I met Sunrise Arifa for the first time when I stopped to admire the handmade namdha rugs she had on display at the Dastkar Nature Bazaar. Since our first meeting, we’ve stayed in touch, and I now admire Sunrise’s determination and resolve as much as the namdhas she sells.
Sunrise is a young entrepreneur from Srinagar, Kashmir, who is working to revive the craft of namdhas, laboriously hand-felted and intricately designed wool floor mats. Sunrise is well qualified for the job. She studied Craft Management & Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Craft Development Institute of Srinigar, and there developed the professional skills to succeed in starting her own business. She now employs craftsmen who manufacture her designs, and she travels between Srinagar and other Indian cities to sell her rugs.
While her skills may enhance her success, it is her heritage that ensures her passion for the business. Growing up in Kashmir, home to internationally popular crafts like fine paper mache and embroidered pashmina shawls, Sunrise saw many of these crafts diminish and dilute over time. Markets inundated with machine-made “pashminas” masquerading as hand embroidered. Exploitative middlemen buying paper mache from artisans at bare minimum prices and selling the products at an enormous mark-up. Inexpensive synthetic rugs replacing namdhas among local consumers. Efforts, such as the Geographical Indicator certification of authenticity, are underway in Kashmir to protect these endangered crafts. But in the meantime, entrepreneurs like Sunrise are taking matters into their own hands, starting businesses to bring Kashmiri crafts to a wider audience.Though being Kashmiri may have inspired Sunrise to start her own business, running a company in Kashmir, particularly as a female entrepreneur, comes with challenges. Eight month waiting periods to obtain scoured wool from the government’s fleece processing unit. An exorbitantly high and “unofficial” government fee to obtain the quality control certification required for an export license. A community concerned that Sunrise will slowly lose her religious and cultural values as she becomes more successful. A curfew that prevents her from leaving the house to go to her production unit. The risk of being hit by a stray stone, pelted when skirmishes break out in town.
But Sunrise is determined. “It’s dangerous, but I have to go to do my work,” she explains. Her father supports her aspiration, but during her weeks on the road, traveling to sell namdhas, she tells the rest of her family that she is doing a school internship. While friends say that running a business will change her, she disagrees. “I love my tradition,” she professes. And the 12-hour workdays she logs, the bodily risks she takes, and her commitment to reviving Kashmir’s craft traditions proves her deep dedication to her heritage and its crafts.
Want to own your very own Craftmark certified namdha? I can send you a namdha directly from India.
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