To help Kashmiri spinners and weavers preserve their art and provide employment to many, Junaid started Phamb — a pashmina fashion house that sells shawls, stoles, scarves, suits and other garments across India, USA, Dubai, Germany, France, and the UK.
Pashmina is a well-known fine wool that has been traditionally spun in Kashmir and takes great skill to weave. In present times, when Kashmir faces a high unemployment rate and the state of the local artisans is pretty grim, Junaid Shahdhar (27) started Phamb in March 2016 to support these artisans.
Junaid, who comes from a business family, is a partner at Baghdadi Rolling Mills, a metal rolling firm, and Shahdhar Textile Mills, a carding and spinning plant. He has been in the family business since his undergraduate days. After his MBA from Kashmir University, he wanted to do something different and the sad state of the artisans in Kashmir made him decide to work with them.
“I have worked with my family and have partnerships with family members. Those ideas were not my own. Phamb is solely my idea and therefore very important to me. From the making of the logo to choosing the name to the punch line to designing new products, it took me several days of effort to complete these things,” comments Junaid on his journey.
The unrest in Kashmir did not allow artisans to carry on freely their day-to-day business. Business was low, unemployment was high, and artisans had to buy the raw wool at Rs 80 for 10 grams.
Knowing that online businesses are independent of local business failure, strikes, and other bottlenecks, helped Junaid gather the support of his team members. In collaboration with the Kashmiri spinners of the Karigar Union, who wished to preserve the art, he started his pashmina fashion house, Phamb, with funds collected from these artisans and directors. Phamb means unprocessed raw wool in Kashmiri; Junaid’s company takes care of the production of the raw materials to the end fabric along with the distribution of the products.
His team has eight members who purchase the raw wool from Ladakh and send it for combing, spinning, and weaving. The finished product, if required, is sent for embroidery and the final product is placed in the store and pictures are put up on the website.
“We started by giving free raw materials to a few spinners, mostly females, belonging to poor community. It was an amazing feeling to see the people happy. It helped build the community on a happier note. Now, many NGOs have started doing what we had started. We still give the raw wool to the artisans, which has been very helpful to them because they do not have to invest in the raw materials; whatever profit is made on the sale goes directly into their pocket. This has increased their income by 40 percent,” says Junaid.
Pashmina is not easy to make. It requires great focus, skill and steady hands to manufacture high-quality material. Team Phamb hopes to be an exclusive pashmina clothing line, and thus provide opportunities and a better life to the deserving artisans of Kashmir.
“The market is full of fraudsters. What makes us different is the quality of our products and we will never negotiate with it,” Junaid remarks.
Phamb has an online platform that caters to customers in USA, Dubai, Germany, France, India, and the UK. It has a brick-and-mortar store in Srinagar and the fashion house employs more than 1,500 artisans. It has grown from selling pashmina shawls, stoles, scarves and other wraps to making customised men and women apparel, and has achieved a turnover of Rs 50 lakh. Phamb stands apart from other pashmina competitors by providing geographical certification and a GI tag for all handspun products to indicate the genuineness of the merchant as well as the product.
“I’ve learnt that building a business or a brand takes a good amount of time and dedication for the goal. Growth doesn’t happen overnight and for that reason, I am certain that it will take at least 10 years to make Phamb a success,” says Junaid.
Phamb is strategised towards marketing itself as a brand. It plans on setting up stores across India. It also wants to expand to other countries through its website. While the language of the website will change according to the country, the brand name will remain the same.
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