Seeking to strengthen Kashmir’s artisan community, Insha Mir, a Naropa grantee who hails from Srinagar, founded her own clothing brand, EcoKash, which happens to be Valley’s first sustainable clothing line. The sustainable fashion brand not only promotes environmentally friendly clothing, but also revives traditional cashmere handicrafts.
Launched in October 2021, the brand is a fusion of organic fabrics, natural dyes and cashmere crafts. In a short time she was able to establish herself on the national and international market.
During her Naropa fellowship, a year-long academic graduate program in entrepreneurship and leadership, Mir gained insight into sustainability while laying the springboards of EcoKash.
As her project during the fellowship, she proposed the idea of sustainable fashion while preserving the authenticity of the rich handicrafts of Kashmir.
Claiming to be Kashmir’s first sustainable fashion brand with handmade crafts, it has onboarded artisans from most districts of Kashmir. Their team works directly with the artisans, limiting the involvement of middlemen.
She said: “We have enlisted the help of the Department of Handicrafts to get the craftsmen on board. Whatever the artisans tell us, we pay them and also share a part of the profit with them. We intend to give craftsmen as many opportunities as possible and are trying to include more craftsmen on our team so we can offer quality to our customers while staying true to our word.”
During her fellowship, she pitched her idea to Ritesh Agarwal, an Indian entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of OYO Rooms, who recognized and supported her brand among the other four startups by offering them a non-equity grant.
EcoKash, as the name suggests, is an amalgamation of two words, Eco meaning eco-friendly and Kash, catering to cashmere. The brand offers 100% sustainable fabrics and the dyes needed for the dyeing process are plant-based dyes and azo-free dyes. The brand offers a variety of cotton fabrics including organic cotton, handwoven khadi cotton, handwoven cotton and corduroy cotton. As Insha says, they also have recycled cotton which they incorporated as well. “Sustainability means recycling,” Mir explained. As she guided us through the terminology, Insha explained the variety of silk fabrics they use. She said they use bamboo silk, khadi cotton silk, tasar katiya, hemp silk, orange cloth and ahimsa silk – which is made without harming the silkworm.
Clothing and dyeing always work hand in hand. Walks us through the EcoKash dyeing process; I was told that the fabrics were dyed with natural dyes, after which they were processed for printing. “The entire dyeing process from start to finish is done only in cashmere,” Insha emphasized.
“We work with GI-Tag Pashmina and are in contact with some manufacturers. We cure fabrics straight from the production units to keep the fabric in its most authentic and purest form,” she added.
People often see sustainable fashion as expensive, but Insha emphasized that her brand is affordable and durable.
“We have an affordable collection for customers. Sustainable fashion is also durable, which many people don’t believe. In general, if you take proper care of the clothes, it will last,” she said.
She believes the brand appeals to consumers worldwide. It wasn’t originally intended for the local market, but to her surprise, she received a huge response from locals. She has participated in a number of exhibitions, where she not only received recognition, but also achieved good sales. “We were surprised to see the local people’s reaction. We have clients across India and we are also present in the international market,” she added.
One of the collections, called Pamposh, features embroidery designs inspired by the flora of Cashmere. They extracted the vintage designs from different sources and gave them a contemporary look.
“The flora of Kashmir is very large and we were inspired by the flora of Kashmir that lies beyond Chinar,” she added.
The intricate motifs of the Tilla, Ari and Sozni embroideries across the designs add a modern look. They have a collection of accessories in papier-mâché art, breathing new life into the fading art forms of Kashmir
Growing up among the artisans of the old city of Srinagar, she was fascinated by the rich handicrafts of Kashmir.
“I grew up in scenes where women are learning skills and doing it for a living. Nowadays it is rare to find young girls engaging in all these activities. Downtown was full of skilled craftsmen, but over time these craftsmen left the craft because it didn’t make them much money for many reasons, the use of machines being one of them,” she said.
She said her grandfather left his government job to go into the woodcarving business because it was considered a good job at the time. “My dad couldn’t get into the arts, and that’s happened to a lot of people, and we’ve had a lot of setbacks,” she said.
She said when Sufi Saint Shah-e-Hamadan visited Kashmir he introduced more than 50 art forms, but now only 12-14 art forms are practiced and the rest have declined somewhat.
“It hurts to see that the arts are on the decline here and the artisans are struggling to make ends meet. We’ve pretty much detached ourselves from the arts and I think we all owe something to revive it,” she said. Influenced by the wealth of handicrafts in Kashmir, she came up with the idea of doing something that would benefit local artisans.
In the future, she would like to further develop the product by improving the vintage designs with a contemporary twist and bringing the authentic feel of cashmere art.
She said: “We want to reach globally and focus on supporting society ecologically and economically. We must grow by uplifting others.”