This Delhi, J&K Based Start-Up And Its Gutsy Founder Are Standing Tall Despite All Odds
Depending on one’s outlook towards life, a human being either thinks everything in the world is falling apart into chaos and anarchy or feels a vague sense of helplessness or empathy or that things have never been better to make a difference in his or her chosen field of work by taking every challenge heads-on. One’s mindset is the single most important factor towards success or failure or mediocrity and everything in between.
Environment, Social and Sustainability is all the rage these days. These words find their mention in board meetings, press releases, annual reports, company prospectuses, earnings reports and media mentions. While everyone more or less knows the leading social, cultural and environmental issues of the day, how often is it that companies or individuals actually go all out and make a stand for what is right? Very often, the buck stops at placing the burden on someone else. This is understandable since humans are risk averse.
However, there exist a few individuals and brands who walk their talk.
Today, at Bangalore Insider we spoke to the founder of Wazir.C, a clothing label which is India’s first luxury apparel brand to make clothes that blend authentic Kashmiri art and western styles. Below are the excerpts from our interaction.
Give a brief info about your startup?
Wazir.C is not just another fashion label, it’s a sustainable brand made with love by the talented Kashmiri women artisans. Conceived and launched in October 2018, Wazir.C is India’s first luxury apparel brand that seamlessly merges traditional Kashmiri Art with Western outfit styles. After finishing my formal education, I always wanted to set up a business which would amalgamate my passion for fashion, sustainability and my strong crusade for Women rights and emancipation.
Conceived in the heart of Kashmir, the brand thus envisions reviving the dying handicraft form and refashioning the same to meet the contemporary women’s needs. Advocating for more than just livelihood, the brand mentors women artisans from the conflict torn pockets of Kashmir to nourish their artisanal acumen and get them recognition.
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
I have always been an advocate of ethical and sustainable business practices. While pursuing my graduation from Lady ShriRam College, Delhi, I was heading the women development society and also was closely involved with various Women and Child Rights Organisations. It was then that the seed for women emancipation and restitution erupted in me and I pledged to one day work considerably for the cause. When I came back to my hometown of Jammu, J&K ,after finishing my formal education, I realised that I wouldn’t have to look far to make a difference.
The cases of poor economic and social condition of women in Kashmir valley caught my attention and after working closely with various women organisations in the state I conceived the idea of Wazir.C, that would not only provide employment opportunity to various destitute women of the valley including victims of the all pervasive terrorism, half widows, women suffering from domestic abuse, but also give them the opportunity to reconstruct their social status and thus their physical and mental well being. The concept is also aimed at redefining the age old existing artform and repackaging it in a global model thus taking the skill of women of kashmir to women across the world.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
After I finished my formal education, I launched my first business venture in my hometown in the year 2013 which was setting up a Fitness company and under its banner I took up the state-wide franchise of Gold’s Gym and also was a pioneer of various revolutionising health and fitness centres and projects in the state. Our company was the first which took health and fitness to every household in the state and provided the city with the largest fitness centre. We also undertook various health campaigns and introduced wellness initiatives for various sections in the society. It was after successfully running this company for 5 years when I launched the label Wazir.C under our company W.C Designs Private Limited.
Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
My start up is based out of Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir. Though we have our units in Jammu, Kashmir and Delhi, still I felt that since we intended to revive the handcraft of Kashmir and also to hire and promote women artisans so it was only apt to keep the main unit in the heart of the city so that the artisans can live in their households and yet have the opportunity of employments available to them within their city.
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
Every entrepreneurial journey is full of challenges regardless of the sector or the scale. I always knew mine would be a notch higher because of the conflict torn situation and prejudiced social fabric I had set out to work in. Women were reluctant to break free from the shackles of the middle men they were so accustomed to working under for a meagre remuneration. The journey and battle there wasn;t setting up an economic/business unit alone but to fight the social stigma of allowing women to work outside the house and also the fact that I insisted on not employing the male artisans (which constitute 95% of the workforce) but to have an all-women workforce.
The current lockdown in the state which has been prevalent for the last 4 months has only added to the problems and caused immense operational inconvenience. It was difficult to reach my team in Kashmir for almost 3 months because the phone lines were shut. Even today , there is no internet in the valley. Hence communicating with my team, sending them designs, getting the raw material and finished products is an uphill task.
