crafts and textiles to sustain what they have and fork out new pathways of business and creativity.

Most importantly, to report what’s urgent, what mirrors India and its million mutinies.