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This ex-Ola employee is bringing pure pashmina to people with her D2C startup

By Tenzin Norzom
March 30, 2022, Updated on : Fri Apr 08 2022 02:15:02 GMT+0000
This ex-Ola employee is bringing pure pashmina to people with her D2C startup
Based in Bengaluru, ex-Ola employee Vatsala Hali took the entrepreneurial plunge by starting Urzuv: The Spirit of Kashmir, a D2C brand that offers Kashmiri apparel to domestic and international customers.
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Pashmina is valued for its fine craftsmanship the world over. A fine variant of spun cashmere, the animal hair that forms the downy undercoat of the Changthangi goat, the exceptionally warm and delicate fibre is coveted and preserved. 


But nowhere does the pashmina hold more emotional significance than in Kashmiri households – where intricately embroidered pashmina shawls are the quintessential heirlooms passed down for generations. 


Vatsala Hali, a Bengaluru-based entrepreneur who belongs to a Kashmiri Pandit family, is among these families and regularly brings out the pashmina shawls that once belonged to her mother and grandmother for different occasions and events. 


She has a wide collection of pashmina shawls, as do most people from the Valley, and has earmarked some for casual wear and a few heavily embroidered ones for weddings and festivals. In a metropolitan city like Bengaluru, donning the pashmina provides her a sense of home.

"In Kashmir, pashmina is like family gold and silver; it is passed on from one generation to another. All my life, my mother was saving up money just to give me the most exotic pashmina during my wedding,” she says, adding that pashminas, like wine, get better with age and care. 

Vatsala was working as a public relation and communications professional in Ola when she got married in 2019. She says almost every other employee at the Bengaluru-based mobility unicorn eventually ends up starting their own company and that her own call to entrepreneurship came during her wedding preparation. 


“The wedding shopping made me realise that Kashmiri fashion and clothes were far and few. In mainstream fashion, bigger brands, the markets of Delhi, or in Bollywood, Kashmiri fashion was rare and the products were not easily available,” she tells HerStory.


In 2020, she quit her job and took the plunge to start Urzuv: The Spirit of Kashmir. 

Kashmiri apparel for the world

Pashmina shawl

Pashmina shawls by Urzuv: The Spirit of Kashmir

A direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand, Urzuv: The Spirit of Kashmir offers solid and embroidered pashminas, cotton stoles, woollen wraps, pherans (a traditional Kashmiri attire), and kurtis, priced between Rs 4,000 and Rs 30,000. 


Although based in Bengaluru, Vatsala reached out to Commitment to Kashmir, a charitable trust supporting the new generation of Kashmiri craftspeople, as well as her relatives in the state to connect with artisans specialising in different forms of embroidery. In the last one year of operation, it has worked with 50 to 80 artisans. 


Vatsala was confident about the market for Kashmiri products across India and beyond. In Delhi and the northern parts of India where pashmina are more easily available, she noted that people were hesitant to trust the quality vis-à-vis pricing. 


“In Bengaluru, there is little access to Kashmiri products and they come across as a ‘thoughtful’ gift. Pashmina is not as expensive as gold or diamond but it is also not very cheap and makes for a perfect gift,” she says, adding that 50 percent of their business came from gifting in the past year. 


“During the pandemic, people were ordering for their mother, grandmother, and fiance because they couldn’t visit their families,” she adds.


The entrepreneur says there is demand from both domestic and international customers, including the Kashmiri diaspora. She says there are people in their 40s and older who really understand the quality and value of the product that comes to purchase on Urzuv’s website and Instagram. 


Started with a working capital of Rs 1 lakh, the bootstrapped business crossed the turnover of Rs 10 lakh and broke even recently. Urzuv sells about 60 to 70 products per month.

Women entrepreneur

A group of artisans working on embroidery

However, entrepreneurship has not been an easy journey. Fashion is inventory heavy, and demands business acumen in management.


“Being a media professional, lack of understanding of fashion and business was a challenge but I took courses from universities online,” she says.


It proved to be doubly difficult to start amidst the pandemic to coordinate with the artisans online. It was only last year that Vatsala could finally meet artisans in Kashmir, see their workshops, and interact with them.


Now, Vatsala is determined to scale the business further and says a spring-summer collection is set to launch in April. 


“The previous generation was busy handling the displacement and setting up their lives, but we are now in a position to preserve our culture and take it forward. After all, that was the biggest reason to start Urzuv,” she signs off.


Edited by Teja Lele Desai