Other than these, the fact that we had remodelled the entire scope of Kashmiri handwork and Pashmina and brought it onto western attire was very difficult for the artisans to grasp. We conducted a lot of training sessions for them to be able to grasp the structural changes. Besides, Kashmir being a disturbed area is mostly under a lockdown and the internet and transport services are mostly snapped. So it becomes almost impossible for my team in Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir to coordinate among themselves and operate smoothly. There are days when we have to personally travel to Kashmir in order to receive the raw material or the finished product because there is no other way to get it couriered or transported. Despite the issues the journey is beautiful as at the end of the day we get a step closer to the goal with which this company and brand was created.
Who are your competitions and how are you better than them?
To be honest I am someone who doesn’t believe in the term and the concept of “competition “. I am my own competition and I strive to be a better person than what I was the previous day and the same goes for my work too.
How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?
I manage work – life balance like every other woman on this planet, with resilience in my head and compassion in my heart. I make it a point to spend time with my parents every evening after work and share the work stories and experiences with them. It not only de-stresses me but am also enriched by their anecdotes and suggestions. Not only this, I make it a point that I take out sufficient time for my health and physical well being by having a regular workout routine as I am an avid believer that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body.
Not only my family but my friends have been strong pillars in my life and have contributed a great deal to where I am today both as an individual and also as an entrepreneur. Hence for me life can never be about “all -work “, though work occupies a lot of space but i still try to give my best at balancing it with all the beauty life has to offer.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
I have not raised any funding as of now. The entire project has been bootstrapped. But we are definitely looking into and interested to raise funding for our project soon and all interested investors and more than welcome to get in touch with us.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
I belong to a very small town where there were only a few fields or lines of work where women were expected and accepted to be. I was the first to venture out and to set up companies in all the “non-traditional “ (male dominated) sectors of work which was a little unacceptable to the people.
Besides, my young age (I was just 22 years old when i started my first company) was seen as a mark of inexperience and hence inefficiency. When from one company I went on to start the other one and that too even on a larger scale, dealing with women in conflict torn sectors of the state under the constant fear of terrorism, I was considered as stupid, to be putting my life and well being at such risk. But as they say that your honesty and hard work always triumphs at the end. I am glad that everyone now perceives me and my work for the dedication and hard work and innovation i put in and have brought in my state rather than just my gender and age. My father always taught me that you need to be the change that you want to see in the world and that is exactly what I intend to do . So no matter what all challenges are thrown my way, I’ll only move forward and upward.
What gets you excited about this company?
Though an uphill task, this journey has been quite rewarding. To be able to reinvent and revive an age old dying art and craft form from my state and to be able to restore it to its lost glory gives a sense of pride and joy. The widespread malpractice of selling fraudulent pashmina fabric which is mostly an imitated copy was bringing a lot of bad name to the traditional magnificence of the pashmina fabric from the state. Also power looms had almost made handloom workers go jobless and hence they were forced to take up alternative menial employment options. It was a very sorry state of affairs and to be able to restore the faith of people in the quality and authenticity of our products is quite encouraging.
Most importantly as a woman, I feel that the smile that I see on the face of each and every woman artisan who works tirelessly for our label is the most rewarding and satisfying positive I take from this because it not not ensures that they have food on their table but also that they continue to serve the culture and art that they have grown into and give their bit to its spread across the globe.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
I usually have a very work centric day because of the multiple companies that I run and the different offices and workshops I have to shuttle between throughout the day. I start my day with my workout session in the morning, after which I reach my office at 10 am . Then I shuttle between offices and teams throughout the day, taking meetings, addressing issues, discussing future plans with managers etc. My lunch and evening coffee reaches my office like clock work at 2 pm and 5 pm respectively. I take my final daily reviews from all the managers at 6:30 pm. I mostly wrap up my work and reach home by 8:30 pm. I have a ritual with my father to have our dinner together everyday, so after having dinner with my family , I retire to my room. I work on my next day’s agenda and get my things in order for a while. I am an avid reader, hence my books are my guilty pleasures once I land on my bed. After reading for a while I push off to sleep. I usually try to catch at least 6 hours of sleep each night in order to have a productive and alert following day. Sundays are usually my off days where I spend time with my family and friends and socialise.
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
I have an all – women workforce. My managers were hired through references and interviews. The artisans I met in Kashmir were hired through various women collectives and word of mouth. They had their trials so that the seriousness of the venture was established . Now we work and operate as a family and not as a corporate unit .
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