Tribune News Service
Srinagar, June 18
Meral Kathwari, a 22-year-old Kashmiri girl, is taking the journey of her late father forward by expanding his carpet business and using technology to reach every corner of the globe.
In the early 1980s, Meral’s father Tariq Kathwari started a carpet business in the Valley at Srinagar’s posh Polo View market when the situation was peaceful.
“I was born in New Delhi and moved with my parents to the US when I was four, a move prompted by my severe asthma. There was less pollution in the US and I was getting better care and treatment living in Santa Fe, New Mexico,” says Meral, who is a communication professional. “Eventually, my dad moved back to Kashmir for business and my mom and I stayed in the US,” she adds.
After high school in New York, when Meral’s health was better, she made visits to the Valley to spend time with her father and help him in his business. But after his death in 2014, things changed for Meral.
After her father’s death, Meral started receiving messages from his many customers and suppliers around the world encouraging her to take the business ahead.
“He had a unique eye and brought a lot of different design concepts to the Valley, which he picked up from his world travels,” says Meral, who considers Kashmir her roots and home.
“I was torn between two careers, but I thought to myself, why can’t I fulfil both and use each to its advantage? That’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years,” says Meral, who spends her summers in the Valley when it is the peak season for business. The advantage for Meral unlike many was that her father’s business was already well established when he passed away.
“His work and designs have been shown in museums and international art shows around the world. However, he didn’t have much of an online presence,” says Meral, who used her communications skills to develop an online website to drive sales and get more recognition from her father’s customers.
Being a communication student, Meral uses social media and the Internet to expand the brand name and increase sales. “We get a lot of sales and clients through social media,” she adds.
Meral says there is an incredible market for Kashmiri rugs overseas but its sells even more if the designs are modern and pleasing. “The design is usually what catches the attention of the international client first. I’ve continued to grow the brand and export to different countries around the world. I didn’t want to lose our workers,” she says.
It has been difficult for Meral to carry on the business in Kashmir but she says it has been worth the efforts. “I was doing things which other kids of my age weren’t. If I’d get a break from school, I’d travel back to Kashmir, even if it was just for five days, to check up on everything. I would liaison with my workers from the US through WhatsApp or other online platforms,” says Meral, who has been using the Internet to check on the activities at her showroom.
“Our carpets, kelims, and handmade chain stitch rugs are made in sustainable environment. My dad chose quality over any other aspect in his business and because of this, his rugs are able to weather a lifetime,” says Meral.
Meral started the business when she was 20 and it is the dream of her father that she was to carry on.
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