Textile Designer Varuna Anand, the Founder and Designer of the Brand ‘The Splendor of Kashmir’ recently was in town for an exclusive preview of her latest designs and that is when we got an opportunity of a tête-à-tête with her and learn about the designer’s journey so far.
‘The Splendor of Kashmir’ is Varuna Anand’s endeavour that promotes Design, Art and Humanitarianism. The company that makes exquisite Pashmina shawls and stoles, crafted by the finest craftsman of Jammu & Kashmir.
Here is an account of our detailed conversation with Varuna, who wears a charming smile on her face even while she is talking…
The Inception Story, How It All Started
‘The Splendor of Kashmir’ was started for me by my Late husband Parveen Anand in November 2011. My husband introduced me to weavers and suppliers of these shawls and had set this whole chain up for me. We were based in Jammu and all this work happens in Srinagar. He was a local in the state and was well versed in all details and the local language as well.
My first exhibition was at the Claridges Hotel, New Delhi inaugurated by Dr. Farooq Abdullah. My husband saw a certain potential in me and wanted me to use my Textile Designing background, to promote this age-old Art of Shawl making from our state of Jammu & Kashmir. A large part of the population in Kashmir is involved in this largest Cottage Industry of the state. This was Parveen’s way of giving back to his home state and getting me involved with work after a sabbatical of 8 years after my marriage.
Parveen belonged to a well-known business family of the state Bir Sein Anand & Co., which has been in the state of Jammu and Kashmir for over 7 generations. He was well versed with the craftsmen and set up everything for me. I would say it was a play of destiny too, which got ‘The Splendor of Kashmir’ going without too many hitches.
My dependence on him was fairly large and I always thought my job would be limited to just designing. But after his passing away I was left to deal with the craftsmen and weavers by myself, which was a great challenge initially but the people of our state are compassionate and caring and gradually their faith on me increased and they supported all my efforts.
How were things in the beginning? How was the response?
Buying a shawl is like buying a piece of jewellery where word of mouth appreciation takes you a long way. Every satisfied customer probably opens doors of 10 others for you. My sincerity in giving my clients the finest pieces of this Art probably built this platform stronger for me. My first overseas client was from the USA and I received money from her in my bank the day my husband passed away. I remember distinctly writing to her the same evening, telling her about my tragedy and assuring her that her shawl will reach her although a little late, but will reach her alright. Today she is a friend, who has recommended me to so many more clients. The Chain I guess grows this way.
My patrons like Dr. Farooq Abdullah and The Maharana of Mewar – Shriji Arvind Sing Mewar and Mr. Richard Holkar’s constant support of my work has also put ‘The Splendor of Kashmir’ at the platform it is on today.
What is special about ‘The Splendour of Kashmir’ Shawls and collections?
The Pashmina fibre is also known as pashm or pashmina for its use in the handmade shawls of the Himalayas. The weaving of this fibre originated in Kashmir.
The Pashmina fibre for the Kashmir Shawls is obtained from the underbelly of the Capra Hircus goat generally found and now bred in the sub-zero temperature Himalayan ranges.
The art of shawl making from Kashmir is the impeccable way in which a fine fabric like Pashmina is extensively Hand embroidered or Handwoven by these talented craftsmen. From the timeless Kani shawls intricately handwoven on the looms to the extensive hand embroideries done on fine Pashmina shawls, an art which requires high skill and an incredible amount of dedication, commitment and wholehearted devotion.
The Art of shawl making from Kashmir emphasises the skills of the craftsmen in the way a fragile fabric like Pashmina holds these extensive hand embroideries without getting torn. An art which requires a balance of great skill, hours of hard work, extreme dedication and weeks and months of frustration and those special moments of sheer joy. It is not just something these craftsmen do for a survival, they put their heart and soul into creating each piece, which is an individualist, hence described as a piece of drapable Art.
With past experience in designing Home Textile / Sarees how was it different to design shawls, and considering the amount of time the intricate craftsmanship it involves, what were the challenges that you faced.
My past experience in designing Sarees and home textiles helped me in understanding shawls, their designs and expressing colours. All this came more easily to me. But designing Sarees and home textiles was largely different from shawls as those results were quick to view, the turn around time for the shawls is a lot in comparison. As for the designs of the shawls, we try to keep the traditional patterns alive as they make the soul of these shawls. Playing with colours is more interesting when it comes to shawl designing. The designs for shawls have to be very intricate and extensive. The wait to see each piece complete is the most exasperating part of Shawl designing, by the time the piece comes one almost forgets what we were working on. Sometimes it is very hard to convince the craftsmen on our viewpoint and with their artistic bent, this can get very difficult as upsetting them will only yield a poor end product. To maintain a balance sometimes is very hard and exasperating.
Most overwhelming response/feedback you have received or any experience that you wish to share.
As a recognition of my efforts to promote the Art of Shawl making from the state of Jammu Kashmir, on 15th July 2017, I was conferred with The prestigious “Times Women Achievers Award J&K 2017” an initiate of the Times of India group.
The Times of India group zeroed down on 14 women from the state of Jammu Kashmir & Ladakh, for their exemplary work in various fields. This award acknowledges and celebrates the achievements of women who have overcome great cultural and social barriers to become exemplary role models within their communities. I was the only women from the state to get this award in the entrepreneur category, for my contribution towards the Art of Shawl making, which is the largest cottage industry in the State of J&K
How do you plan to target /tap the modern generation?
I would again say, being a strong believer in God, I hope he gives me the ability and capability to reach out and educate more and more people about this Art and carry it to many more cities both within India and overseas. This is one of the most popular Art forms of Indian Textiles admired and appreciated overseas too, which is a potentially larger market still to be tapped by ‘The Splendor of Kashmir’. We do reach out to our clients via online trade but there is a lot more to achieve.
I think it was the will of God, which propelled me towards the right kind of audience.
We change our colour palette very often and experiment with the most unconventional colours, we stick to traditional patterns but add a whole spectrum of colours to the otherwise boring naturals. For our corporate gifting range, we always introduce a range of vivacious colours and patterns which look chic and are priced competitively too.
Sometimes even to explain a design or idea is a challenge but today that faith is there in my ability to sell the idea and take the final product to the buyers who cherish the Art. This is the main reason, why I always insist on saying that for every piece a client buys, it gives the craftsmen a reason to create another masterpiece.