A disappointing shopping trip led to the launch of Kashmiri brand Hands of Gold
Meet Sadaf Syed, who launched a brand that deals in Kashmiri artisanal products in 2015, achieved 70 percent business growth in the last year, and is working to make Hands of Gold synonymous with Kashmir.
Thursday August 04, 2022,
5 min Read
“Whoever did this artwork, his hands must be made of gold. ”
Sadaf Syed was used to hearing fulsome praises like these whenever her mother set her eyes on her pashmina shawls.
Born in Kashmir, Sadaf grew up amid a plethora of Kashmiri crafts. However, she realised that there was a gap when she was out shopping for a particular product.
“My business journey began with a quest to find the right papier mache [box] to store my husband’s cufflinks. But, I couldn’t find the one that suited my needs. I needed something with compartments, good design, and colour. In fact, no one even wanted to customise it,” says Sadaf, in an exclusive interaction with SMBStory.
In 2015, this pursuit led Sadaf to take matters into her own hands. She invested Rs 50,000 and launched Kashmir-based, a brand that now deals in Kashmiri artisanal products including premixes, shawls, stoles, scarfs, papier mache utility items, and more.
The brand is registered under parent company FIL Industries Limited.
From Kashmir to the world
Sadaf says she had no business knowledge when she started. She had pursued an MBA and held a couple of jobs in Delhi, but her love for artisanal products led her to walk the entrepreneurial path.
She recalls how many artisans would shake their heads even before she put forward her proposal. But she persisted and created a bond with the artisans. This is what she credits the success of Hands of Gold to.
“I was one of the very few women who visited artisans. You see, it's not common in Kashmir. It took me a while to earn their trust and to understand the art. These artisans feel that they have been betrayed and cheated by big businesses and it took me time to make them understand the kind of business I wanted to run – one that would be fair to them and to their art.”
Once Sadaf convinced the artisans, there was no looking back. She started with a range of paper mache products, but did not know which platform to sell them.
“I started by selling to friends and relatives initially. Then word of mouth spread and I made sales of about Rs 6-7 lakh in a year,” she says.
In 2018, Sadaf was blessed with twin daughters. Managing the business and taking care of her girls was not easy, and she hired a manager to take care of business operations.
She says that Hands of Gold was working in a linear mode and didn’t really scale up from 2015 to 2019.
“I just got up one day with the thought that this is not how I can take Kashmiri art into every house in India. There was a dire need to scale up,” she says.
Sadaf decided to revamp the business and introduced more products that are associated with Kashmir, including saffron, kahwa, honey, almond oil, saffron oil etc.
“It was just a step waiting to be taken and the business took off.”
In the same year, Sadaf also opened Hands of Gold’s first store in Patnitop, located in Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir. This was a good move since Patnitop is a tourist place and brought many new visitors to the store.
Beating the odds
Like every other business, the pandemic translated into multiple challenges for the startup. But Sadaf used the time to build the brand's online presence. She created a website, strengthened the brand's social media presence, and also worked on bringing in more SKUs.
At present, Hands of Gold’s edible range has an online presence; all the other products are available in the Patnitop store. Sadaf claims that the store generates sales of between Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 on a good day, with premixes being the bestsellers.
The company has five employees who help Sadaf in business development, logistics, content creation, and marketing.
Sadaf adds that the business has achieved 70% growth in the last one year on the back of an increase in the number of categories and growing interest.
Kashmir is an emerging business hub, but Sadaf says doing business in the state comes with a lot of challenges given the uncertainties.
“From sudden weather changes to internet shutdowns and power cuts, there’s a lot that goes on. Supply chain is the first to be hit and that’s one of the biggest challenges,” she says.
To overcome this, Hands of Gold keeps the warehouse “overstocked” so that customers do not suffer. Online orders are shipped from Delhi where they have an office and a warehouse.
Another challenge Sadaf experiences is competition - not from other artisanal brands but from machine-made art that unorganised players sell as handicrafts.
“There is a huge price difference between a machine-made and a hand-made product, and people are not aware. It takes an eye to see a piece of art and pay its price, and unorganised players disrupt the market negatively,” Sadaf says.
The way forward
Hands of Gold competes with brands like Kanz & Muhul, Kashmir Box, and others operating in the same domain.
Sadaf says many brands are offering artisanal products and helping artisans, but Hands of Gold aims to empower artisans so that the art does not die out.
The founder is all set to launch her wearable collection online in October. She is working on increasing categories and product SKUs, and working with hundreds of artisans.
Sadaf wants to take Kashmiri art and craft to every nook and corner of the country. She also plans to target international markets soon.
“I want to make Hands of Gold synonymous with Kashmir,” Sadaf says.
(This story has been updated to correct a factual error.)
Edited by Teja Lele